Cybele Malinowski’s Model Maison


Sydney photographer Cybele Malinowski recently launched her exciting new project, Model-Maison, in which she shoots models in their bedrooms. The stunning results act as an insight into the model’s worlds, while still retaining some of the fantasy of fashion. We talk to Cybele to find out more:

How did the idea for Model-Maison come about? What sparked your interest in shooting models in their homes?
I just really wanted to create a body of work which focused on the models themselves, rather than the fashion and fantasies that are layered upon a model in a shoot – hair and makeup, styling, storyboards, with each layer of this process, the model is often lost underneath. Model-Maison was an idea that I came up with after shooting a model in a stripped-back Bondi apartment… supposedly just a girl hanging out in her home, for a submission shoot a few years ago. It was really stripped back, with simple styling, and a strong focus on the model herself. We had such a great day, there was a real strength and honestly about this shoot, and that’s what triggered the idea. It’s so much more laid back and ultimately real.

How do you select your subjects?
At first I just started asking model friends of mine, and then they would hook me up with their friends, and so on. Now it’s a bit easier as, since model agencies have seen the value in the project and the honesty of the shoots, they have been more willing to let me into the private world of a model’s home. I use a mix of models, from street casting, to girls in development (new to the game, who need photos for their folio) and more established girls. I really like this mix, the variation from the inexperienced to the established model keeps this project constantly evolving, and shows all aspects of what a model is.


You’ve previously done studio shoots with many of the models. How does it differ, shooting them in their own rooms?
At first the girls can be a little bit self-conscious, but once we have sat down, chatted, I’ve let them know what I want, and they realise that this is a chance for them to present themselves how they would like to be perceived, they love it. It’s their domain, and they are often surprised at how a photo can transform their ordinary room into something quite dreamy.

You travel far and wide to undertake this project, but do you find any universal similarities within the models’ homes?
There are mansions, there are share houses and share-rooms. Ultimately, the similarity is the dignity that we all have for our homes, no matter how meagre some might be. In fact, some of the most immaculate homes I went to were two-room apartments housing families of five in old Soviet blocs in Kiev, Ukraine. Most models still lived with their parents, and although the houses were smaller than many studio apartments in Australia, what really hit me was the pride and dignity which they placed on their homes. The parents would sleep on the sofa, and pack it away, transforming the room into an immaculate lounge room every morning, three kids would sleep in one room. These families seemed so close and loving. I guess they have to be when living in such proximity to each other.

All of the shoots have a very strong individual aesthetic. Can you talk us through the logistics of shoots like these? For instance, do you know much about the look of the venues before you arrive or do you have to act on instinct once there? How much input do the models have?
More often than not, I have absolutely no idea. It’s a real chance to be spontaneous and imaginative. I have no pre-conceived ideas of what to expect, so it’s a matter of being inspired on the spot. It doesn’t take long. As soon as I walk into the house I start scoping out cool spots to shoot. Then after a brief introduction the model and I are rummaging through their wardrobe, pulling out outfits, and then working out where to shoot each one. I have a bit of time to do this, while the girl is getting her hair and makeup done. This is also a crucial part of the process. It’s a balancing act of enhancing the model, while still retaining a stripped back look. I have a great team of hair and makeup artists who understand the aesthetic I am after. Some models like to be involved in every step of this process, from styling, to doing their own hair and makeup, or at least advising what they think works best for them. Other models are happy to let me take the reigns. Even if I have greater creative control, it is still crucial to keep the model involved in the whole process, as this is where the honesty and realism stays true. If the model is removed from this process, it becomes my fantasy projected on her, rather than a collaboration.



Are the shoots fun?
Hell yes! They are so fun! The vast majority of models tell me afterwards that its the funnest shoot they’ve ever done! This is more often than not the first time that a model has been asked to be involved in the creative process and actually create images that are visions of themselves, how they would like to be seen.

Where now for Model-Maison? Is this an ongoing project? 
I hope this is a life-long project. It would be a fascinating way to see how the world slowly changes… homes, models, photography, styles. Or, how little it changes! In the closer time-frame, I am looking at having a pop-up exhibition of my series from Kiev, Ukraine, before heading to The States and Europe to shoot more. Once I am back in Australia the ultimate aim is to publish a book. I have been shooting this for two years now, I think after another world trip and another summer in Sydney, I should have more than enough chronicles to publish a big fat book.

After the pop-up, will we see more Model-Maison exhibitions in galleries?
YES! So I will start with this pop-up show before heading to LA in February (this will be a test of my organisational skills and a test for this format of exhibiting). As I will be constantly shooting more Model-Maison and adding to the collection, I am toying with the idea of having a pop-up show once a year or so, a celebration of the shoots from the year. I see these photos lying somewhere between fashion and art, so to see them full size in print is really important to me.


Would you like to get more male subjects involved?
Haha! There is definitely a void of boys. Sure! I have had quite a few male models contact me since the release of the blog, so I will definitely start shooting them. I really like to follow any lead, if something comes my way, I take it. If a model asks me to shoot them, I really try not to be too picky, as this is what keeps the blog genuine and varied, and keeps me on my toes.

If you could shoot anyone in the world in their bedroom, who would you choose?
Andrej Pejic.

And finally, what else have you got lined up for 2014?
Lots of travel. This is the year of Model-Maison for me. I have taken leave from my masters degree and I am throwing myself right into Model-Maison. Exciting times.



Interview by Bobby Townsend.  Be sure to visit Model-Maison’s website.