Fetish model and Playboy cover star turned photographer Ifa Brand can hardly contain her excitement about what the next few weeks promise to bring.
Not only is her first book, Boudoir — a collection of fetish-erotic self-portraits with a ‘bygone era’ vibe, shot entirely on Polaroid — officially out from London publisher Circa Press on December 1.
But Ifa is also one of 17 artists due to be featured later this week in the Paris exhibition InstantArt, devoted entirely to work created on Polaroid or Fuji Instax film. She’ll be attending the opening night party on November 12.
“This year has been an amazing one for me in terms of photography,” she says in one of the many emails we’ve been exchanging for this article. “I learned so much thanks to the Boudoir project.”
She reveals that impending publication of the book also led Dutch Playboy — which had boosted her modelling career when it put her on the cover in 2013 — to publish a preview spread about Boudoir this summer.
“It felt like full circle for me,” she says, “from cover model to having my own work, my own Polaroids, published in the magazine.”
The fact that by an amazing coincidence, the issue came out on her actual birthday “made it one hell of a ‘gift from the universe’ and frankly, unreal,” she adds.
Hailing from the Flemish city of Tongeren, in Belgium’s Limburg province, Ifa Brand attended the Academy of Royal Arts in Antwerp, where she studied for five years and graduated as a master silversmith and jewellery designer.
Her modelling began as a hobby during her teens, when her taste for dressing in gothic attire led to opportunities as a goth model.
“Along the way I started to develop my modelling style, venturing away from the goth style into glamour and fetish,” she explains. “My personal style was also changing, moving away from gothic clothing — still keeping the black but no longer the long velvet dresses.”
Ifa’s first latex shoot was with Belgian photographer Kris Saelen, who had “some amazing latex outfits for me to try on, including dresses but also a full heavy rubber outfit”.
“We started with the dresses and ended with the heavy rubber outfit, which was a full bodysuit paired with corset, long gloves and a wonderful horned face-mask by Dayne Henderson,” she recalls.
“This made my interest in latex grow, and around this time (2012-2013), I started buying my own latex outfits and going to fetish parties such as Fetish Evolution in Essen, Germany, where I also did several catwalks for latex designers like Brigitte More.”
Initially Ifa treated fetish parties as a way to dress up in latex and have a good time with friends, rather than to expand her modelling career.
“Although I did get to know some really cool photographers who I worked with over the years to come — like Jacco Breedveld (aka coJac) and Phoebus Kalista.
“I started to expand more towards glamour modelling and slowly introducing topless and nude shoots into my portfolio as my confidence grew.
“In 2013 I had my modelling breakthrough, scoring the cover of Dutch Playboy magazine, which enabled me to work more abroad. I modelled for a couple of years but never felt satisfied.”
Her dissatisfaction, she says, centred around not being able to represent her true identity, and seemingly falling between styles. “I was alternative, but not alternative enough. Fetish, but not in a typical sense.”
When I ask if she can expand on this, what she tells me suggests she was ahead of her time in the circles in which she was then moving.
“Due to my interest in different styles from classic glamour Playboy nudes to fetish, my style as a model was not always so definable for photographers.
“I loved to combine classic black lingerie sets with leather harnesses or latex accessories. And while you see this all the time now on Instagram, back around 2014 this really wasn’t ‘fashionable’, or something a lot of photographers could relate to.
“Most of them did not understand the combinations I was making in terms of outfits and style. It bothered me when photographers told me how I should look, pose, behave. Telling me no to red lips, no to precious lingerie and all the things I loved,” she explains.
As I know from my own decades of working as an editor and/or writer with photographers on shoots, there are often only two possible outcomes with models who have their own strong ideas about how things should look.
Either the photographer accepts their input as part of a welcome creative collaboration, or they are damned as ‘difficult’ for not taking direction. I ask Ifa if she was aware of photographers ever regarding her as ‘awkward’.
Her response, both detailed and carefully considered, gradually takes the conversation into darker territory that she later says she has not really talked about before.
“I worked with a lot of photographers, from amateur to semi-professional and professionals. In the beginning, modelling was a great creative outlet alongside my design-based education as a jewellery designer.
“I did many shoots and expanded my portfolio quickly, gaining more experience along the way and trying to diversify by mixing styles.
“On a personal level I gained a lot of confidence travelling solo abroad, arranging my own shoots, managing time, communication and organisation skills that I take with me to this day.
“I started doing more workshops and portfolio-building days for photographers. I did many great shoots and had lots of fun although I was not spared from creepy encounters.
“I remember a particular workshop in London where, between sets, I was having small talk with a photographer, but I should say this photographer was having the conversation mainly with my boobs, as he kept staring into my cleavage. All the time.
“He didn’t even look me in the eyes which made me feel very uncomfortable and objectified. This feeling kept on returning throughout the years.
“It is unfortunate to say but photography still draws in people with bad intentions, and people with no interest in photography at all who just want to take pictures of naked ladies.
“This realisation — plus growing encounters with photographers who tried to push my modelling limits and personal boundaries by demanding explicit shots of genitalia or actually trying to shoot you between the legs while you are still posing — made my frustrations grow.”
However, Ifa is quick to point out that there are differences of approach in “how photographers handle models and how they want them to pose”.
“My best shoots,” she reckons, “were the ones where the photographer allowed me to pose freely. Going with the flow, being organic and working together towards a common goal produced great images.
“It was a bonus if there was a personal click in terms of interests, humour and lifestyle, but this was not necessary for good results.
“I had most issues with photographers who were very controlling and aggressive in their approach. Who made strange remarks about my body like ‘Did you gain weight? Looks like you gained a bit’.
“This is not an ideal way to make a model feel comfortable. Some photographers compare you to other models or even worse, make remarks about how much Photoshop they will need to cover up your flaws.
“I mentioned earlier that photography attracts people who are not kind-hearted. Such people will try to undermine your worth, confidence and self-esteem in order to feel powerful.
“It doesn’t really matter if they are amateur or pro. I feel that nowadays with MeToo becoming a big movement, there is more openness and willingness to talk and react towards bad behaviour from photographers even if they are big names.
“Before the MeToo movement there was some resistance to coming forward about these experiences in an honest way.
“By becoming my own photographer I gained my independence again, allowing me to work with the things I loved about modelling in the first place, and working in my own style.”
I ask Ifa whether any of the problem behaviour she refers to was exhibited by fetish photographers. She says it wasn’t.
“I never had any issues with fetish photographers, as in general they tend to be very respectful towards people’s limits.
“I had strange encounters with so-called ‘fashion’ photographers in Paris. I experienced bad behaviour from both amateur and pro photographers not respecting me as a person.
“Towards 2016 and 2017 I felt, due to my own personal style as well, the shoots I was doing no longer gave me artistic satisfaction. I started shooting less, only working with people who understood me — but even that was not enough to counter the many letdowns.
“I think ‘being bummed out’ really sums up my feelings at the time. I still loved certain aspects of modelling. The whole ritual of getting dressed up, having your make-up done, posing.
“But I had this growing urge to represent myself on my own terms.”
By 2017, Ifa felt she had hit her “modelling glass ceiling”, so she decided to go her own way.
“I wanted to have complete control over my image. Be my own creative director. Create my own storylines, my own vision of sensuality, eroticism and fetish. Direct every aspect of it from small details to the end result.”
But, she confesses, transforming herself into a photographer, and moreover, a photographer shooting with Polaroids, was still something of an impromptu decision.
With no knowledge of photographic technology or experience of using cameras, Ifa “very impulsively” bought a Polaroid camera at the end of 2017 after doing some online research.
“I set up a shoot at my house. I didn’t know at that time if it would be suitable for my ideas, if it would work out or if I would even like it. But from the first instant I immediately loved it.
“It gave me a whole new experience,” she recalls. “The sound of the camera taking the image, the smell of the chemicals (so strong and specific to Polaroid), and the way the images roll out of the camera, unedited and pure.”
The specifics of Polaroid film, she says, give her images a vintage vibe with slightly distorted colors, sometimes out of focus with grain.
“It’s as if time itself is fading when gazing at the image; it’s like looking back in time to when men’s magazines were secretly tucked away under the bed.”
After the positive feeling she got from that first home shoot, Ifa “decided not to waste time” and set up second and third shoots at a location she knew from her modelling work.
She sent the results to Seltmann, a German publisher whose Photodarium Polaroid annual tear-off calendars are available in two editions: regular and Private, the latter featuring erotic imagery.
“And to my surprise,” says Ifa, “ten of my images got published in the 2019 edition, which immediately gave me a head start and a way into the Polaroid community.
“From there I started shooting very regularly, learning to work with the cameras and lighting and further developing my photographic style.”
She says she already knew what kind of imagery she wanted to achieve: what kind of locations, what mood and atmosphere.
“For me, technique is secondary to feeling. I think in colours, shadows and contrast. Polaroid is unstable, always unpredictable. It challenges you each time.
“The reason I thought Polaroid might be a good idea was because of its imperfections and how it would balance nicely with my subjects. I also like the idea of doing something different from most photographers.”
When Ifa bought her first Polaroid camera in October 2017, it was the company’s brand new model called the OneStep2. “A simple point and shoot camera, easy for beginners, very basic.”READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 2
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