By Don Simpson | September 14, 2010
Directors: Ole Schell, Sara Ziff
Starring: Sara Ziff, Karl Lagerfeld, Nicole Miller
Sara Ziff began modeling at age 14. She started working as a full-time model after high school at age 18. Her [now ex-] boyfriend, Ole Schell, fresh out of film school follows Ziff with a video camera tirelessly documenting her full immersion into a career as a model. (Ziff, too, is armed with a video camera.) Ziff and Schell interview other models, as well as famous photographers and designers. They probably did not have a purpose early on, but after almost five years of footage (most of which resembles a personal video diary or home movie) the purpose becomes more apparent. Ziff and Schell’s resulting film — Picture Me — reveals the ugly side of the modelling industry…and I do not mean ugly models.
Models are some of the most recognizable figures (mind the pun) of our time, yet other than the occasional news story about anorexia or drug-abuse, outsiders know very little about the inner-workings of the business itself. Models rarely give interviews; when they do, they certainly do not want to bite the hand that feeds them. With Picture Me, Ziff steps up as a whistle-blower of sorts, but this film has nothing to do with enacting any sort of revenge. Ziff has had a (comparatively) long and successful career as a model. Her all American girl next door blue eyes, blond hair, stunning cheekbones and long limbs have been used to advertise for Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana and Gap; while on the runway, Ziff has represented practically every major designer including Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel.
Ziff’s message: models are people too and they deserve better treatment. Topics such as the female body image bubble to the surface, specifically the extreme thinness and youth of models — starting their careers as early as 12-years old. Beginning their careers at such an early age, models are forced to put education (high school, college) on hold or forget about it altogether. There is an extremely high turnover in modeling — out with the old and in with the new — but with no education, what is a model qualified to do when her modeling career ends? Then again, even early in her career, Ziff was earning single paychecks for $80,000 and $111,000. Enough of those paychecks could build up a nice little nest egg for the future (assuming that the model is responsible and knowledgeable enough to save).
And it seems all too obvious that models find themselves as subjects of the male gaze, but there should be a line. Photographers snatch nude photos of models in dressing rooms during runway shows; or sometimes models find themselves in compromising situations with photographers during photo shoots. Models are treated like lifeless and emotionless shells, robots to abide by their designer and photographer’s every whim.
I agree wholeheartedly that something needs to be done to correct the inhumane conditions of the modeling industry, change the way women are represented and end the proliferation of unhealthy body types. Unfortunately, Ziff and Schell’s film feels so overly edited and light that it will probably not have the results that they intended; but I think Picture Me is a fine first step, and Ziff does deserve a lot of credit for having the balls to take a stand.