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Study of Pose with Coco Rocha

November 12th, 2014

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Coco Rocha : Study of Pose

The pose is what makes a model. The right pose can lift a photograph into the realm of art and serve to inspire creators from illustrators, to directors and sculptors alike. The pose is a transformative art that no one understands better than a model, and no model in recent memory has conquered the pose quite like Coco Rocha. The lithe Canadian beauty can express a multitude of emotions with a simple shift in expression. She can twist her body into shapes worthy of the best yogis and move with a gymnasts ease. Posing is Rocha’s area of expertise and everyone from Meisel and McDean to Lagerfeld and Gaultier have sung her praises when it comes to this specialized skill.

Given her gift for expression it comes as no surprise that Rocha’s first book is an expansive tribute to posing in all its shapes and forms – 1000 forms to be exact. In collaboration with photographer, Steven Sebring, Coco has created a unique tome, Study of Pose that has to be seen to be believed. With incredible flexibility and her innate skill in front of the camera Coco shows off a series of poses ranging from classic to contortionist. Shot in glossy black and white and using a 360 degree camera, the dynamic images do more than inspire the fashion faithful, they provide an showcase for the beauty and versatility of the body.

Photos Steven Sebring
Interview by Janelle Okwodu

How did the concept behind Study of Pose come to you and Steven?

It started out as a joke! It was like one of those things you say to friends “Oh I once had a great idea for an app” or, “oh I had a good idea for a movie”. Something you once thought of, but would never happen in reality. Steven the photographer mentioned how he in the 90’s had wanted to make an encyclopedia of poses but never found the right model. We laughed at the time but after I went home, James my husband and I talked more about it and what a good fit it would be for me. We went back to Steven the next day saying “Let’s do this, let’s call it ‘Study Of Pose’ and let’s shoot 1000 poses on your rig”. Once he saw we weren’t kidding he was into it and we basically all booked out the next week to shoot the book. We shot all 1000 images and finished the design of the book before we even had a publisher on board!

We weren’t looking for just pretty poses, we were looking for all poses, all the poses that had inspired me as a model and ones that covered every emotion.

How did you decide which poses would make their way into the book?

Every pose made it into the book! The book is called “Study of Pose” not because it’s THE study of pose, but because it’s OUR study of pose. James, Steven and I set out to document as many poses as we could – poses from art history, fashion, film, pop culture – and this was the result. We weren’t looking for just pretty poses, we were looking for all poses, all the poses that had inspired me as a model and ones that covered every emotion. When you look at the book in its printed form, Pose #1 is literally the first shot we took and Pose #1000 (where I’m pulling my hair out) is the final shot. The book, to me, is almost like our travel guide to a very intense study of the human pose.

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What was it like working with Steven on this project?

Steven is a true poet, and he has very clear and noble ideals when it comes to imagery. He doesn’t like artifice and certainly with this book there is very minimal retouching (the digital version has 100,000 images so that would make it very difficult to photoshop!). He prefers a very raw and minimal approach which worked well with this project. Steven and I went into this in full partnership. We are both co-authors on the book, which I think makes it a very interesting take on the idea of model-as-muse.

Steven and I went into this in full partnership. We are both co-authors on the book, which I think makes it a very interesting take on the idea of model-as-muse.

Jean Paul Gaultier wrote a wonderful intro for the book, can you tell us a bit about your continued collaboration.

Gaultier is a dear friend and has given me so many amazing moments in my career. I’ll never forget Irish dancing down his runway in 2007, or most recently, being crowned his “Miss Jean Paul Gaultier” while secretly pregnant!. He’s an absurdly talented designer who has defined pop culture for the last 30 years but also one of the most down to earth and genuinely sweet people I’ve ever met. Every time I see him it’s like catching up with my favorite uncle. When I asked him to write the foreword it really felt like a long shot, but without hesitation he said yes and delivered one of the most touching and heartfelt essays I’ve ever read.

How do you feel when you’re referred to as a muse?

It’s beyond flattering to think that you are inspiring great art, created by the masters of 20th and 21st century fashion. There are times that you know the art you’re creating will be remembered, even long after you’re gone. I think back to the muses for artists like Bottecelli and Michealangelo and to work with the modern day equivalents of those men is a huge honor. As far as fashion photography goes, you can put clothes on any mannequin and take a picture, but only a good model can bring those clothes alive as Jean Paul Gaultier brings out so eloquently in his foreword. As a model the most rewarding part of my career has been the relationships I’ve gained with both photographers and designers.

As far as fashion photography goes, you can put clothes on any mannequin and take a picture, but only a good model can bring those clothes alive…

What is it like modeling in that 360 degree setup?

Well, there’s no where to hide, that’s for sure! It’s a black dome with 100 cameras in a circle and you’re in the middle of it. Every angle, every piece of you is documented. Some people ask me if I felt insecure, being under a microscope like that. To be honest, I left behind any insecurities I had about my body many years ago. Models in general have to have thick skin, we are quite literally judged by our looks, every day. If we don’t get a job, it’s probably because of how you look. You can’t take it too personally or this industry will destroy your ego. For me the 360 aspect of the book was what put this project on another level. Not only are we capturing 1000 poses but we are capturing it from 100 angles. There are literally 100,000 images in the digital version of the book.

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When did you first realize you had a gift for posing?

I never thought of being a model until I was scouted at a dance competition and pulled out of relative obscurity. One of my first destinations as a model was Taipei where I shot mainly catalog work. To get a job there you stand before a table full of clients and you’re given a minute to pose-off against another model on whatever theme the client gives you. The point of the exercise is for you to give as many poses as you can within that minute. I guess my background in dance and performance helped because I started “winning” these pose-off castings and getting work. I shot catalogs of 25 to 75 images, every day, for months on end. By the time I finally moved to New York I had developed my own very different way of moving that some people loved and some hated. I finally had my casting with Steven Meisel not long after and he taught me to hone it in and finesse it. In working with me he also catapulted my career and allowed me more time to really just practice. In the end, as with anything, it’s all about practice.

Any advice for girls just starting to work on their posing skills?

If the book proves anything its that there should not be just one “go-to” pose. On Instagram we all know that person who always does the same exact pose or position for every picture, I call it The Paris Hilton. My advice is to change it up, try something new and step out of your comfort zone. Also, do NOT take selfies, hand the camera to someone else please!

By the time I finally moved to New York I had developed my own very different way of moving that some people loved and some hated.

You’ve accomplished so much within your career, is there a piece of advice or word of wisdom that you wish you had known when you were just starting out?

I think its important for girls to give a lot of thought to what they stand for. One thing I did as I was starting out as a model was make a solid evaluation of my beliefs and values. I didn’t want peer pressure or negative influences to change me for the worse. My goal has always been to be able to leave the industry essentially the same girl I was when I began, only older and wiser and with some really great experiences under my belt. I advise any girl starting out in life to really rely on her own moral compass. As they say, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

The book seems destined to appeal to a variety of people in and out of fashion – are there any dreams or hopes you have for the projects in terms of who might find inspiration within its pages?

The book and the app are definitely two very different experiences. The book is this amazing object with black gilding. It’s over 2000 pages long so just to hold it, it has weight. I wanted the book to almost resemble a dictionary or encyclopedia, as I hope it will one day become a reference book of sorts. I shot the whole thing in classic black and white with no “fashion” so that it hopefully will stand the test of time and be as contemporary in 50 years as it is today. The app is a whole other beast. All 1000 pose were captured from 100 angles on a 360 degree rig – meaning you can literally scroll around the pose and view it from all angles. I think it’s a great tool for models and photographers, but also for artists, sculptors, dancers, anyone who enjoys the arts.

My goal has always been to be able to leave the industry essentially the same girl I was when I began, only older and wiser and with some really great experiences under my belt.

Is there an 1001st pose?

There most certainly is, and I’m looking for it on Instagram! If anyone thinks they have found a pose I did not cover in this book please hashtag #StudyOfPose1001 – I can’t wait to see!

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