From ‘Cover to Camera’, Meet PLUS Cover Model Dlo Brown

Dlo Brown stepped into the modeling scene in 2001.

Fresh faced and a complete novice to the industry this young lady was out to try something new. Now a few years later she has experienced and learned many things, but most of all she re-invented herself and embraced a new passion. Dlo, as she is known in the industry, is now more than just a “pretty face” she is a photographer on the rise. It is a pleasure to introduce this creative and beautiful soul.

[Maddy] Growing up did you have body issues?

[Dlo] I did and I didn’t. My extended family always had critical things to say about why my family was fat, since my cousins for the most part were lean and tall. I heard these negative messages over-and-over, but did not allow it to break my spirit.

As a child, I was skinny. Then came the ‘tween years’ where I started to gain weight. During this time I went from being overweight — to smaller — to very large — but always with a “pretty face” — Ha!

I ran the size gamut until college when I developed major body issues. I had a pretty bad eating disorder in my first year and lost quite a bit of weight (and hair, but that’s what happens when you deprive your body). I gained it back briefly my senior year, and finally with the model industry as a guide for me I actually ‘checked myself’ and started working towards getting a body that was good for plus modeling instead of mindlessly trying to shed pounds any way I could.

I still go up and down depending on what’s going on in my life, but I am in control and comfortable with it. And I know how to handle it, when I need to make changes. At this point in my life, I love and embrace my body at any size.

[Maddy] Why did you want to pursue modeling?

[Dlo] The first time I saw a plus model was in Mode Magazine and I was inspired by the images I saw. When I came to NY after college, I got a lot of encouragement from models that were already in the industry, both straight size and plus, to pursue plus modeling. My first agency interview actually came from a girl who saw my pictures online and took them to her agent. They called me to make an appointment and I’d never even known I was submitted!

[Maddy] Tell me about the steps you took to pursue modeling? Did you research the industry, test, etc.?

[Dlo] I researched it up the wazoo! I am a trained Equity Actress, so I already had some insights into the entertainment industry, but modeling was a whole new world for the most part. So, I designed a binder where I put any information I gathered into sections. This included contacts as well as ‘inspiration pages’. I had pages full of plus models including Jordan, Tami, Wynnetka, Angellika, Kate Dillon, Sophie Dahl, Barbara Brickner and everyone who was in Mode. I carried it everywhere like a dork too.

I joined the forum my senior year of college, when it really was a beacon of information with a lot of professional plus models offering feedback and guidance. I TFP’d with photographers that I met there for practice and posted my pics for feedback.

Now, I have two agencies that I work with. The majority of my NY work has come through one of my commercial agencies, Gilla Roos and I am currently with Elite Atlanta.

[Maddy] Where have we seen you as far as modeling?

[Dlo] My clients include Avon “Mark”, David’s Bridal, Joe Boxer for K-Mart, The Washington Post, Proto Magazine, Bombshell Magazine, BET, Qrystal Designs, Salon Z, Abby Z, The Formal Source, and Cingular (I was a hand model, lol), and now Plus Model Magazine.

[Maddy] What obstacles did you face and how did you deal with them?

[Dlo] My biggest obstacle has always been myself. When I was younger, I had a tendency to get scared and stop pursuing things just as they got going. I had a very self-defeatist attitude driven by teetering confidence and a strong fear of failure. I was very indefinite on what I wanted to do in my life, so I would meander from interest to interest. Fun yes… but it prevents you from reaching the next level in any one area.

I’ve found that it is possible to do everything if you really want to, but it’s not easy to do everything at once. So I took a hiatus from modeling, except for my bookings in Atlanta, to really examine my life, my priorities and to figure out what I wanted to do. I found that I needed to build up my finances again, my personal support system, my body, my confidence and my determination before making the sizeable investment it takes to start up modeling and acting again.

[Maddy] Tell me about your first “test” and what did you learn from the experience?

[Dlo] Ha! My first test??? I have three tests I consider my first test. Is that weird? I shot for the very first time with Sara Butler in Philly. This test taught me a lot.

First, Sara is a wealth of knowledge about posing and angles, so that was very helpful. I also learned the importance of finding out a store’s return policy before borrowing for a shoot. And finally I learned that cheap clothing looks just like that in your pictures! I have never purchased cheap, synthetic clothing to shoot in ever since that first time.

My first NY test was with Lucas Pictures. There I learned to relax and let go. A close friend shot with me that day, so I was fortunate to be able and watch him pose as well. As far as the photos went, I learned a lot! In the results, I really saw the difference between the shots that I envisioned in my head and the actual results.

And finally, my first professional shoot was with Nadine Raphael in New Jersey. She treated me like a queen. I learned that “You get what you pay for” that day. It is to date, the most expensive test I have ever done… but her husband made us lunch and breakfast 🙂

The hair and makeup artist was on point and very in sync with the photographer. Nadine made me feel so comfortable and so professional even though I was a new model. She shot on film and there were no wasted shots.

Nadine has taught me a lot over the years, and is someone I could call upon for guidance. She was a constant reminder that this is a business and you have to treat it as such so you can go in and work without your feelings and self-esteem taking a beating. She also has such a high integrity when it comes to her work and how it is presented, that has always stuck with me as well. Once when I had wanted to shoot with her, she refused. She told me how important it was to test with other people so that my book shows a diversity of styles.

I feel like she is the ultimate first test for a new model. Nadine makes you feel ready to take on the world.

[Maddy] How important do you believe “testing” is and building your portfolio and skills?

[Dlo] Testing is uber-important. It took me a long time to realize how so. Money has always been a factor effecting who I tested with over the years and I wasted a lot of resources trying to get bargains. This always ended in mixed results.

It’s not worth it to test cheap or only do TFP and expect it to get you work. There are top photographers out there, who know exactly what will get you work; people who the agencies trust. If you want this experience, you need to save up your money and not waste portions of it on tests with photographers you are unsure of. Your goal is to keep your portfolio fresh, new and competitive with the other models. It is not enough to admire their photos and wish you could one day afford shots like theirs. They are who you are competing against, even if you are just starting out… so you need to catch up real quick!

If you are serious about working, you need photos that are on the same level as theirs. You need photos that look like you when you walk in. And you desperately need that practice time in front of the camera as much as possible. So when you get to your bookings, you know how to move for the camera. You’ll know what flatters your body, and you’ll have a range of expressions and energies that you can pull from. Ultimately, you will be ready to take direction to produce the desired result when the time comes.

Modeling is a business and you have to keep your product fresh, pertinent, versatile. Most importantly, you must be ready to deliver what the client needs each time. So testing is equally as important for marketing yourself as it is for building your craft. TFP’s are a place where you can expand your range and try to show yourself in new lights to agents and clients, but please be careful who you let take images of you. Don’t be so desperate for free pictures that you compromise your better judgment.

[Maddy] Let’s talk about your moving into photography… First of all, what a great shot you did on this page!

[Dlo] Thanks Maddy 🙂

[Maddy] How long were you modeling before you decided to pursue photography and when did you decide to add photography to your plate?

[Dlo] I started shooting in the end of 2004. It was very occasional though until 2006. I wanted to add a side business to try and make money to pay for tests. I had always loved taking pictures so I thought I’d try it out. I bought my camera (the most expensive thing I ever bought in my life) and decided that I better know how to use its’ buttons at the very least, so I attended a photography program full-time for a semester.

[Maddy] How would you describe your style of shooting?

[Dlo] Ha! Random. I’m very open to trying anything out. So, my stuff often tends to be representative of the quirks of the person I’m shooting. When I shoot stuff for myself, I am a little darker and more artsy. I like things a little messy and twisted, but with a sensual, feminine undertone and energy. My work tends to empower the women who are featured in my work. My men and children are much more docile. Everything has a hint of my strange, offbeat sense of humor in it too. Even my prettiest shots were probably taken as a joke, because it reminded me of something bizarre or funny.

I have more than one photo that friends said they found disturbing, and other people have told me how beautiful and calming they find the same shot. I also do like awkward camera angles and pushing the models to go outside of their comfort zone.

With commercial stuff, one thing I think you’ll always find is that the people I shoot are very comfortable and have genuine smiles, laughs and such on their faces. I never accept a forced or fake expression, if I have to be a clown to get that laugh or smile, or if I have to set a scene and describe your dream man to get some sexy out of you I’m going to do it.

[Maddy] How do you feel being a model benefits your photography?

[Dlo] The best thing that I get to tell models when they shoot with me is that I totally understand and know how they feel up there, and they can know it’s sincere. When I give direction they know they’re not alone and I am not judging them, because I have been in the same place as them and have had the same problems.

It also helps because I remember the things that really sketched me out about different photographers and can make mental notes to try not to do them to other models. It definitely helped me in getting clientele at first too, since I already had a relationship with the industry and knew a lot of models. Oh, and I knew lots of photographers to turn to when I had questions. That helped immensely.

[Maddy] And finally, who influenced your burgeoning photography?

[Dlo] My influences are not the same as what most people may say. Yes, the Annie Liebowitz’s and Richard Warren’s of the world are inspirational to me and I hope to one-day take images on that level. But my influence, the reason I pick my camera up each and every time, is the photographers in my small circle of the universe that have been so generous and loving with their time, knowledge, equipment and space in order to help me grow. These people who continue to push, challenge, motivate and nurture me in my process as a newer photographer.

To Stanley Debas, Lucas Jones, Victoria Sprung, Paul Ward, Beth Hommel and especially Kenneth Erickson — I will forever be grateful. These are beautiful people, who have been unselfish in sharing anything they have to develop a new colleague’s craft (even though I was a complete stranger to some of them). This level of kindness and support is something rarely found in the modeling world for me, so it has had a profound effect on me personally and professionally.

Anytime I face a challenge I hear the words of one of those people guiding me through it, and the only thing they’ve asked in return is that I “Pay it forward” and “Take good pictures.” Consider it done…

Photographer: Les Delano