Steven Sebring and Coco Rocha’s Visual Manifesto of the Human Body – Big Think
“Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it. Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it,” Madonna lied and “Vogue”-ed way back in 1990. Contrary to popular opinion, posing is hard work, made even harder by the requirement to look effortless. The reigning “Queen of Pose,” Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha has been clocked at 160 different poses per minute and viral videoed striking 50 poses in 30 seconds. When photographer Steven Sebring approached Rocha back in 2010 with the idea of a project involving one model striking a thousand different poses captured using Sebring’s revolutionary, 360-degree photographic technology, it seemed a match made in modeling heaven. Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha tests the limits of expression by the human form while capitalizing on the latest in technology to produce no less than a new manifesto on posing the human body as an object to be both admired and accepted for all its truth and beauty.
From the very beginning of her modeling career in 2002, Rocha’s still poses have been based in movement. An agent approached the lanky, then-14-year-old Canadian at an Irish dance competition and offered her a chance to model. Since then, Rocha’s brought her dance training to the studio. “Models have only their movement to tell the story in a very concentrated moment,” Jean Paul Gaultier, one of the many designers for whom Rocha’s modeled, writes in his foreword to Study of Pose. “There are few models who do this successfully, and the ones who do give life and meaning to the clothing, as fabric alone has no significance.” Where some believe that the clothes make the person, Gaultier counters that the person makes the clothes through the charisma of gesture and movement.
Similarly, Sebring holds that movement is key to any image. Describing his initial ideas for the project in his introduction, Sebring explains, “I wanted to document the fluid, ever-changing beauty of the ever-flexible human form… I needed someone capable of believably pulling off everything from an Isadora Duncan-inspired move to a Veruschka gravity-defying leap.” To document these still yet “moving” images, Sebring developed an “orbiting photographic process” he formally called the “Revolution,” but informally referred to as “the Rig.” By encircling the subject with one hundred synchronized cameras linked to sophisticated software, Sebring creates “amazing, ephemeral images of multilayered time, space, and matter of the fourth-dimensional world.” “[C]aptured in a single revolution” these images “continue to astound as they are like nothing that has ever been seen before,” Sebring boasts.
“[W]e shot more than a thousand poses—or 100,000 photographs in total—in only three days,” Sebring writes of the photoshoot for Study of Pose. As Sebring and Rocha’s husband James whispered from the sidelines prompts such as Marilyn Monroe, Venus de Milo, Grace Jones, an old man, and Jessica Rabbit, Rocha would interpret those ideas physically for Sebring’s “Rig.” “We all stood by dumbfounded as she seemed to perform music with her body,” Sebring describes his experience of Rocha’s virtuoso performance. “When Coco poses, she tells a story with every gesture.” The results, found on every page of Study of Pose, range “from ballet to Elvis and everything in between,” Sebring writes.
I’ll admit to some personal cynicism over the possibility that one model, even one as talented as Rocha, could strike a thousand distinct, interesting poses. I jokingly envisioned something along the lines of Ben Stiller’s IQ-challenged title character in the film Zoolander naming poses “Blue Steel” or “Ferrari” but never deviating from that single pouty look. Where Zoolander thrived by riffing on all the standard model stereotypes, Study of Pose thrives thanks to Rocha’s riffing from her personal storehouse of intellectual, emotional, and physical versatility.
As you begin paging through Study of Pose you find yourself caught up in each picture’s story. Here’s “fierce” embodied by Rocha literally flying through the air with a predatory look on her features as well as her limbs. Here’s “comic” as Coco channels her inner child overjoyed, overstimulated, or overwhelmed—all with over-the-top eyes and gestures. Yet, within those extremes of fear and fun, you’ll also find poses classical in their beauty (such as the example shown above) in which Rocha transforms herself into living sculpture by contorting her graceful limbs into interesting shapes and lines that would be the envy of any sculptor or dancer.
But where’s my fourth dimension, you may ask? Well, there’s an app for that (or at least one will be released for sale soon). The app will allow users to take the two-dimensional pose from the page and rotate it through 360-degrees thanks to Sebring’s “Revolution” technology. So, if 1,000 poses weren’t enough for you, or if you wish one of those poses were turned just a little bit more to the left, then this app will offer you almost a limitless number of poses to choose from. Aspiring artists hoping to study the human form will never find a better resource (or a better model, for that matter) than Study of Pose.
Aside from her talent, however, Coco Rocha brings the right spirit to the project thanks to her advocacy for more realism in modeling. Even supermodels get the blues, especially when they’re body shamed like us mere mortals. “I’m a 21 year old model, 6 inches taller and 10 sizes smaller than the average American woman,” Rocha wrote on her blog back in 2010. “Yet in another parallel universe I’m considered ‘fat.’” In that same post, Rocha railed against models under the age of 16 not just for how they are exploited, but also for how that practice adds unattainable youth to the already pervasive problem of unattainable thinness. A year later, in 2011, Rocha advocated for an end to excessive retouching of photographs, usually, again, to make the model look impossibly thin. “I do hope that this campaign might help some in our industry stop and think about what the public really wants to see before they shrink another model down to an impossible size,” Rocha blogged.
“A fit, healthy body—that is the best fashion statement,” author and artist Jess C. Scott once wrote. Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha is more than just a statement; it’s a manifesto on the beauty of the human body and a celebration of being comfortable in your skin. Yes, Coco Rocha is impossibly beautiful and inconceivably skilled at using her body, but you come away from Study of Pose not intimidated by those realities, but rather inspired by how you can use the realities of your own body in a similar way. Thanks to Steven Sebring’s photography, you can see for yourself possibilities you never imagined before. So, strike a pose. There’s everything to it.
[Many thanks to Harper Collins for providing me with the image above and a review copy of Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha by Steven Sebring and Coco Rocha, with a foreword by Jean Paul Gaultier.]