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True Stories: The Worst Photo Shoot of All Time

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Two months ago, for no reason other than extreme vanity, I decided I wanted some professional portraits taken. I have virtually no flattering photos of myself and figured it was high time. Plus, they’d look good next to my work when it got published, and they’d look even better on my Facebook page next to the snapshots of my former high-school classmates who’d spent the last decade having it their way at BK and shitting out kids.

After perusing the work of so-called professionals at several photography studios, I realized that when it comes to photographers, studios offer the cream of the crap — and expensive crap at that. I didn’t blame them, mind you. I guess years of styling cheesy family portraits where everyone dressed in white oxfords had dulled their creative edge.

In a flash of genius I decided to seek out photographers — artistic glamour photographers — who wanted to develop their portfolios. It would be win-win: the photographer gets a free model and I get free professional photos. After checking with no luck, I figured I’d try the poor man’s, and it turned out the “Creative” section of Craigslist was loaded with photographers eager for this exact arrangement. After asking to see some of their work, I settled on a photographer we’ll call Joe. He asked me to meet him the following day. The whole scenario was perfect! What could possibly go wrong?

I was immediately able to formulate at least two dozen answers to this question when I showed up at Joe’s house and was led down to his dank basement-cum-studio.

Joe was a short, stocky guy in his forties who mentioned repeatedly — nay, incessantly — that he was an amateur Mixed Martial Arts fighter. I feigned enthusiasm but found this dubious at best since his NASCAR t-shirt with the sleeves cut off revealed only a roadmap of stretch marks circumventing pasty, flabby arms. Still, the sample pictures he’d sent me were good — really good — and besides, the shots were going to be of me, not of him and his Miami Vice haircut. Post introductions, Joe’s wife slinked into the basement and informed me that she’d be staying to watch the shoot after she styled my hair and applied my makeup. Pockmarked and yellow-haired, she was a vision in pink elastic-waistband pants, and as talented at doing her own hair and makeup as any five-year-old with Barbie dolls. While I acknowledged (silently) that the setup was unglamorous, I reassured myself that what really mattered was the end result. When all was said and done, I was going to have photographs, stunningly beautiful photographs, portraits worthy of any fashion-magazine cover (or self-absorbed braggart’s Facebook profile). That’s when Joe uttered seven words I wasn’t expecting:

“How do you feel about Glenn Danzig?”

Joe thrust a musty leather jacket into my crossed arms. “I found this at a garage sale. Isn’t it perfect? Now take off your top. Glenn Danzig doesn’t wear shirts.”

I didn’t know what was worse: that my “stunningly beautiful” photo was going to be me channeling a middle-aged, unattractive has-been rock star or that my skin was actually going to be rubbing against this guy’s filthy leather jacket. This was not what I had come for, and I was about to protest, but then I began to size up the situation. I am five feet tall and weigh ninety-three pounds soaking wet. Joe and Wifey easily had three-hundred pounds on me, and there was that whole MMA thing, which I began to perceive as a threat. I could demand a different concept, but why risk pissing them off? I figured if I played nice, it would be over pretty soon.
And truthfully, I didn’t have much time to think about it. Almost immediately, Wifey pounced, proceeding to tease and spray my hair to look, as she put it, “dirty and grimy like you’ve been on stage all night.” Then came the pièce de résistance, draped over my delicate little Jew-neck: an enormous crucifix — with dragons.

As he started shooting, Joe repeatedly coached me: “Angry! Angrier! I just ran over your puppy! Get angry!” Wifey sat on a Nixon-era couch behind him, watching me pose and biting her bottom lip. She kept fidgeting. On closer inspection, she appeared to be rubbing herself against the couch with enough friction to light a campfire. Through her spandex ensemble, I could see that her nipples were hard and her camel-toe fully engorged.

When Joe asked me to lose the jacket I was somewhat relieved. It smelled like him: eau de cheap cigarettes, hair gel, and body odor. I was reasonably sure wearing it too long would result in acquiring an antibiotic-resistant skin fungus. I started to take the cross off, but he told me to keep that on. Only that on. Wifey engaged in a noticeable fidgeting frenzy.

“Okay, now, Jenny.” (I hate being called Jenny.) “I want you to look right into the camera. Hold up the cross, but use your wrists to cover your, uh, yourself. Look angry. And gimmie some cleavage. Lotsa cleavage.”

Cleavage? Was he blind? Was he completely oblivious to the fact that earlier I had taken off a Pretty Pretty Princesses brand training bra? As if being flat wasn’t humiliating enough, I then had to make a big show of squishing my boobs together, confirming once and for all that there’s barely anything there, even when I try to force it.

I squeezed and looked angry.

Joe licked his lips.

Wifey humped the couch.

Say cheese!

When the shoot was over, I threw on my clothes and flew out the door as quickly as possible. I did not ask if we could collaborate in the future on a shoot geared more towards my objectives. I did not ask when I would receive the photos. I didn’t even put on my bra, since we’d already established the fact that I didn’t really need one. When he finally put down his camera and Wifey’s twitching dulled to a slow roll, I channeled another group of has-been rock stars, A Flock of Seagulls, and ran so far away.

The next day I received my end of the bargain via email. They were so horrid, I had to laugh. I imagined sending them to my family: Dear Grandma, thanks for surviving the Holocaust so I could be here today. To show my appreciation I have decided to pose topless wearing a giant cross. And look — the photographer was even kind enough to Photoshop some tattoos on my arms!!! Remember when the Nazis did that to you?! XOXO!

Clearly my brief foray into modeling had gone awry, but that’s no reason for yours to. Making use of common sense goes a long way. (I use the term “common sense” loosely, because if it were so common, everyone — my dumb self included — would have it.) Bring a chaperone. Discuss boundaries — such as nudity, religious imagery, and the proper laundering of wardrobe — ahead of time. Settle on a concept before the shoot to ensure that everyone will be satisfied with the end result. It probably wouldn’t hurt to request that the photographer’s friend with a penchant for furniture-humping not be present.

As for me, it’s back to the proverbial drawing board. I’m still looking for a photographer to shoot my portrait, someone who can make an un-photogenic woman look hot on a small budget. Any leads would be greatly appreciated, although preference will be given to photographers without affinities for forty-year old Goths and couch-to-clitoral stimulation.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.