Brooklyn N.Y. 11211)
Evidently there are "model apartments" in major cities which pertain to wannabes in fashion, young men on the make in the modeling world, mostly in their late teens or early twenties. In these dumps, they eat and sleep and live and wait for their cellular phone to squeal so their agent can tell them they have just landed a million-dollar deal.
"Model Apartment" is a wonderful play on words. We think of spaces that have been dandied up so they can be sold for a million or so. The model apartments shown here are places where ten or twelve or fifteen young men eat and sleep and live in a place which is more a hovel than a prime apartment.
It's one or two rooms in a walk-up where you create your tiny space with string at neck-level which you hang with bamboo curtains or dirty sheets to give you some privacy. The whole area is shared with countless other young men in the same business: aiming to make it big in modeling. You sleep on yellowed foam pads (sometimes, according to the text, but not shown, with built-in bedbugs). You watch television --- 15-inch, 1980s Emerson, no cable --- and drink beer and work out and sometimes get in fights and sometimes use dope and sometimes get laid but most of the time being seventeen or eighteen or twenty in a strange city and --- having just been signed on by a agent --- most of the time, you wait.
Eight or ten or twelve of you crammed into a space designed for one or two at best, which has one wall-cracked bathroom and one small kitchen with just a grill (old, greasy, pictured here) to fry hamburgers. There is a minimum of shelf-space in the kitchen, filled with salt and pepper and pills and instant coffee and Coffee-Mate and more pills and ashtrays and butts and some crumbs left over from the Tasty-Cakes you bought last week but forgot about and somebody else ate without asking and it cost almost $3 and all you got was a measly two out of ten.
There's a minuscule Kelvinator refrigerator hung full with dozens of cut-out pictures of male models that came out in Vanity Fair or the New Yorker or Elle or the New York Times Magazine or Cosmopolitan --- those beautiful, slim-faced, lank-haired, blue-eyed, perfectly framed, perfectly shadowed, high-cheeked young men, selling a Louis Vuiton or a Rolex or a Movado ("the art of time") or a Ralph Lauren Polo Double Black jacket or a BMW or a SAAB ("born from jets") --- a model, perhaps a very successful model, looking dead-on at you with the easy confidence of endless riches, not a care in the world except for, maybe, adjusting the seat on the new $85,000 Hummer, he pictured with car and a tall slim young lady, the two about to ride home to Menlo Park or Rancho Bernardo or the Hamptons. Not to worry.
Past the door of the refrigerator are mooshy wrinkled tomatoes, a bowl of old milk-soaked Wheaties, wilted celery with brown spots and something greenish-gray dripping out from under the door. Forget it. With these refrigerator-door mounted pictures we get to see a flash shot of the life these men are seeking, the business of selling: for not only have these young men been sold on advertising, they are prepared to be packaged and sold as well. Over-the-counter. To anyone that will have them.
They have read the magazines, seen the rich ethereal young models just like themselves who've made it on television and in the magazines and they know if they keep on hustling, if they get through to their agent tomorrow, maybe they too will become one of the chosen few.
Meanwhile, they are a dozen or so young men, unshaven, trying to sleep in the cacophony, no sheets (except with those hanging between their spaces), and when they wake, often at two or three in the afternoon, they have to crowd into the kitchen to see if they can find anything, even some stale Ritz Crackers or a hard-boiled egg or even a scrap of lettuce to assuage that great hunger that they have, the hunger that tells them they must make it in the world. Or go under. But can they go any further than this?
There are some jolly roust-abouts here, but there are some more ominous, where --- we can't be too sure from the blurry photographs --- the shirtless young guys are either doing kick-boxing or squaring off to fight over something: a missing watch, a stolen joint, a jacket lost. Sometimes they are just joking around, sometimes they are fighting for real, but always they are waiting for the Call that will make their lives (one day) free, free as a bird: never again to have to live with an army they don't much care for, having to share that one dirty sink and toilet with so many others they don't much care for.
Drawing on the nine interviews presented here the message is quite simple. If you are an eighteen-year-old in Des Moines or Duluth or Denby or Danbury or Danville or Dakota: stop. Do not respond to the suggestion by your friend or the offer by the local agency or the urging of your girlfriend to respond to that letter from New York, from the advertising agency that has positively offered to take you on, to represent you. One of the young men here told his friends when he left Omaha or where-ever that he would be coming back in a year with a new SUV and a suitcase crammed full of money.
It is the same old thing, isn't it? The American Dream, sold to some poor bastard from Podunk who is convinced he's on his way up, because the girls are always telling him how beautiful he is and because the only job offered in South Podunk was working at McDonalds or 7-11 or Tru-Valu for minimum wage of which Social Security and withholding and some rinky-dink insurance got a third. But now he learns that a trip to New York with that agency letter in his pocket is just a one-way ticket out of Podunk but still far far far from the world of fashion and lovely ladies. Who is to tell him that he is doomed to become no better off than the 21st Century equivalent of an indentured servant but instead of being in hock to the landowner, he is in hock to the agency for food, clothing, expenses, and housing at the Fleabag Arms with one of ten toothbrushes in the bathroom, dirty underpants on the floor, a million cockroaches and no privacy whatsoever under the sheets where he can jerk off. And, because he was last in, he gets the space next to the bathroom door that never does close right.
Will Anderson and Yewtree have put out a dandy, damp, depressing beautifully designed book. The interviews --- nine of them --- give age, but they needn't have bothered. One of the more experienced models (twenty-two years old) estimates that after the agency repays itself its expenses on his behalf and makes the standard 20% deduction, he has netted $7,000 a year for three years. And although he has seen Paris and Hawaii and Miami and Milan (Milan always turns up here: evidently it is a young man's modeling heaven), he is still living in a place where you and I would probably go nuts --- if not in a week, then in a day. It's called seeking your fortune in the world but it might better be defined, especially for those shown here, as the bait-and-switch dog-eat-dog world. Chewing us up. Spitting us out.
--- Roger Wellcome