When local photographer, Pete Saloutos, invited me to model for a yoga shoot a few years ago, I had no idea that it would lead to a dear friendship and a regular gig moonlighting as a model.
In fact, I was pretty sure that it would lead to a polite and potentially embarrassing encounter with a photographer who would figure out in short order that I was not really worth his time and talent.
Not because I’m insecure about my self-worth or my appearance. I’m actually surprisingly comfortable and content in my own skin. I just didn’t think of myself as a model, a word I grew up associating with the youthful, long, lean, leggy, unattainably attractive other-than-me-ness of those paid to influence cosmetic and fashion trends usually irrelevant to my personal brand of quirkiness.
Plus, my yoga teaching focuses on integral wholeness rather than the acrobatic wow-ness that I imagined might be more appealing to photograph.
But I was curious and figured that I could pretend to model, so I went anyway.
And it was beyond embarrassing. More like major mortification.
Things were going swimmingly until I foolishly agreed to tilt my head back further than is humanly possible advisable in Crescent Moon, so it would look better for the shot. Accommodating a desired aesthetic by compromising the integrity of a pose despite knowing better? Not a good idea.
After several takes, I blacked out, fell off the raised platform, and woke up wondering why I was crumpled in a decidedly unhip heap on the concrete floor. Full Syncope (that's fancy-speak for cutting off the oxygen flow to your brain and fainting with eyes wide open and everything). It was very un-modelesque.
I was more-than-a-little embarrassed. Pete and his assistant were pretty freaked. I finished the shoot and walked away with a nasty bump on my noggin', a personal confirmation of out-of-body experiences, and a great teaching story about the value of proper alignment.
And Pete got some good shots despite the scare. Which is how I ended up on a series of improbable dates with a red umbrella.
You see Pete has this red umbrella that is an ongoing theme. Whatever the weather, wardrobe, or context, I will often find myself in front of Pete's camera holding a red umbrella. Sometimes, I’m curiously holding a red umbrella without a raindrop in sight.
Other times, I’m getting soaked while holding a red umbrella for artistic rather than functional purposes.
Sometimes, it works. I’m inevitably surprised.
But whatever happens, I’m always glad that I accepted the invitation.
And besides the fact that my friend Pete is wonderful company, here’s why:
My Red Umbrella Days, as I like to call my make-believe modeling adventures, take me out of my comfort zone into the creative unknown. I never know exactly what we’re going to do or where we’re going to go.
I run around barefoot wearing things that I would not usually wear. I find myself in unfamiliar contexts striking unfamiliar poses. I try new things, and I feel like an idiot at least some of the time.
By opening myself to these novel experiences, I learn things about myself and the world that I might otherwise overlook. I'm inspired by creative collaboration and serious play.
Along the way, I have even discovered my own version of middle-aged modeliciousness that’s not especially youthful, long, lean, or leggy, but happily (and dare I say attractively?) attainable. And my mother finally has some decent photos of me.
Of course, it definitely helps to have an amazing, open-minded, kind-hearted photographer who can make anyone look good doing pretty much anything. Life is so much better in the company of great playmates.
But first one must be willing to stretch the bounds of identity and normality, and say yes to unexpected invitations to play with red umbrellas.
What’s your version of Red Umbrella Days? Share your story in the comments. I'd love to hear from you. Meanwhile, check out Pete's amazing work.