All Photos by Cybele Malinowski / Model – Michelle McCallum / Lingerie by Valentine NYC / Interview by Brooke Jaramillo
Ever wondered what it’s like inside a model’s home? Of course you have, you pervert. Chances are you’ve never made it past the doormat, though, which is where photographer Cybele Malinowski’s recent project, ‘Model-Maison’ comes in handy.
Getting up close and personal, Cybele photographs models in their own homes all over the world. By the looks of things, combining a foreign studio with the model’s own wardrobes for styling works perfectly for Cybele, and has led to this beautiful photo series featuring Michelle McCallum in her NYC abode. We asked Cybele what she likes most about her job, the messiest model’s house she’s ever seen, and what she’d hide from the camera if the tables were turned.
MC: Model Maison has been your project for the last couple years. What made you want to start shooting women in their homes rather then in a studio?
CM: I had been shooting a lot of commercial work in fashion and music, and I wanted to create a personal project that had set parameters that could also grow and evolve with me. I had just shot a model in her home for a fashions story, and loved it. It was intimate and fun, and felt like playing dress ups at a friend’s house. I then started shooting my model friends in their homes, and it just grew from there. Shooting in homes happened organically. I studied architecture—I love the way an environment informs a person, and how each model chooses to decorate her own personal space whether it’s her bedroom in her family home, or a room in a share house an international model makes her own for a few weeks or months. Shooting in their homes firstly allowed me to explore a model and her personality, a far more intimate experience than shooting in a studio. Plus, it challenges me every time I shoot. I never know what space, light, or styling I will be working with, so it keeps me striving creatively every time.
You mainly shoot photos of women—why do you prefer to capture the female form, and would you ever want to shoot men in their homes?
I guess it started because my friends who were models were female. I have shot a few boys in their homes, and I loved it, but I guess the more girls I shot, the more opportunities came my way. It is such an intimate experience, I mean I rifle through their undie drawers, jump around shooting them on their bed, it’s like playing dress ups with my girlfriends! But I would love to shoot more boys! I plan too soon, actually.
Have you ever showed up to a models house and had to change locations because it is a complete shit show of a place?
YES. There have been some really challenging places, or I rock up and the model has a pair of jeans, 3 nude g-strings, and that’s about it. But that is what I love about model-maison, it pushes me creatively every time! Sometimes it will be raining, there’ll be no light, and the apartment is one room, and a flatmate is sitting in the corner chugging on bongs. But I love that. I mean, a photographer doesn’t just love the beautiful; we also have a weird attraction to the ugly. Think of the phenomena of ruin porn, where people shoot abandoned buildings and cities, like the decay of Detroit or Chernobyl. And an ugly environment can just highlight the beauty of the subject. I have never cancelled a job because of the house or the model. That is my own personal challenge.
You travel all over the world to do these shoots, what is your favorite place you have visited?
Kiev, Ukraine. I shot 8 models in 3 days. It was insane. No one spoke English and I had to explain what I wanted through elaborate gestures, but it was the most exhilarating and humbling experience. All of the girls lived in giant housing commission buildings. Row after row of communist concrete. Most still lived with their family, 5 people in a 1-bedroom apartment. The parents sleeping on the couch at night while 3 kids slept in the one bedroom. But the houses were immaculate; there was always a plate of cakes and tea when I arrived. With so little, there was a sense of pride. Oh, and the photos are still my favourite body of work to this date. The girls weren’t necessarily the most beautiful, but the story, the contrast was just so special. I still haven’t released these images, I will have a show one day – they need to be seen in person.
What is your take on nudity in photography?
Still working that one out. I actually went back to undertake a Masters at art school and studied the relationship between photography, film, feminism and the viewer. I loved working through all the conflicting ideas, theories, and art, however I am still divided. How I rationalise it is that if the model is comfortable with it, then great. It’s their choice. A model’s discretion is of the utmost importance to me. Model-Maison is a collaboration between myself and the model, and I want them to portray themselves as they wish. I certainly wouldn’t want the world to see me naked, but that’s my issue. I wish I could be free.
Lastly, if the tables were turned and you were letting a photographer into your home to shoot, what is the one thing you’d hide before they arrived?
Ha! I would focus on the architecture and less on the old couch, and hand-me-down furniture from a decade of renting. Our place was actually built by my grandfather in the 60s. It’s a pretty rad modernist place—focus on that. I would definitely move the kitty litter, which is sitting at the top of our beautiful jarrah stairwell.