Christine Shevchenko styled by me for Vogue

Sex Sells

I used to proudly prefer shooting fashion editorial with men. They were easier to deal with. The majority of female photographers I’d worked with ended in caddy displays of apathy and on those few occasions, I was left most often disappointed. In a billion dollar industry for women, enabled by women’s interests, it seems the biggest hypocrisy I, myself, would favour a man to collaborate with. Recognising even the thought of working with another woman sparks a subconscious push to compete, is hard to digest. Male physiology works well in competition. They thrive when given a contest. The feminine mystique offers the idea that women should equally compete. Ironic considering in no other ways are we deemed equal in the male gaze. We’re too complex to have such a simple approach. Curious from creation; statistically we excel when we work together.

At the time, working often with my dear friend and creative partner, Christopher, I was encouraged to collaborate with new hot list talent in order to keep my book fresh. Consecutively Chris introduced me to Alex Branzino and Thames Brodip. The usual way in which I massaged male egos to get things done my way, didn’t work with them. Their lack of respect for my extensive experience left me questioning if I was guilty of being too proud. As if them having less experience was a badge of honour; bizarre how culture teaches women blame as first response. When I met Alex at Sant Ambroeus in Soho I recognised his type; alpha male, confidently full of himself, tall, blonde and tan. He was talented and clearly his charisma had opened a lot of doors. He was shooting constantly, money jobs mostly. We told our stories and ping ponged ideas while he ordered a plate of pasta. I’d never scheduled a first meeting over dinner. I liked that about him actually, quirky and unapologetic, a nerdy weirdo creative. We’d email a few times after exchanging pitch ideas, but nothing came of it. I’ve never been one to push when I intuit helping someone won’t assure reciprocity. Only working for a few years, he had a way with the models. Magazine’s wanted girl options, so it worked for him, a strong ego did not lack. Catering to sex selling his style was bland and commercial. I wonder why those of us who care about inspiring culture through creative haven’t been able to get a handle of the copycat commercial we constantly express boredom for. Perhaps the art of competition leaves too little room for creative collaboration.

Some weeks later I met Thames; more of a Jon Snow type with a South African accent. Carrying a similar overtly cocky demeanour, au contraire, he was extremely insecure about his work. There was a tenderness to the way he captured images, maybe not coincidence his character would borderline man child. He bitched and moaned about everything in that spoiled, kicking and screaming on the ground, way. A shame because you could see the potential even in the works he proclaimed to detest. I brought him three Vogue editorials and after we scheduled a test shoot to place. I offered my apartment as a base, since he was spending money to rent equipment and cater lunch. Condescending to my doormen, banging equipment on the walls, elevator, and entry ways; he made his impatience known standing there, one hand full of his iPhone waiting for someone to open the door for him. Although I‘d spend weeks receiving and returning samples, discussing moods with agents, hair and makeup, and pitching the story for publication, he proved to be crude and ungrateful. I’d never witnessed such indecent behaviour in such a scenario. My pitch and layout left two magazines wanting to run the story, but he called to tell me he wouldn’t release the photos. He wasn’t happy with them and savagely critiqued himself. One of the interested publications was a Vogue edition — I was furious and passive aggressively expressed so. He exploded in a tantrum, screaming through the phone. I’d gotten him into Vogue, introduced him to my beauty teams, he’d disrespected the super of my rent stabilised apartment in Manhattan and now this. Had I spent years building a reputation, earning my stripes, to have this man child hold so much power over my work. Exploit my time, my efforts, my connections. Was this what Anna Dello Russo meant when she suggested against me leaving Vogue; because of the power its name gave me. It stung like a calabrone on a hot summer day in Sicilia. I found out Thames had spoken ill of me to industry agents. He was offended I’d asked him to acknowledge saying no to an accepted Vogue submission was foolishly arrogant. I wasn’t raised to smear someone’s name behind their back. Tête-à-tête always, that’s just basic human appreciation. When asked, I tried to respond honestly; If he can get past his insecurities and learn to respect fellow artists, he’ll go far.

When I later discovered they were friends, bros really, which meant more than friends — I couldn’t help but laugh. Thames’ outburst surely wouldn’t effect my relationship with Alex. If anything it could open the door to productive conversations on how photographers treat the artists who make their jobs possible. I wanted to hire Alex on an ad job partly because he was shooting for a publication I was interested in, and partly to push myself opposite my fine artsy comfort zone. I thought, if I threw him some cash, he’d invite me to style his next editorial. Magazine’s weren’t easy to approach as a freelancer. The photographers remained the main point of contact. As if editors were afraid to loose their positions by simply not following a trend but rather exploring the fresh, unseen and untried. Or was it that they didn’t want to share the spotlight and offer the opportunity to another talent; jealousy is tied into self worth, thus one considers starting salaries and approval motives. I can understand their positions, looking at it upside down. As a freelancer, I thrive on collaboration and bring to the table an array of perspective from multiple platforms. Since the point is to stay on top of society and culture, isn’t the contributing editor relationship essential? People often mistake my appetite for deeper understanding as a threat. As if my questioning, my candidness, the call a spade a spade approach, translates into being difficult to work with. My client confirmed Alex Branzino and I quickly realised I’d made the wrong decision. He barely spoke to anyone outside his team and kept his hip hop set music on max volume. Making it difficult to communicate seemed an obvious mistake; commercial job etiquette 101. Those two days were brutal. There were production things he didn’t know how to handle, and his inability to even try connecting with the client, or myself who’d gotten him the job, made me frustrated. Attempting to do work with someone I’d not related to creatively had indeed confirmed why I’d stayed away from all things trending in the first place.

“But does it not occur to any of the men who run the women’s magazine’s that their troubles may stem from the smallness of the image with which they are truncating women’s minds?” - Betty Friedan

I had to question my own male gaze. In the hierarchy of fashion, just as capitalism devours humanity, popularity trumps experience. Is there no power in integrity. Is pride and ego really worth the trouble. How does any artist expect to be great if they can’t own their mistakes just as their triumphs. Both boys went on to work steady some years, not so steady others, such is the nature of our industry. I lost some of my credibility with the magazine’s I’d pitched to and the following season my client hired another in house style consultant to “help me” produce my part of the job. In my attempt to collaborate and unite creative teams, I was left with a bruised ego and my character put in question because of gossip by a man who thought himself better than.

A contributing fashion editor trying to dig deeper. ‘Think before you speak. Read before you think.’ — Fran Lebowitz

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