Photographer and former model Zosia Promińska talks to HUNGER about her new book of intimate portraits of Polish teenagers all dreaming of a career in the fashion world.
Published by Kehrer Verlag, Future Perfect brings together an impressive collection of portraits of tween models photographed by Zosia Promińska. Carefully staged within the intimate spaces of their bedrooms and surrounded by small details reflecting their teen reality, they are styled in the latest collections of Poland’s best designers to resemble the models they themselves dream to become.
Early contracts with professional model agencies for when they turn 16, create hope and pressure in equal measure. Ultimately not all will live out their fashion fashion — what impact does this have on these impressionable individuals? Zosia, approaches the question with sensitivity and care, herself a former model, with lived experience of how the pressures of fitting into specific criteria and beauty norms can influence the life of a teenager.
Below, we catch up with Zosia to talk about her experience of being scouted at 15, working with the likes of Marc Jacobs and Rankin, and empowering teens with Future Perfect.
Good to meet you Zosia! So, tell us a bit about the backstory behind Future Perfect.
I was only 15 when I got scouted by a local model agency in my home town in Poland. A year later, I was on my way to Paris for my first contract. Back then I found it strange that I was booked for jobs due to my young age and then was told on the job to act more maturely. Observing the phenomenon of young models now from the perspective of an adult photographer, I felt like I needed to tell the story of these individuals in the fashion industry.
What was your experience of the fashion industry like?
I was very lucky to collaborate with a lot of amazing creatives including Rankin, Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood, Karl Lagerfeld and observe them at work and learn from them. Modelling took me to far corners of the world, from New York to New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, to China and South Africa. It gave me the opportunity to improve my English, Spanish and German and learn about different cultures as well as different forms of art. In the course of my career as a model I gained a lot of experience.
It must have been surreal, right? Going from being a teenager in Poland to becoming a model working across the world.
I will never forget the feeling of wearing designer clothes for the first time with a security guard placed by my side to look after the jewellery. I was often told the value of what I was wearing, figures that was way beyond my understanding, let alone my own economic capacity. It was surreal as a young girl to portray the role of a rich adult woman on set and then return to my schoolbooks in a flat shared with a bunch of models.
Do you have any regrets from that time in your life?
I am where I am now thanks to everything I have learned on this journey. After all, I modelled for 16 years. I must say though that looking back, that for me the first steps as a model happened a bit too soon. I missed my family and friends, struggled communicating in foreign languages and was not equipped for the reality of the adult work environment.
Did you feel like you were being exploited at all?
I was very fortunate to have a strong support system back home, and there was no pressure or expectation for me to succeed. I had enough strength to at least try to stand up for myself and tell the agency if something was or felt wrong on a job. I never felt exploited when I was so young, but I began to understand situations a bit more as I was getting older.
So let’s talk Future Perfect. You mentioned earlier some of the situations you were put in as a young model, which you didn’t fully understand at the time so how did you give the models in the book the chance to assert agency over their own image?
It was important for me to respect the way the rooms were prepared for the shoot. Sometimes very natural, but sometimes a bit sterile with personal objects hidden away. In those cases during the shoot I would ask the models to bring back the belongings they were comfortable showing. We would recreate the room’s natural state but to the degree that the model was happy with. Most of the images are not staged, I find it more interesting when the models interpret the situation in their own way.
How did fashion and costume play into the images?
I wanted to mix the two worlds in which those models exist, the reality of a primary or high school student, and the world of dreams and hopes as portrayed in a career in the fashion world. Normally the model’s role is that of an object to showcase the fashion. Here I wanted to have the fashion showcase the models. I found this reversal important for the project.
Do you worry that there is a sense of discomfort for the viewer?
My only worry considers presenting the models. It was important for me that they are happy and comfortable to be part of the project. When it comes to the viewer I am very glad that the project evokes emotions and reflections.
As a final question, what do you want viewers to take away from the book?
I wanted to confront the viewer with the beauty ideals constructed by the fashion world and our own fascination with youth.
Order ‘Future Perfect’ via Kehrer Verlag here.
6 April 2021