updated 27 Feb 2014, 07:23
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So worried about lingerie modelling industry's bad reputation
by Benita Aw Yeong

Mr John Seah makes a living helping aspiring models kick-start their careers.

The 39-year-old, who has been running Vogue Integrated Photography for the past four years, does not only takes photos for their first portfolios, he also plays the role of coach and mentor.

"I give them pointers on how to pose and give the right facial expressions. Sometimes I even nag them when they are getting fat," he says.

A sex-driven industry

Many of the girls, who are typically aged between 18 and 20, are vain and enjoy looking pretty. They harbour dreams of making it big as professional models. And they can be naive.

"The whole industry is very sex-driven," he says matter-of-factly. "To promote a girl, you've got to show cleavage, a pretty face, long legs and a nice butt. That's just the way it is."

Besides upholding his own set of moral codes, he tries to give the girls tips on being more street-smart but it often feels like a losing battle.

It's not easy to navigate the industry and to separate the perverts from the professionals, he admits.

"These days, any one with a DSLR camera can call himself a photographer."

Calling them "his girls", Mr Seah charges the model wannabes about $300 for his services, which they can either pay upfront or later when they participate in photo shoots that he organises. Amateur or hobby photographers pay to shoot models, who usually dress according to a theme.

Lack of ethics

He is not proud of the state the industry is in and laments that few photographers have ethics to be envious of.

It is common for photographers to retain photos in which models had a wardrobe slip-up or appear compromising.

"I show those shots to the girls in the hopes that they will learn to be more cautious when they pose. It's useful teaching material. After that I delete the shots, but the same cannot be said for other photographers," he says.

It's common for photos taken years ago to return to haunt the girls, like in the case of popular blogger Yan Kay Kay, he says.

He also gives the example of Singapore FHM Model 2012 winner Jamie Ang, who was caught in a nude photo leak scandal last year. "I've noticed a trend of photographers releasing such photos (where a model is exposed) when she has made a name for herself," Mr Seah says.

The shots may not be well-taken, but it is the attention they get which counts. He explains: "It's a bit of an ego thing for them - pride that comes with announcing that you've shot that now-famous model before she was really known."


In the case of organised photo sessions, the rights to the pictures typically belong to the photographers, since they paid to have the models as subjects.

"The photographers are usually proud of one or two shots they have taken, so it is common for them to upload them onto platforms like Facebook.

"The models don't mind, as long as they look good in the shots, since it just makes them more popular," he says.

Popular models can be hired for private shoots, typically considered the highest-paying assignments.

Photos for sale online

There are also men who peddle models' photos online.

"There is demand once the model is well-known or popular. The sellers advertise by describing the set of photos they have on forums.

Sometimes, the people selling may not even be the same ones who took them," he says.

Although Mr Seah is open about taking photos with a sensual flavour to them, he is clear of one thing - he wants to keep on the straight and narrow.

"I want to take shots that are sexy but beautiful, not sleazy or porn material. I don't touch the models during the shoots. Quite frankly, I'm a bit lazy in that regard. If a piece of clothing or lingerie is out of place, I will tell them to adjust it.

"And if they're new to the industry, they will never be asked to do a lingerie shoot. Leave that to the more seasoned models," he says.


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