WENATCHEE — Skylar Sandman has a secret identity, but it’s not so different from her everyday one.
With the help of a series of photographers, the 24-year-old Wenatchee barista occasionally transforms into “Hero Suicide,” one of the many, many models featured in the phenomenally popular SuicideGirls website and publishing network.
But the pinup-influenced Hero Suicide is still Skylar Sandman, and vice versa.
“The person I am walking down the street every day in my jeans and T-shirt is the same person I’ll be when I take the jeans and T-shirt off and get in front of the camera,” said Sandman, who’s lived in Wenatchee for four years and modeled for SuicideGirls for six. “The boldness I have in front of the camera is the boldness I have in real life.”
That boldness, Sandman and other local models say, is a key ingredient in pursuing photographic work. Discomfort shows through the pictures.
“If you’ve never done it before, everything in your gut tells you not to get up in front of a camera in your underwear,” she said. “But you do. And once you’re there, it’s up to you whether you feel comfortable or not.”
A model’s body becomes a vehicle for expression and commerce — meaning it’s not a pursuit for the faint of heart. Garrison Lambert, 20, spent two weeks in June shirtless on the streets of Beijing, China, helping youth-oriented clothing brand Hollister open its latest store there.
The former Eastmont High School swimmer got noticed last September when he was hired on to work at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Diego, where he now lives. He worked shirtless as a greeter during the store’s Black Friday sales, and in March was photographed for the chain’s in-store style guide, which demonstrates how A&F fashions should be presented to customers. (Hollister is an A&F brand.)
This month, Lambert shot a “SoCal Style” video for the Hollister website, demonstrating how to wear and accessorize the brand’s clothing. A sometime theater actor in school, Lambert wasn’t too shy about doffing his shirt for the promotions. Still, by January he began paying more attention to nutrition and weightlifting, to maintain the lithe, defined build that Abercrombie demands.
“For Abercrombie and Hollister, 90 percent of what I do, I have my shirt off, so that’s always the biggest thing I’m looking at — ‘Uh-oh, how am I looking today with my shirt off.’ Especially with what I eat and living in San Diego during the summer, it’s hard to always stay in shape.”
“You are your worst critic,” said Alex Cleek, 22, who’s also just started in photographic modeling. “I can look at my pictures and pick out every single flaw and see every little mistake. ‘Oh, you’re too small, you should have flexed your abs harder.’ Everyone else looks at it, and they don’t have half as critical an eye.”
Heidi Flick got into modeling on a lark too, and today it’s a home-based business. She also came to it late — in her early 30s — and after wrestling with her body image. The Upper Valley mother of three suffered a dislocated knee in 2008, and worked hard after rehab to shed the weight she’d accumulated while immobilized for months.
“I ended up doing a photo shoot with a friend,” said Flick, 36. “The response from that was, ‘You should do this, you’re very photogenic.’ I was like ‘Oh … OK!’”
An image from that early shoot landed in Super Streetbike magazine’s “Pride and Joy” feature. Since then, Flick has worked with photographers from Seattle to New York, and markets her images to motorcycle magazines and glamour sites. Her Facebook fan page has accumulated almost 19,000 likes, and in February she was featured in the online lifestyle magazine Ryze Up.
“If you’d asked me before the injury if that was something I would do, I would’ve been like, ‘No.’ … After losing the weight, but just not being able to see what other people see, and having a great photo shoot with a friend, a fun photo shoot — that’s sort of where it just took off.”
A model needs to know his or her niche, Flick says. Sandman, for instance, often does tattoo-focused photo spreads, and her apparel ranges from corset gear to artful nudity, often with a focus on her tattoos. Flick does what’s broadly called pinup work — sensual shoots in elegant or form-fitting clothing, or with nudity that’s implied but not overt.
“As long as you know what your look is, and where you’ll fit, then you go with that,” she said. “But if you think that you’re gonna fit in all sorts of molds and shapes, you’re just setting yourself up for a fail.”
Sky Sullivan is thinking about his niche right now. It helps that he’s his own art director. Last winter, the 20-year-old Wenatchee man began conceiving and orchestrating photo shoots with a roster of local photographers, including Charlotte Sabo, Josh Lusk and longtime friend Josh Winger.
“They’re all my ideas, theme-wise, and so I just kind of give the photographer my ideas and let them run with it,” Sullivan said. “And Josh (Winger) is very good with that. He is really good with action.”
After working on his own photo series, Sullivan also partnered with Sandman to model for a sequence of dance-related art photos. Modeling had long appealed to him, but he struggled with how to approach it.
“I’m a very humble person, and so to have my photo taken in kind of an abstract way, kind of promoting myself, was hard for me to do, because I’m very behind-the-scenes. … But after the first shoot with Josh, it got lot easier.”
Alex Cleek aims to become a fitness model, specializing in photos that accent musculature, and took his first steps in April in a shoot with Lusk. The Alcoa potline worker from East Wenatchee posted the casual cowboy-themed photo series to Facebook, only to see it scooped up by the popular online group I Want To Marry a Country Boy.
“We haven’t figured out how they found it,” said Cleek, who’s studying to become a personal trainer. “ … In like five hours they had 17,000 likes, 3,000 shares.”
Cleek’s poses for Lusk led to another shoot in Cashmere with a Seattle photographer, and offers for other country-themed shoots out of state. Facebook and modeling community sites like Model Mayhem have become invaluable to NCW models and photographers for marketing their work.
Sometime-model Stevie VanAssche, 23, would spend more time marketing her photos if she weren’t so busy beating other women up. A graphic designer by training and a kickboxing instructor by profession, she did her earliest work at 18, modeling swimsuits in a tanning company expo at the Wenatchee Convention Center.
“Some of the girls were like dancing and strutting, and at that time, I didn’t even really know what I was doing. I was trying to just not make a fool of myself.”
VanAssche’s 5-foot-9-inch height and athleticism — she’s a former Wenatchee High School runner — made modeling a natural fit. She went on to do local and regional photo shoots, both in bikini and full dress, while sometimes working as a ring girl for local mixed martial arts bouts. Over time, she moved into the ring as an amateur fighter, rather than just a woman in a swimsuit holding a round card. She’ll compete in her first professional “Conquest of the Cage” bout this weekend at Northern Quest Casino near Spokane.
Her modeling portfolio has fallen behind as she trains and works multiple jobs, she admits, but MMA’s become her passion — and full-contact fighting doesn’t always mix with beauty photography.
“You might never look the same again,” VanAssche said. “… I definitely make myself aware that those things can happen, but I don’t sit there and think, ‘Oh no, I’m gonna get my nose broken.’ If anything, I think, ‘I’m gonna break HER nose.’”
Modeling, particularly online, allows viewers to admire and at times objectify the model. “You’re putting yourself out there to be judged, rejected, overly loved,” said Flick, who with her husband-manager Sheldon has at times had to bat away stalkers.
“I just recently had a guy from India send me jewelry. I get asked a lot, ‘Can I be your boyfriend?’ ‘Will you kiss me?’ ‘Will you send me pictures of yourself?’ … And they can be really, really aggressive.”
There’s also the question of how much skin to show. Sandman, the veteran, is no longer sure how many shoots she’s done for SuicideGirls (“I lost count after a couple of hundred”), but many of them are nudes.
Newer models have to find their own comfort level. Cleek was approached to do implied nudity in a future shoot. “I’m trying to keep an open mind to it,” he said. “ … I wouldn’t be opposed to that. There’s a market for that. It’s part of being versatile.”
So far, Lambert remains Abercrombie-exclusive — a side job to his full-time job at a San Diego hotel. He has a Los Angeles-based agent, but remains a little tentative about modeling as a career.
“I don’t know if it’s something I could do full time, but it’s really nice money on the side. … It’d be great to get into a broader market, possibly some bigger campaigns with a bigger paycheck or a little bit broader audience.”
Sandman recently branched out locally, signing on as a campaign model for Wenatchee-based Orchard Corset. Inspired by Old Hollywood glamour and the pinup culture of the ’40s and ’50s, she rejects Photoshop manipulation in the images she submits to SuicideGirls.
“There are pictures I’ve taken where you can see my back kind of bunched up,” she says. “I never want them to edit that out. That’s real. That’s me. And I’ve worked real hard on getting that. I ate a lot of cupcakes for that, and I’d like to keep it.”
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123