#1164 Model exploitation in New Zealand

Film grab: Blow Up

Yesterday I mentioned a couple of stories about girls being offered/given drugs on the sets of New Zealand fashion magazine editorials. I’ve had plenty of responses to that blog – in comments (most of which couldn’t be published for fear of defamation suits), and in phone calls and emails. Many have asked me to reveal the names of the magazines, and I’ve been told that to not do so is to be an advocate of their behaviour. First of all, let me say that I do not advocate any behaviour that involves drugs and minors. Second, short of getting the models or the magazines to go on the record and admit that it all happened, at this stage, there’s not a lot I can do. I believe the stories to be true, but I don’t have proof. Yet. To go buckwild and start dropping names all over the show would be straight-out defamation and I’d find myself in court quicker than you can say ‘Whale Oil‘.

But I do want to explore the subject further, so I’ve enlisted the help Melinda Williams – editor of NO Magazine, and, like me, a former model booker.

This from Melinda:

“As someone who has worked in the fashion industry for over a decade as an editor/writer and former model booker, I do think model vulnerability is a problem here. There are a few people I wouldn’t work with because I’ve heard and seen enough to believe they’re untrustworthy. But to name names in a public forum would leave me open to potential defamation action. When you’re working on second-hand information about illegal activities, you have to be so wary. Also, the industry has a lot of grey areas, and quite a lot of people involved in it may feel like hypocrites to some degree, or that they have been in the past, so they’re not in a position to judge now. So people don’t often speak out formally, but just make private decisions about who they will or won’t work with.

“You hear a lot of stuff, of course, but it’s really hard to know exactly what’s been exaggerated, misconstrued or even fabricated. So although I’ve heard stories of this or that photographer/stylist/magazine staffer/designer giving drugs to, or behaving inappropriately around models on or off-set, I’ve found it quite rare to hear a first-hand account (which is not to say it happens rarely, only that it is not talked about openly, maybe because of fear of victim-blaming). When I was working as a model booker, I never got a direct complaint about that sort of thing, even though we encouraged the models to be open with us. I did know of older models (18+) who socialised with or dated industry heavyweights for the uh, extra-curricular benefits. Because they were technically adults, I regarded it as their business. Perhaps that was a mistake.

“Models are vulnerable to exploitation on a number of fronts (though personally, I feel the weight issue is a more widespread and critical problem), and the only thing that will improve their situation is open discussion from the people who are in a position to do something about it.”

So let’s have that discussion.

If you are a model and have ever been offered drugs on a shoot or pressured to do anything you didn’t want to do, please email me on isaac@isaaclikes.com. I will tell your story and I can guarantee you anonymity.


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  1. says

    I think in general the NZ magazine scene is friendly and safe , the shoots (well ones I have been on) are usually super relaxed and fun like hanging out with your pals and the models are treated as equals and made to feel happy. The magazines I have dealt with have rules about nudity under 18 and against serving alcohol on set, and I would be seriously surprised if any of the photographers I have met would indulge in any sleazy activity, they are all highly respectable. Sometimes I think that perhaps an outside audience may see an image of a girl and think it is a bit risque , but quite often the model had heaps of fun on the day and was feeling comfortable and wanted to push it. I am not trying to take the heat of a very serious topic, i agree it is rotten, but I do think that sometimes an audience can take an image out of context.
    Hopefully I worded that in a way that still expresses my distaste for those who exploit models, but i do think it is important to remember that not every shot of a semi nude girl should be considered negatively.

  2. Jane says

    We do fashion shoots with models and the only thing we ply them with is water, coffee and snacks if they seem hungry (boring, I know). Why would an editor or stylist ply models with drugs/alcohol when the model is there to do a paid job as a professional? Not a good way to get good shots…

  3. Melinda says

    Hey Kelly, thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree that by and large, models are looked after and treated professionally in New Zealand. There have been, and are, exceptions to that rule however, and it’s worth acknowledging. I heard both the stories Isaac talked about in the other post, from different sources, and they’re not isolated incidents.

  4. Anonymous says

    Jane said:
    “the model is there to do a paid job as a professional”

    Actually, in most cases the models who work for independent mags are NOT being paid. Which raises an important point…

    The industry would be a lot more ‘professional’ if all the magazines actually started paying their models, photographers, make-up artists, etc.

    When all that’s being offered is a credit line (i.e. ego stroking) and empty promises of future success then you can’t really expect a high level of professionalism, can you.

  5. Melinda says

    A ‘credit line’ is far more than ego-stroking. Editorial tears are incredibly valuable to models and photographers – if they weren’t, top photographers and models wouldn’t bother doing editorial work. The fact that they are more than happy to work for ‘free’ proves the value professionals place on having those pages in their books.

    Either way, your theory that if you pay people on a shoot, they’re more likely to behave like civilised human beings sort of falls over when you consider that Terry Richardson, whose alleged behaviour has sparked this whole debate, is one of the highest-paid photographers around.

    I’m sure all independent magazines would love to have the budgets to pay photographers, models, etc, as well as give them tears, and do their best to at least cover costs in a tight market. But I don’t think payment in tears instead of cash should make any difference to whether someone is expected to behave in a professional or – at the bare minimum – legal manner!

  6. Anonymous says

    Melinda, I don’t know who you’re working with but this photog wont do anything for free just for a ‘credit line’ in some magazine. I’ve had people approach me with such offers and I always turn them down. If you can’t respect the work enough to pay for my time, effort and equipment then I don’t need a ‘credit’ in your publication as I’m quite capable of doing my own marketing.

    With the advent of social media we photogs no longer need mere magazines credits to market ourselves and we’ll present our work to those willing and able to actually pay for it.

  7. Melinda says

    Hi photog,
    We work with many extremely talented, experienced and well-known photographers, models, stylists, etc from here and around the world (their names can be seen in any issue of NO). Their decision to work with us is entirely their own, so they must see value in the quality of our printing, our readership, the creative opportunities, the contacts, and the considerable online exposure through on-blogging of our shoots. We respect the work of everyone we publish, and appreciate that they choose to work with us. Your mileage, of course, may vary!

  8. Anonymous says

    Melinda< I agree with you 100% . Regarding anonymous above. FYI . Every single photographer who works for the leading magazines such as V, Numero, Pop, ID, Dazed and Confused etc , not only doesn’t get paid, but also very rarely is given a budget. They invest their own money into the shoot costs from set design, to catering to location, equipment, and post production. In turn, they secure commisioned magazine jobs with the Vogues and Harpers bazaars and so on who pay a token amount, but cover the high costs of production, at the expense of full creative freedom for the photographer and team…..This in turn is part of the process of competing and winning advertising jobs that pay up to $100, 000 per day for major ad campaigns for beauty and luxury Brands…And like any business investment, there are never any promises, just determination, hard work, and good decisions. Ofcourse , the leading players in the industry have an advantage, as they can spend thousands on these shoots, sometimes even reaching six figures. Regarding Anonymous above being asked by Independent magazines to work for free and you turning them down, Yeah, that sounds like the magazines who asked for your services werent that good. Any quality magazine that you want to be affiliated with that features your work is giving you free advertising…….Not sure if you would turn Down Numero or Pop magazine if you understood the business. Find out what these independent Magazines charge per page for advertising and multiply by the pages you have….Thats the $$$$ of advertising space you are getting for your work. If the right people arent looking at the pages then who wants to do crap work for pennies….That goes for Models, Hair and Make , Set designers , etc, etc……

  9. Anonymous says

    Regarding the anonymous person who won’t work for free for credits…maybe you can share with everyone who you are so every independent magazine in the world is aware of you and knows not to contact you and waste your time….

  10. says

    Is this for real? Are we really bagging someone for expecting to be paid for their professional services?

    You wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix your toilet for free, so why is someone who provides a creative service any different?

  11. Anonymous says

    Melinda said:

    “your theory that if you pay people on a shoot, they’re more likely to behave like civilised human beings sort of falls over when you consider that Terry Richardson, whose alleged behaviour has sparked this whole debate, is one of the highest-paid photographers around.”

    Actually, I seriously doubt that Terry Richardson has ever behaved inappropriately on his commercial shoots (with art directors and client representatives on set, no doubt). He would save the dodgy behaviour for his ‘personal projects’ or unpaid editorials where he is encouraged to express his ‘creativity’.

    So my theory still stands.

    In over ten years I have never seen anything even remotely inappropriate on paid editorial or advertising shoots.

    Unfortunately I can’t say the same for some of the unpaid editorial shoots I’ve worked on during that time. On a few occasions the emphasis on set has definitely shifted towards ‘having a good time’ rather than ‘producing some great shots’ – because it’s not really work if everyone is having fun and getting to express their ‘creativity’, right?

    When there’s money changing hands it’s business, and everyone takes things more seriously.

    When you expect people to work for free or a favour then things often tend to get a bit more loose and unpredictable.

  12. Anonymous says

    Nobody is forcing anyone to work for free . No one is being bagged for expecting to be paid to work . Its the equivalent of having your promotional work published and advertised for you. Thats why you generally have much creative freedom on these projects. Art Gallerys don’t pay you to show your art work do they? they attract buyers to buy your work…. So commercial jobs follow and pay very very well. Much better than a ‘regular’ job.
    Anyone running a very succesful business in this field understands this formula and its extremely simple. So ask them if they feel they have had the carrot dangled with future promises of success or are just needing their ego stroked with credits? If you believe promises then wake up, no one can guarantee anything. But sure, the promise of earning millions of dollars in this field lures many people and most will not make it….Like any other highly competetive field offering incredibly attractive rewards. But thats up to them to decide and take those risks.
    I don’t think these photographers have been exploited with ‘future promises’….Steven Klein, Mario Sorrenti, David Sims, Nick Haymes, Richard Burbridge,Inez and Vinoodh, Sebastian Kim, Greg Kadel, and the list goes on……Maybe check these agency websites and see how many of these people exist who ALL follow this extremely simple formula….And I dont feel sorry for any of these guys, because these ‘unpaid’ photographers are very happy earning millions of dollars shooting the best ad campaigns after shooting for independent and commercial magazines.


  13. Anonymous says

    You mean to say Terry never acted inappropriately on ad shoots…Hmmmm….So he didn’t get a hand job on set during a Sisley campaign shoot..Come on. Dont be so Naive…Clients are dodgy and enablers too, and money was exchanged…
    The contraversy that surrounds Terry actually INCLUDES advertising shoots. Do some research.

  14. Melinda says

    “You wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix your toilet for free, so why is someone who provides a creative service any different?”

    If I had tens of thousands of people coming by my house to check out my toilet every year (including people who needed to hire plumbers on extremely well-paid jobs), then yeah, probably I would ask him if he’d consider doing the job in exchange for good word-of-mouth. 😉

  15. Anonymous says

    I guess because many of the photographers working for free are sucessfull, then yeah, they don’t need to be payed to have their work exhibited in a NON-COMMERCIAL space so why would Mags pay if they want the best of the best shooting for them???some magazines even take submissions. What’s up with this toilet art? Ducheamp maybe??? Either way, I’ve seen crazy behaviour on both sides if the spectrum and extremely professional behaviour too. In new Zealand and abroad. Terry shoots often with the same editors and stylists from French vogue on Purple mag shoots too. His behaviour is well received not only with the free purple mag shoots. And he gets payed for the vogue shoot with the same peope who were at his other ones.

  16. Anonymous says

    So lets say a plumber was approached to be part of a business convention expo, which was showcasing the best service people from around the world to demo their product to prospective major corporate clients for big contracting accounts…e.g. new shopping malls opening up all over New Zealand and Australia… and all the selected service businesses can showcase thier product…then yeah maybe it is worth doing the demo or free and even investing money to land big accounts….
    Some people know how to run a business…some just complain and whine…. Same with shooting for these indie mags…its an expo for contracts…real ones

  17. Anonymous says

    “Is this for real? Are we really bagging someone for expecting to be paid for their professional services?”

    It is pretty unreal, isn’t it?

    The only thing I’m saying is that if an indie mag isn’t making enough money to pay me something (even minimum wage) for my services then they need to look at their business practices. I don’t need them to promote me because I can do it myself quite easily and successfully via social media.

    Why do you think print media is struggling so hard to catch up now?

    I do plenty of free work with an eye on future paid work. (I’ll only do freebies that I actually enjoy doing though and spending all day snapping some skinny teenager in odd/boring clothes isn’t my idea of fun.) I just wont do it for a commercial entity on the back of promises about promoting and forwarding me to potential contacts – it’s a sucker’s game in this day and age.

  18. Anonymous says

    Wow.suckers game. So Steven Klein , Mario Sorreti etc above are suckers then. hmmmm. You sound like you are being forced against your will to shoot for free for indie mags. Not for you then . But sure no one should shoot anything they find boring anyway. More than 90% of indie mags suck anyway. Just because it’s indie doesn’t mean it’s good, unless you see profit to be gained. Art gallerys for sales make money and artists pay to show so what would you do if asked to shoot a story for Numero or even a cover? Unpaid. Turn it down? Well Gregg Kadel and Sebastian Kim seam pretty happy reaping the rewards from that arrangement. Suckers? Hmmmm. Maybe find Out what’s going on outside your small bubble. Oh and they reap so many rewards from social media , talking about theier shoots, driving web traffic back to websites and agents websites. Maybe you are referring to a couple of mags locally that you don’t like ?

  19. Anonymous says

    Why nuts?because those photographers Mentioned above shoot Hermes and Calvin Klein campaigns? Craig Mcdean has never been paid to shoot ID magazine but shoots Armani, Estee lauder, Donna Karan and Gucci. It’s nuts that this is a foreign concept to the above comment .

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