During one of Kristianna Davied's modeling shoots, Davied says a male photographer convinced her to take her top and bra off. Because she wanted to reach her full potential, the photographer was able to manipulate her into thinking she could not do that fully clothed, she says.
“A lot of people are willing to do things they wouldn’t usually be willing to do when they’re put under that pressure in that situation with someone they’re uncomfortable saying no to,” she says.
Davied has been a model and photographer for three years, but it wasn’t until a year and a half ago when she got fired from The Shorthorn, the University of Texas at Arlington’s student newspaper, that she pursued self-employment full time.
“I don’t want to work for other people [anymore] unless I’m doing independent contracting,” she says. “Being a creative, being able to create my own schedule and being in school, it helps me manage my time and my priorities.”
She began hosting events she calls Girl Gang Meetups, a forum for photographers and models from DFW to come together for a day of collaboration. Men are not allowed, because there is a problem with male photographers taking advantage of female models, in the Dallas creative community and everywhere else, she says.
“I know models who have stopped, who were really good, because they were scared. They felt unsafe because of experiences like that,” she says. “I really wanted to give female creatives a time and place and space to encourage them to create without that pressure.”
GIVE AND TAKE
People think photo shoots revolve around a give-and-take system, Davied says.
“Like, I get the pictures that I want, and the photographer gets the pictures that he wants," she says. "That is also how I was convinced to take my clothes off in one of my first shoots."
The photographer will take an authoritative position and make the model feel like doing something they’re uncomfortable with, and that will make them better, Cheyenne Dawn, a local model, says. This is especially true for new models.
“I remember when I first started out, I thought the photographer had all the power,” Dawn says.
According to The New York Times, the fourth episode of an eight-part documentary series from E! called Model Squad, offers a perfect example. The series documents nine New York models at varying levels of success as they try out for the Victoria’s Secret show and the Sports Illustrated swimwear special edition.
In the episode, a model named Ashley Moore goes on a test shoot with Yu Tsai, a photographer identified as a keyholder for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. After taking a few photos of Moore in a jacket, Tsai tells her it is time for lingerie and asks if she is comfortable being naked. Moore responds, “I think so.”
Davied says true professional creatives don’t act this way. They are not disrespectful and presumptuous, and they don’t jump at the chance to get a woman to take her clothes off.
“I just warn [new models] to be cautious about the people that they shoot with, to vet them, to check with other models who are on their Instagram to make sure they had an OK experience,” Davied says.
The first Girl Gang Meetup took place at The Rose Gardens of Farmers Branch on May 20. It brought out 20 to 30 models, photographers and makeup artists. Since that day, there have been three more meetups, and attendance has continued to grow.
The vibe at these meetups is completely different from those that include both genders, Davied says.
“I went to a meetup that was coed the other day," Davied says. "There were random dudes making inappropriate comments toward the models, saying they were gonna ‘get on them’ while they were posing. Stuff like that I don’t tolerate.”
Davied is always on the lookout for places to host her next meetup. She wants to make sure these establishments also stand to benefit from the traffic the meetups bring. These events have been at places such as Wow Donuts and Drips in Plano, the “Orange House in a Blue Field” mural in Deep Ellum and Royal Lane Studios in Irving.
Dawn says the female-exclusive environment makes for a more positive and uplifting atmosphere. At the Girl Gang Meetups, photographers can focus more on directing a model’s expression, makeup and styling. This attention to detail makes the photo shoots feel more like art, she says.
When Davied is being photographed by another woman, she is completely comfortable and without fear of what might be captured. A lot of male photographers focus on making female models look sexy, she says. This has been regarded as the “male gaze.”
This concept was first introduced by scholar and filmmaker Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." According to theconversation.com, the “male gaze” suggests a sexualized way of looking that empowers men and objectifies women.
The work by male photographers who take this approach often lacks variety, Dawn says.
Photos of women have long been taken by men for a capitalist economy to satisfy the “male gaze” and enhance female competitiveness. However, over the last five years, more photos of women are being taken by women, author Charlotte Jansen wrote in her book, Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze.
Photographs of women taken by women can act as a tool for challenging perceptions and contribute to a broader understanding of society.
Starting the Girl Gang Meetups was definitely inspired by the #MeToo movement, Davied says. She hopes excluding men, especially those who treat models inappropriately, will cause them to get their act together.
“They’ll see that it’s unacceptable and that people don’t have to shoot with them,” she says. “No one needs to shoot with some random male photographer when they can just go to an all-female Girl Gang Meetup where they know they’ll be safe.”
Although not consistent, similar actions are being taken in the international fashion industry.
Christian Dior SE, a European luxury goods company commonly known as Dior, stopped using a stylist named Karl Templer for their women’s runway shows after accusations of intrusive physical approaches toward models were brought to light in an article by The Boston Globe. However, the brand continued to use Templer for its fall 2018 women’s wear ad campaign, according to The New York Times. Similarly, Coach does not use Templer for its shows, but Alexander Wang used the stylist in its June pre-collection runway.
In an attempt to keep female models informed about photographers they probably should steer clear of, a blacklist was started in the local creative community. The list has been compiled by a photographer named Austin Lewis. The photographer acknowledges how ironic it is that he, a man, put the list together. However, throughout his collaborations, Lewis has become a trusted member of the female model community.
Lewis says he was previously oblivious to the issues female models often face. Although, in January 2017, he changed his style of photography to include artistic nudity and boudoir. A close friend of his at the time made a similar move. One of the first female models Lewis worked with went on a photo shoot with his friend.
“She told me the first shoot was fine, but [during] the second shoot she started getting weird vibes,” Lewis says.
The model began to tell Lewis how his friend was openly flirting with her and asking what kind of men she was attracted to. She later provided Lewis with a screenshot of inappropriate comments the photographer was making. This set a precedent for the criteria of the blacklist. Before a name can be added to the list, physical evidence must be provided.
One of the worst stories Lewis heard involved a fellow boudoir photographer. Through text, the photographer confessed to a model that he tries to have sex with every subject he works with, and often posts his photos on porn websites. In light of this information, the model has quit posing for photos, he says.
“That blacklist is shared with a lot of women in the DFW community,” Davied says. “People can still shoot with them if they want to, and they do, but I think it helps raise awareness in private without a big chance of backlash.”
Because of his position in the creative community, Lewis is the only male who has been invited by Davied to one of the Girl Gang Meetups, he says.
“[It] was my hope to start inviting male photographers who I know are good guys. I would still be open to that. It’s just really hard to know for sure who you can trust,” Davied says.
It's possible for male photographers to redeem themselves after stepping out of line, Davied says. If a public apology is made, and steps are taken by the offender to have better practices, they could be accepted back into the community.
Models and photographers from other states and cities in Texas have asked Davied to bring the meetups to them. It is her dream to continue organizing these events for free. However, she would have to start charging for meetups outside of Dallas to cover her traveling expenses. By the end of the year, she hopes to put together a weekend-long Girl Gang tour hosting her events in Houston and Austin.
Davied wants to partner with Build and Bloom, a safe space for creatives online and in-person, which hosts workshops all over the country. A group underneath Build and Bloom called SisterXSister helps build up the local communities of young women in media to empower, encourage and equip them for the workforce. She says these events are more conversational than her Girl Gang Meetups.
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Jaida Brinkley, a Build and Bloom Dallas ambassador, says a lot of the scandals exposed by the #MeToo movement are the result of women not being in positions of power in these industries.
“One of the reasons why a lot of that happens is because women don’t have, not all women, some women don’t have as much confidence as men, so they’re not applying for those positions,” Brinkley says. “[SisterXSister] allows for women to come together, empower each other, support each other and for us to build that confidence.”
The next Girl Gang Meetup will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 27 at Royal Lane Studios. The theme for this event is body positivity, natural beauty and glowing diversity. Davied says the theme was inspired by Curve model and body positive activist Khrystyana Kazakova.
To date, Davied has not had any issues with unwanted guests at her meetups. In the event that this happens, she says she is not afraid to escort people out.