Catherine Schuller Introduces Photographer Kristy Leibowitz

Catherine Schuller, our PLUS Model Magazine industry liaison, has made it her mission to inform, inspire and infuse the spirit of sharing, support and encouragement in all aspects of her work over the years in the plus size industry. Her sense of community, not competition, allows her to be an advocate one day, and a go-to, go-between the next. As a market expert she realizes that although we’ve come light years from the days of half sizes, muu-muus and polyester jogging suits, we seem to lack resources, positive role models and high caliber visuals to reinforce confidence and self esteem. She often says she’s a self-professed ‘market expert’ who is promoting the full figured femme and making the plus field a fashion force to be reckoned with.

“I like to find ways to unite us, find areas that are being underserved, and create opportunities to improve the perception of who we are and what we want.” As a former Ford model, Catherine remembers her early days and knows how critical it is for young models to be given direction, advice and a healthy dose of reality check “girlfriend talk.” She speaks to hundreds of young hopefuls wherever and whenever they meet her, mostly at conventions, pageants and retail and charity events around the United States. She is often hired as a motivational speaker, but being in the trenches and not behind the podium is where she prefers to be. She doesn’t mind being a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. “If I am the one good thing that someone has happen to them upon their entering this field, then I’ve done my job.” There’s a lot of ambivalence, confusion and misleading information, not to mention disheartening or rude rejections. “I like to think I’m an expectation manager.” Her aunt taught her a saying she has never forgotten, “Children, what does it take to just be nice?” She adds, “I don’t give false hope, but I’m certainly not nasty!”

We tracked her down to find out what she has been up to recently — what insights, tidbits, news and views she would like to share with PLUS Model Magazine for the New Year. As we would expect, her networking talents are still being put to good use. We caught up to her as she was packing her bags to go to Miami and then Orlando for the week after Christmas and between New Years. She is out there, for sure; she walks the walks, meets and greets, and filters it all for us here at PMM!

We asked her what she’s been up to in terms of helping new models and she tells us about her new favorite find — a hot photographer in New York City named, Kristy Leibowitz – no not Annie’s kid sister – but a talented photographer in her own right.

Catherine was excited about having made Kristy’s acquaintance in 2007 while styling a CD cover and jacket for curvy diva, Julie James, and her mega-watt talented husband, Josh Max. She was impressed with Kristy and talked her into testing some new models who occasionally come to visit New York and need to do test shoots.

Kristy feels that, “Rather than spend a lot on a first test, I’d rather new models have a positive, uplifting, fun experience that is within their budgets (since most of them are students or working). I mean, they are going to spend money on these first tests, and with no direction or advice, they often get useless stuff they can’t use and which breaks their bank, to boot. Kristy delivers the goods, and the models all love her and her work… and the parents, who usually tag along, are really happy, too!” Read on as we see what Catherine and Kristy have been up to and how they are helping new models who need a positive initial experience with test shoots. When Catherine has any free time, she sets up the shoot and tries to assist models in the daunting process of getting those great shots, putting together portfolios, comps and marketing themselves properly.

Catherine Schuller here! Okay, PMM readers… Happy New Year! Wow, ’08! Can ya believe it??? We are deep into the new millennium now, no turning back.

In the January 2008 issue of PLUS, I am thrilled to introduce Kristy Leibowitz…

I caught up with her for some Thai food at Why Curry?, our favorite spot in her neighborhood, and I decided it was time to share her with you all!

Catherine: So, Kristy after ten test shoots with plus size models of various levels of experience, beauty and comfort in front of the camera, what would you say you’ve learned or liked best about working with your first group of curvy models?

Kristy: I am loving it and it shows in the work. It’s really rewarding to capture these women and make them look uncompromisingly fabulous.

Catherine: You really did great work from day one… it’s not like you had to be coerced or cajoled or even trained! I’m anxious for you to share your background with the readers…

Kristy: In a nutshell, I graduated high school in 2000, went to the University of Hartford, and enrolled in the Hartford Art School, which had a great sculpture program. I was studying photography, but engrossed in sculpture and ceramics. After 9/11, I started reconsidering… I could see myself making a living with photography. I decided to transfer to one of the best photography programs at Parsons School of Design.

Catherine: Where are you from originally?

Kristy: I’m a native New Yorker, raised in Long Island. My mother and father were very creative and hands-on, always working on “projects”… so I inherited that gene. New York is a great market for photographers, too, so I was lucky to have been here already. I was so busy working as an intern while I was going to school, I had tons of experience even before I graduated in 2005 from Parsons.

Catherine: What were some of your favorite courses, because having gone to Parsons, I know they make sure your education is diverse and well rounded?

Kristy: Some of my favorite courses were Art History and the History of Fashion. It’s funny, because one of the first inspirations that stuck out in my mind was when I learned about the Venus of Willendorf. Talk about your “original curvy chick”

Catherine: I see what you mean! But right away you were being exposed to flesh being sensual, voluptuous and fascinating.

Kristy: Yes, and I was always comfortable with the idea that it was highly desirable and artistic and yes, even sometimes preferable, to artists to have some flesh on those bones. And because I am a woman, I completely understand that “thin is the not the only body type” that is beautiful or acceptable. I love the diversity of how many different ways we are shaped. And I am not some sleazy guy panting over a sexy full figured woman. I am an artist trying to capture nature in an honorable way that serves it up in the highest and best way possible.

Catherine: You just seem to trust and allow those things to evolve when we work together, too.

Kristy: Yes, it’s about experimenting with angles, lighting, shooting up vs. shooting down. I just move around the subject…move her body, face, her basic position within the frame. I just see what emerges and what inspires me. I try not to pre-determine anything. I know it will happen when the person gets in front of the lens. It’s a collaboration. It’s not about me doing all the work.

Catherine: You sound so knowledgeable about working with the subject. Did you get a photography job right out of school?

Kristy: Pretty much… about six months after graduation I was working at the Daily News as a photojournalist and at the stock agency, Getty Images. I was out on the field, on assignment, shooting everything and anything they requested. Some of it was dangerous, some of it was tedious, some of it was ridiculous, some of it was grueling. I also started freelancing as an event photographer for Deitch Projects at their galleries in Soho.

Catherine: What a great combination of commercial and artistic… It’s as though your drive has opened up the opportunity and your talent has allowed you to make it into something called life’s work. You strike me as someone who never gets bored.

Kristy: I also get a lot of inspiration from some of the traveling I’ve done to date. I’m only 25 and I’ve only been out of school two years…. and a few of my favorite places have been Israel, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. I loved that when I got to those places I got to go to the non-touristy places and parts that no one gets to see that were off the beaten path. It taught me a lot about how people live differently and how they are so content with what they have. It really makes you appreciate life in a different way then how we live in this country.

Catherine: I’m glad we’re doing this interview because I was only getting bits and pieces of your background. But I knew you were not a cookie cutter, bang it out kind of artist. You are also cooperative, someone who thinks on their feet and someone who knows how to get the job done…

Kristy: Well, I figured we’d start working and the creativity would kick in. I was willing to do whatever it takes because I had enjoyed working with you on the album shoot where we met, and I trusted that you were serious about using me as a test shoot photographer. I didn’t know if I would hear from you, but when I did, I was glad you took me up on my offer.

Catherine: That first shoot was challenging too. Talk about biting off more than you could chew!

Kristy: Yeah, two male models, a plus size female model who had only some sporadic experience — and a 95 degree summer day!

Catherine: And a makeup artist who had just had foot surgery and was a hurting puppy. But we did it!

Kristy: Not to mention some of those street shots are really great. I love the one with Jeff on his skateboard whizzing in front of that graffiti wall.

Catherine: Exactly! Can you believe how many props those guys brought to the test?

Kristy: Yes, and we were so crowded, using your studio as a makeup and change space!

Catherine: I knew you were a trooper when we showed up with surfboards, skateboards, and three filled suitcases!!

Kristy: Yes, we’ve learned to not try and do so many models in one day!

Catherine: But I was impressed again with how you made it work and just got into it. Those shots were beautiful and since we used your neighborhood, you knew all the great spots to go… the park, the graffiti murals, the interesting nooks and crannies, street walls of interest, the courtyard, the lobby with the tile work and wrought iron doors.

Kristy: We discovered we had the ability to work under pressure, under adverse conditions and get some creative results that the models needed.

Catherine: Yes, I could see how cooperative and wonderfully engaged your interest remained throughout the day. Even though it was hot! You never complained and we got some great stuff.

Kristy: And it just kept on going from there.

Catherine: I often have new models come in town and need someone to shoot them who has patience, can give good direction and doesn’t pass judgment on their new-ness or out of town qualities.

Kristy: No, every person has something about them that you can capture and interpret. Sometimes the outfit is just killer… I am a woman and I love fashion. I am young and hip and very involved in the downtown scene. The transformation that occurs is stimulating. And our makeup artist, Dawn, is such a great asset to our team. Her makeup and hair inspires me.

Catherine: What things do you like and what things do you not like about “new models.”

Kristy: Well, I like when they come prepared with outfits that are planned and put together. I like when they have devoted some time to understand what they have to contribute, maybe even watched America’s Next Top Model, pulled tear sheets out of magazines with looks they’d like to try. I’m not going to duplicate them, but it gives me an idea of where their sensibilities lie. I also love models who can take direction and all this preparatory work helps. I mean, sit in front of a mirror and study your facial angles, take dance and yoga… learn to move and be in touch with your body. Know what is comfortable, what silhouette outlines your body frame can make and think composition. Know how to work your shoulders, your chin, keep your eyes “alive.”

Catherine: I always say that you just capture what they give you.

Kristy: It’s very odd to be in front of a camera if you aren’t used to it. New models lack the experience and they don’t know that they have the permission to “give” and they clam up.

Catherine: You are SSSSSOOOO good with first timers. I watch you talk to them about body positioning. I watch you give them an inner dialogue. I watch you tell them where to direct their eyes, to vary their facial expressions. They love that they are being “told what to do” but that it is still coming from them. You aren’t making them into robots or trying to duplicate something over and over because it worked with 100 models before.

Kristy: Well, I admire what you are trying to do with new models. To help them in their first endeavors. To give them beautiful shots that will make them believe in themselves…to boost their confidence….it’s important to make their experience in NY a good one, and make sure they don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount of money on the test. ‘Cause there is hotel, meals and transportation to consider during a visit to NYC.

Catherine: Yes, I can get them a great apartment, a great photographer, styling, hair and makeup and a comp card and a portfolio started for a very reasonable price.

Kristy: Yes, you can tell they appreciate that you are working within their limited budget. There is always a very upbeat vibe about the shoot. The models are all nice and patient and professional. And strangely enough…grateful!!!

Catherine: Well, I know most of these models are students or are working and that money is tight. Especially since they have to take time off, get themselves here and navigate around New York. I help them with that and keep the cost very low, so I’m not going to go through all this work for someone who is a brat!!! I don’t have any desire to help anyone who isn’t worthy. The business is not for entitled princesses, or divas or someone who thinks they are God’s gift to the modelling world.

Kristy: We’ve had that conversation! I grew up on Long Island with lots of daddy’s little girls and spoiled rotten kids who expect it all. If there’s one bit of advice I would give someone, it’s keep a great attitude about everything you do. Try to treat every experience as if it is something worthwhile in its own right…give it your all and have fun with the process. You are in good hands with us!

Catherine: I agree…can’t wait to keep shooting with you and developing a website of our work real soon. We’re going to have an interesting year and I’m so glad I met you and brought you on board with CurveStyle. You are truly helping redefine this woman as an icon in her own right and show positive images of beauty, style, healthy and sane living. Here’s to 2008 and our quest to keep reshaping fashion.