My off-line contact with Sharon Smithers prior to our shoot had been restricted to a quick introduction and hello at a group shoot that I was able to attend only too briefly. This meant that I did not do any real shooting with Sharon myself but I was able to see some of the results that Sharon had obtained working with other photographers and I was impressed by the confidence that I perceived in front of the camera.
I was determined that one of my early shoots would be with a life model who was well away from the stereotype of the photographic model, a real life model of character if you like. As I became aware that Sharon liked some of my other work she became one of the first two models that I contacted about participating in my project.
After I had invited her to participate and she accepted, she added me to a secret Facebook group “Life Models Only” where, given the title, I felt a bit of an imposter. It’s secret in the Facebook context, rather than as you and I might otherwise understand the word, which means that I can mention it here. I accepted the invitation because, as it quickly became apparent, it is in fact Sharon’s own group, a busy community of over 300 life models networking online to help each other in a variety of ways. So in working with Sharon I felt a little extra pressure to produce good results!
Despite a persona which seemed rather stern in the images that I had seen of her coming from the group shoot where I had first met her, I was greeted by a softly spoken personality with generous smiles. She lives at her modest home in Whitstable that she shares, now that her son has flown the coop, with her husband Alan, who is the fan of the Marx brothers.
I discovered that Sharon has worked in life modelling for some 15 years now. To her it is an important source of income, and running the Life Models Only group helps her get known and gain work due to word of mouth and the cooperation of models within the group. She also organises an annual life modelling event in Whitstable, her home town, which is called Naked Ambitions, where 5 male and 5 female life models are available to pose for artists individually or collectively at Whitstable’s Horsebridge arts centre.
She explained how she loves life modelling, how it allows her to express herself, “to be me”, feeling strongly that her modelling work is her own artistic expression. While being totally relaxed about other people seeing her naked, she does not consider herself to be a naturist. She laughed when I asked about whether she does any exercise to keep herself in shape. No way, she said, she drinks beer and enjoys herself! In that context the display of medals for participation in the Whitstable Run for Life for the last five years may seem a bit surprising. She admitted to being rather slimmer when she started as a life model and in fact in her teenage years learned ballet. Now she is confident in her own skin and as as she says, it’s tough on them if other people think otherwise.
Sharon also gets involved in work as a film extra and in photographic modelling, unabashed to mention erotic work as something she enjoys. Although Sharon was aware that some of my own output enters this territory, this was not something we explored. She enjoys getting involve in group photographic art projects that involve nudity, participating, for example, in projects by Angelo Musco, Nick Simpson and the artist known as The Dualism. These can be challenging projects for some people but she has great faith in the integrity of the artists and is very supportive of their work.
Her life modelling work is known to everyone, friends and family. She does not want to be secretive about the broader range of her modelling so I am allowed to mention it here. She mentioned especially that her mother is proud of her daughter’s work!
For those who would like to work with Sharon, she is best contacted through her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sharon.smithers.3
These are the images that I captured on film that I most like. I have some digital images that I rather like too and I will post them separately.