"No Love Given is Love Lost": Modelling + Networking with Michaela

"No Love Given is Love Lost": Modelling + Networking with Michaela

This interview was edited for brevity. Don't want to read? Listen to the full conversation on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

Could you tell us your background and how you got started in modelling?

I guess it starts in 2017-2018. I was a parkour athlete for five years of my life, and then I broke my knee twice. I couldn't go back to the sport but at the same time, I was going into the mountains with my friends and taking photos.  It was the beginning of me realizing I liked capturing memories. As I got more into it, I would do "photowalks" and my friends who liked taking photographs would ask me to be a model as we hung out and made friends. And as I've gotten older, it's become more of a thing where I use it as a tool to connect with people now. I love to be able to meet people and use that to build connections.  I've come from being a street model to now being more of a formal model although I wouldn't say proper model, because I'm not signed to an agency.

Photo by Emily Machan

What really what struck me about you, when I first met you, is your ability to make connections, to network. 

I think this is the first summer that I've really had a space for meeting new people. I was in a relationship for two and a half years, and I lived with that person for three years. I like to pour a lot of my energy into the person I'm in a relationship with.  But now I have this energy and time for other people. I know that I have a lot of love for people in this world and I have a lot of love to give. So that's why my networking as a whole is done out of a genuine place. I'm like, "Oh, you you're doing cool stuff? I like to see that and like to support that no matter like what it is"  There is a couple 100 people that I'm always constantly like, if you ever need help for anything, I will be available at any hour, because you've supported me.  I find that love to be very valuable and I'm more than willing to return the favour.

I feel that's rare to find: somebody who's genuine in their interactions with you and are willing to help you and support you unconditionally.

Something that I realized recently is that no love given, is love lost. Sometimes people get hurt about things, and they're closed off, and they don't want to continue, which is fair and I get that. But I think that even if someone doesn't deserve love, you should still give it and don't expect anything in return. Give that love because you can give that love. 

I used to get so caught up with the way that people would not give back because I'm also very much a giver. If I can give, I will. And when somebody didn't reciprocate that I got so angry. It took me a while to get to that place of not keeping score. You're just more at peace with yourself and you feel like you have more to give.

So when did the modelling start to pick up for you?

Very recently, post pandemic, I would say. I have a lot of friends that are designers and make clothes. So I was more than willing to be like, "Hey, if you need a model and I know photographers that would shoot this stuff".  So I would be and have always been an in between for these people. So it began there and then this is the first real year that I've been given quite big jobs. I got an email the day before for a brand that has a million followers on IG and they were going to fly someone out and give you $4K to buy an outfit from the company, and then shoot it as part of the commercial.  I didn't get chosen for the job but that's a very big deal for someone that does not have an agency or a talent manager. 

Photo by Josh Turner

What do you think is the overall feeling around hiring people or having people who are not traditional models, like yourself, to be a part of campaigns or being in shoots? Do you feel like it's changed quite a bit since you've even started almost five years ago?

I don't know if it's Tik Tock or what it is, but I feel like before it was very cut and dry with brands, like, "this is who we want, this is what we want".  I don't know if I'm the right person to talk about modeling because I don't know the ins and outs of agency work.  I just want to make whatever the brand or company's creative endeavors come true. So I like speak on being a model but it's a personal journey as well.

I do feel social media like Tik Tok, has been a boon for people who are not your typical model looks. So the brands or photographers that you work with, is that what they're looking for when they come to you? Is it because you are unsigned and have the look they like or is it because they know you?

I think it's half and half.  I'm leaving very soon to go on a trip for a brand that a friend of mine asked me to be a part of. So I'm not being paid but the trip is paid for, and it's basically a tourism ad.  So how I do what I do is I make friends and help them in what they do. So she was comfortable with me because I've known her a long time.

A couple months back Vogue opened an open casting call to everybody to the world which I think before the pandemic I think that they never thought about doing that because brands and companies like that are very rigid. Putting a casting call to the entire world is a little bit insane.

Photo by Jay Avillanoza

I saw that and I thought it was really cool. Because for me growing up, flipping through magazines and never being able to identify with fashion models. But nowadays, you see people like yourself, Tik Tok stars, who are not traditional models, doing these cool things. And there's just so much more people out there who can relate.

I don't know if I'll ever be a proper model but it's definitely cool to see where I am now from where I began, and being able to relate to people that look and sound like me.  It's been really exciting and really cool. I've been doing a lot -no sleep, just hauling. It's been crazy and a little chaotic. I will say that.

I think I did want to be signed for like a long time to an agency, but I wanted it for very selfish reasons. I don't have a great idea of what I look like to other people. So the younger me wanted the validation of being like, "Oh, I'm pretty enough. I'm beautiful enough to be signed to an agency as a model." So as I got a little bit older, I was like, "I don't need that". I grew a little bit and said "I can do this".

Did you have to build up that confidence? Or were you confident in front of the camera right away? 

Oh gosh, no!  Modelling is a skill, as corny as it is to say.  Practice in front of a mirror and figure out what angles and expressions you like until you know what it feels like. There are times where I'm washing my face and notice in the mirror how I like the way that some expressions look. I like practicing how to carry my eyes. I call them heart eyes, or soft eyes. When you're modelling, the emotions that you bring across in your eyes is very important.  It's, again, a learned skill, though. You just like look at yourself, and think, what emotion do you want to convey? And what energy do you want to bring with it? 

Photo by Camryn Zacharias

So I recently did a photo shoot and the photographer was like, "do you have a preferred side?" I was like, yes, I do!  Being that I do social media for KITE, I look at the camera quite a bit. It's funny all the little things you pick up about yourself.  You kind of realize, you have angles that you like better and flexing your facial muscles a certain way.  It's like muscle memory.

Do you feel like there is pressure to look a certain way or to present yourself a certain way. I know some professional models who need to keep a certain weight or certain hair type.

No, I don't really care what I should be keeping.  You're like a chameleon of sorts, you just change the way that you are based on what people want out of you. I think if I was a bigger time model, I would have issues with identity crisis a little bit. Or this is not what I feel like or this is not me and stuff like that.  It doesn't affect me in that aspect. But I definitely can see it being a thing if I was a bigger model.

It's really cool that you get to keep who you are- you can cut your hair the way you want, be who you are, present that and have people see value in it.

I have recently dived into the world of soft, feminine and girly. Before I used to dress very masculine and I still carry myself very masculinely in my day to day life. I have an undercut, a shaved head, piercings, tattoos, and dress like a boy. But it's been very interesting on an energy level to be able to, be in touch with your feminine, soft side.

So we are similar in that way. I would say when I was your age, I would dress sort of the same way as well.  I still go through phases but I'm still very much a T shirt and jeans type of person.  So I have to put more effort into dressing in that "feminine mode".  I think what's great is we all change, we can all grow and develop and I'm still trying to figure out my style. Do you find that people hire you because you have more of that street style?

It depends. When I went to Lethbridge for a shoot, and the stylist put me in three different dresses that were all see through to some extent. You have to be comfortable in the uncomfortable and I don't mean it in a creepy, icky type of way.  And so nudity in modelling is something that I've dabbled in a little more (my mom is not very stoked).  You have to understand that you're not always going to like your face and you're not always gonna like your body in whatever way that that brand or that photographer captures it. But you're gonna have to be okay with it, because that's what's happening. If that brand likes it and that brand wants that, that's what you are to portray.  I think if you asked me three or four years ago to stand in a dress and go do that, I'd be like, "No, it's not happening". 

Photo by Juhee Anderson

What's great about what you're doing is you get to look at yourself at these different phases of your life and have these memories, because so many people are not comfortable with having their photo taken.  
For me, I might not want to take a photo in the moment but a year later I think, "why didn't I take that photo?" Because I feel like as you age, you literally look so much younger last year or two years ago.

Can you really tell if I showed you a photo of yourself from a year ago?

Yeah, the memories on my iPhone, like "Album from 2020", I look at them and I'm like, "Jesus, I look so young!"  I remember being your age and never feeling like age can ever touch me. And then into my mid 30s. I was like, okay, things are happening. But you don't have to worry about that yet. But what I think is cool is you have all these photographs from this time in your life.

Aging is not a thing that I think about. I just kind of accept it. There are people that are my age worried about wrinkles, and collagen. I don't think it's something you should worry about.

Yeah, I think you've got the (Asian) genes. And I've got the genes, you know what I mean? I was at the liquor store with somebody who also was Asian and the same age. That person was buying the alcohol and had their ID. I was standing right there and the cashier said, "Excuse me, you need to show us your ID" And I said, "We're literally the same age". Then I got insulted in reverse, because when I go to the liquor store I'm usually happy, "Oh, sweet, I still look 16". But this time, I was like, can you not see? So it's probably store policy but something about the feelings of looking young but feeling more mature. And then when you're younger, wanting to look older.  It's a whole thing, right?

I always know that I get ID'd. So I just bring it everywhere.  I know I look like a baby but I'm kind of grown.  I don't know if you remember like 20 to 23 at all, but to me, 20 to 23 is like distinctly massive in terms of mental growth.  And I feel like 23 to 25 is going to be even more massive for me.  

When you're at a shoot, or prepping for one, do you find that there are still any challenges that you have to overcome? 

I think it varies.  If I'm on a shoot that I'm collaborating on, the challenge is perfectionism. The vision in our brain isn't always the easiest to bring to life. If it's modelling for someone else, the challenge is being comfortable when I'm shooting with other models. Being prepared to like the way that you look alongside others and adapting my energy to energy of the people at the shoot. Time and energy is also a big challenge. 

Do you have any advice for them for someone who wants to begin modelling, either formally or informally?

You have to show what value you'll bring to the table.  Like a resume, you want to highlight what makes you special.  Is it your energy, your practice? Also if you see a model call, be open enough to say, "Hey, I don't have a lot of experience but I would like to build the experience", or, "Are you open for TFP (trade for print/time for print)?" Or even ask if you could pay for a shoot and you could help build out a concept. Just trying your best.

For example, I view myself as a creative individual.  I feel I bring more than just being a face for these things.  I was like suggesting certain set designs/backgrounds and poses/shots.  I like assisting photographers because I like to make sure they have the diversity of shots and help bring visions to life.  Even if I'm not modelling, I like to assist with props and help out because it's something I'm interested in.  If you offer your help, stay true to your word and people will see your commitment.

Photo by Kyra McCarthy

Where would you go to reach out to people?

Instagram is my form of like doing these things. I will like people's stories. I will respond to people's stories. I will hype them up because I like their stuff.  I'm constantly on Instagram, making friends.

I also work at a vintage shop, which is quite fun to meet people. There's also Socality, which is a photography collective that I have been going to their events since 2019. There's a lot of events in the city that I like to go to: Secret Shop, Cuties Market, Hangtime Flea, YYC Block Party, Soul Circus, Fresh Out The Trap, Black Sheep Collective etc.  So different pockets of people that do different things. 

So the advice for people is do a bit of research on IG, maybe look up some hashtags, make the effort to reach out to people on social media and network IRL.  Who are are some people or creators that inspire you and your work?

My work is based on and influenced by the people around me and many are an inspiration.  Firstly there is my mom, who is an inspiration.  Then there's the creatives who are being paid to do the things that they love. Whether that's you making your jewelry or people that are running creative projects, because that's where I see myself and that's what I want to do. I just haven't figured out where I fit in yet: whether it's running a digital agency/studio, or being a creative director.  

The one individual that like sticks in my brain the most right now is Priya who goes by @cartel.contra on IG, her sister, cartel.madras. They are a music duo based in Toronto. I did a shoot with them which was really cool.  They are paid for their art and being able to do what they want to do.  I've never been motivated by money,  I just am here to create and want to live off of it.  

I like that your purpose is not driven by money. I listen to a lot of inspiration life podcasts and they always say your job, or whatever you choose to do, should be based on what you think your purpose in life is and that's going to sustain you. You could have the highest paying job, but if at the end of day, you hate it, or are stressed out all the time, it's not worth it and you're gonna always going to be thinking about doing something else. However, I also did see a video on social media where this speaker said the total opposite, that youth need to have a plan for life and not just "follow your dreams" and I was like, "Oh damn!"


What gets you most excited about a shoot?

Oh gosh, just shooting as a whole.  I like being out and doing things so I just love being part of a shoot.

What would be your dream shoot to land?  It could be a concept, brand, a photographer.

I don't have a specific brand or a specific photographer. I think it's more a place.  I have a friend in Switzerland that I'm supposed to go visit in the next year or so. I told him when I come I would love to just shoot a ton, hang out, explore and have a good time.  Not even based on structure and concept or anything. Just traveling and shooting is like the golden dream.

What is your favourite photo of yourself so far? 

It was the first shoot that I did, with Emily at a Socality event, after my breakup.  I feel like it's the essence of who I am.  I don't have too much makeup on, the light, the dress and it sounds corny, but it's like me, hot!

Photo by Emily Machan

The goddess energy came through for sure!  So where do you see yourself in five years?

Grown- emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  There's a lot of work on the inside that I know that I have to do.  Someone who has known me a long time said, "You're a princess but I can't wait until you step into your queen energy", meaning when I understand who I am, what I like and all that.  And I just thought that was super sweet.

You can find Michaela on IG @kaelsphotos.

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