I went out to Worcester on Sunday for a giant group photoshoot. It was $20 at the door, so technically, this means I broke my rule against ever paying for pictures of me -- this is one of the reasons I don't owe eighty bajillion dollars to a booking agent somewhere for my comp cards. Of course, this also means I'm doing my comp cards myself, in GIMP. On the one hand, the photo printers at CVS are not very clear on the idea of consistent margins and seem to have no concept of color registration; on the other hand, nineteen cents a print, and if I email them to the store in Harvard Square I can pick them up about as fast as I can walk down there.

Being a philosophical sort -- and being someone who enjoys playing dress-up for no real reason -- I considered the $20 to be the entry fee for several hours of sociological observation, and went anyway.

I caught a ride with another one of the models from the RAW show who happens to live near one of the Red stations, and who was driving out there anyway. There's quite a difference between the models here and the ones out on the other coast, I've noticed. Out in the emptiness of the desert Southwest, the major market is Los Angeles, with another smaller market in Las Vegas. You get very, very little work unless you're willing to move to one of those places -- or at least drive repeatedly to one of those places -- and the vast majority of the work is commercial, which is typically the kind that requires you to be very tall and made of matchsticks.

There are so many people competing for this one kind of work that in order to make any headway, you need to make it your career; and to make it your career, you have to give up on doing anything else, which particularly includes time-sinks like school. I get the feeling that markets like that are what give people the impression that models are dumb as bricks. Commercial work is the kind where the girls are more or less physically interchangeable -- any tall thin leggy blonde is the same as any other, when that's what the company asks for -- and, as in other fields like food service and janitorial services where the workers are considered easily-replaced commodities, the best way to continue getting work is to keep your head down and your mouth shut. It's here, if anywhere, that models are vicious and competitive like you see in fiction; when you could be canned at any minute, making sure you are ever-so-slightly more valuable than any of your coworkers by any means necessary is a kind of survival strategy.

This is not the case in a larger, more diverse market like Boston. (Several other girls have complained at me that Boston is such a tiny market. I tell them they only think that because they're a train ride away from New York City, and they should try doing this in Flagstaff, Arizona.) Boston, I've found, is one of those places that attracts what in bygone days would have been politely called "Bohemian types". There's a lot of braininess here, and I'm starting to wonder if municipal zoning laws require there to be a university or technical school every half-mile on center; several of these are art schools, and many of them are quite highly-regarded in their particular specialty medium. MassArt seems fairly well known among illustrators, and of course we also have Emerson and Berklee for stagecraft and musicians, and smaller schools like the New England School of Photography specifically for people who adore cameras.

(Unrelated side note: It took me nearly a year to start saying "we" instead of "you lot" in regards to Bostonians, even though it was blindingly obvious within a few weeks that I belong out here much more than I ever did in Arizona. I still occasionally have nightmares about being forced back to Phoenix for some reason or another, and they wake me up in a dead panic, but at least I seem to be convinced that I really do live here now.)

There is certainly commercial work in Boston for which agency girls are hired en masse, but a much larger proportion of it is actually acting or other entertainment gigs, or individual artists who wish to hire individual models. It's far easier to make a go of modeling part-time for supplemental income or just for fun, which means that I go to castings or shows I meet many, many more people who do the most fascinatingly random things when they're not waiting to have their makeup done. They're all more than happy to tell me all about how they're keeping the books for a venture capitalist or how they're working on their thesis about social labeling and self-identification, and when I tell them that I have a degree in sociology I have not once been met with a puzzled look and the question, "What are you doing here, then?"

The inherent power differential between being a commercial agency model and being an indie art/design model is perhaps illustrated best by something one of the photographers did whilst I was there. I was having a bit of a hard time finding anything that fit me in the studio wardrobe, for pretty much the same reason I have a hard time finding anything that fits me anywhere, which is that my torso loses about eleven inches of diameter over about seven inches of height. The tog in question was in the wardrobe room with another model while I was looking through the dresses, and began to make some sort of comment involving my bustline and the strapless dress I had pulled off the hanger. I have no idea what it was but I'm guessing it was either inappropriate or critical, because he immediately stopped himself and said, "No, no, you're not my agency girl, I can't talk to you that way."

He was half right; I wasn't his agency girl. As I don't have a remote control for other people, he could in fact have talked to me any way he liked -- but since I rep myself, if I didn't like it, I was perfectly free to call him a wanker and never talk to him again.

(As it happened, the dress fit, and very nicely too, although it wasn't the most exciting thing I've ever worn. I went partly because Doll was there with her rack of latex things and wanted more pictures of the one I wore in the show, but the prizewinner of the day was a design from Suki's Dareware: a strapless mermaid dress made half of metallic green vinyl punched in a fish-scale pattern, and half of exposed skin. The only thing I had on under it was a strapless bra, primarily so I had something to tuck it under in order to make sure it stayed up. I wasn't even wearing shoes. Four or five photographers pounced as soon as I hit the studio floor.)

I seem also to have fallen in with the weird people again, which always surprises the hell out of me, since other than the brainwork I'm quite boring. My most embarrassing vice, all things considered, is probably that I keep sucking down things like caffeine even though I'm well aware that I'm intentionally self-medicating. I have no idea how I keep managing to run into professional dominatrices and American cellists who grew up in Kazakhstan and chemical engineers who used to specialize in researching explosives for the US government. I'm sure much of the reason that I know about how weird they are is that I have the sociology degree and I've basically lived in the miscellaneous tubes of the interwebs since I was fourteen, so I just don't blink anymore when someone refers to their fiancée and their girlfriend in the same conversation, and these turn out to not be the same person. I still get the feeling I collect way more than my fair share of offbeat people -- not that I'm complaining, mind.