6. Picture Me: A Model’s Diary, directed by Sara Ziff & Ole Schell

6. Picture Me: A Model’s Diary, directed by Sara Ziff & Ole Schell

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Disappointments in a Raw, Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Modelling Industry


We see the images, we see the clothes, and of course we see the models. Oh yes, those models who just seem to embody perfection. But what we never see? The untold story behind the image: what happened that day, and what it took to get them there. Shot on handheld camera over the years by model Sara Ziff and her boyfriend Ole Schell (who also served as co-directors), Picture Me is an authentic look into the real world of modelling and fashion. And no, unlike the images, it’s not airbrushed or censored, only personal and brave.

Like a conglomeration of home movies, we share Sara’s journey from excitement and empowerment to intellectual and emotional emptiness. Ultimately, the industry of modelling and fashion reveals itself to be one of pure illusion, based on physical scrutiny and potentially harmful ideals. Along the way, we make friends with fellow models, who intermittently take turns telling their stories, each a variation of opportunity offset by disillusionment.

Consumerism paints a portrait of perfection as an obtainable entity: buy these clothes, use this lipstick, smooth your hair with this and you will transform into the woman on this billboard. Breaking down the illusions built by billion dollar businesses, Picture Me reveals that even the woman on the billboard can be riddled with discontentment. Ultimately, modelling is empty, mind-numbing and exploitative work, using humans as disposable puppets. Being constantly objectified (both backstage and on the runway), they are trapped in a cycle of fatigue, caused from overwork and underfeeding, reduced to voiceless cogs in an ever-turning wheel.

Partners and directors Ole Schell and Sara Ziff, on set of their exposé. (Strand Releasing)

It’s an important documentary – one that needed to be made and seen. It has the weight to spark change, although it’s interesting to note that this film was made in 2008 and no apparent revolution has swept the industry. A possible reason is that the film gained no wide scale notoriety, partly due perhaps to the execution of the film. I don’t know if the slightly amateur approach was a conscious production decision – a final rebellion against an industry built on fantasy – but even so, this means it doesn’t have as great an impact on the collective consciousness as, say, Bill Cunningham’s New York (I wish that was directed by a woman just so I had a good excuse to watch it again).

The home-video style compilation does well to develop an authenticity and rawness, but a fantastic score tied with visual symbolism goes a long way in eliciting the emotional resonance needed. Yes, the direct narration and model interviews plainly underline the points being made; however, upon reflection, this film could have delivered greater impact had it been a more polished version.

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