Student Aeon Taspinar probably has more work experience under her belt compared to most university graduates – six years. And she's only nine. At 7:45 AM every morning she's in school. By 1:15 PM she's out. Later in the afternoon, she's seated in a studio, getting her hair and makeup done. For the next couple of hours, she'll be on set, posing for magazines and advertisements. Other child models' repertoire stretch to television commercials, shows, films and strutting runways.
Shoots like these last up to eight hours. Models brave hot strobe lights in the studio and the scorching sun when outdoors. Under these conditions, even professional adult models quickly grow exhausted, much less, children. When child models like Taspinar are restless, distracted, throwing tantrums or grumpy from a bad afternoon nap, staff cajole them with snacks. There's nothing that colourful candies, sodas, or balloons can't solve.
It sounds exhausting. But to these children, long photoshoots licenses more snacks and playtime with their fellow modelling friends. "It's very fun and I meet all my friends," Taspinar says shyly.
It is, in fact, a breeze for them. "They don't know what is involved – the set is expensive. You give them a candy and they're happy," parents manager, Lilian Oon at local child modelling management, Impact Models quips. All these children have to do is but dance and strike a pose when instructed. Yet, that's not all to modelling.
Mother Renee Tay setting daughter Aeon Taspinar's hair in place.
Everything else spans searching out jobs, responding to casting calls, arrangements for auditions, dressing, scheduling, compiling and updating model portfolios, and on-the-job performance. The real business of child modelling is dealt with by the parents. Even though their children stand before the cameras, it does seem that these parents are the real models.
"This is on the job. You have to perform," Taspinar's mother, Renee Tay stresses as her daughter enjoys a candy at the side. To her, it's more than a leisurely activity, say piano lessons. "Piano – there's no stress. The teacher will just say, 'Practice again.' But here, when you accept it, you are on the job. The responsibility is very different."
Tay is now taking a break from her career – also why she was able to make it to this photo shoot. For the past six years, she held a full-time post. "Whenever [Aeon] had an audition or fitting, I had to take leave." She eventually exhausted her annual leave entitlement and was taking unpaid leave instead. Beyond her own work schedule, Tay had to balance her daughter's school timetable – classes, extra lessons. assignments and exams.
"There was a Gifted Education Programme exam [recently], she skipped it." Taspinar was due for an advertisement shoot with UOB, which was unexpectedly collided with Taspinar's exam. Abrupt changes are common in the modelling industry. Tay debated with herself, "For me, I don't think [children] have to be very smart in academics." The mother-daughter duo turned up for the shoot instead. Even though Taspinar performed at the shoot, Tay struggled to come to terms with her decision.
Managing Taspinar's modelling career is much easier now that Tay is not working. It will also be simpler if she were self-employed, like Donny Ang, father of seven-year-old child model, Dylan Ang.
Seven-year-old Dylan Ang posing for a shot.
"I'm lucky in the sense I'm running my own business – there's flexibility with timing," Donny Ang continues. "[Dylan] finished school at 1:30 PM and took a quick nap in the car." Within an hour, he's in the studio.
Unlike Renee Tay and Taspinar, Donny Ang will not forego school for any modelling calls. "If their schedule is on schooling days then we will have to skip. Some projects last one to two days. We actually try to fulfil all if possible. Because I feel that exposing him [to modelling] will give him more confidence."
To him, conservative Asian values have lapsed. Children – at very young ages – are increasingly involved in the media. It's perhaps pointless to adamantly remove media from their lives. "Times have changed. Social media – kids start to get more exposure. Some of the kids, they try to be a Youtuber!"
Dylan Ang was spotted when he was out for a meal with his family. He was only three. After a visit to the modelling agency, his parents agreed. "I think nowadays as a parent we try to find what his interest will be. If possible, we will support him," Donny Ang adds.
Yet, in this industry of child modelling, not everything is about the child. "The parents have to be suitable. The family plays a big part on what opportunities are given [to the child]," says Adrian Richter, father of nine-year-old child model Edward Richter.
Nine-year-old Edward Richter and 12-year-old Mary Richter.
When balancing the child's school and modelling timetable with the parents' own work and home schedules, time management is paramount. "I've been to castings with the kids," mother Catherine Richter quips. Right before the session started, the photographer sent her a message. "'Venue changed.' You can't stand there and have a tantrum. That's what a lot of people do. They have trouble understanding."
The Richters make it a point to be almost half an hour early for every casting call and shoot. "In this industry, it's so important to be on time. When something is out of my control – when the train stops you have to get off and find a way. We have half an hour. It's time management."
'Is it worth it?', you may ask.
Yes, all three families will tell you. At the end of every hectic day, it's about helping these children find themselves in a world of aimless teenagers. These parents have no qualms about their children ditching modelling for another hobby, like photography, cooking, acting, scuba diving, Formula One racing or design. As Catherine Richter has it, "It's for the kids. It's not for us. They have fun."
Photographs Tung Pham
Studio Impact Models
Hair & Makeup Kim Kiat
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