Text & Interview: Jillian Billard
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Meet May Daniels, the LA-based artist, model, and muse whose unique vision and radiant energy is taking the realm of photography by storm. Represented by New York’s NO Agency, May’s diverse modeling portfolio showcases not only her stunning beauty, but her strength and creative vision as well. For Daniels, modeling isn’t just about putting on clothes and posing for a camera; it is a form of artistic expression. Working on both sides of the camera, May has a unique understanding of the collaborative process that occurs between photographer and subject. Her own works evoke a sense of divine intimacy and ease. Often depicting friends in languid postures, May has a masterful understanding of movement and composition, paired with a keen eye for her subject’s idiosyncrasies and unique individual beauty. I had the pleasure of speaking with Daniels about the relationship between the artist and the muse, fostering a safe collaborative environment when shooting, and defying traditional beauty standards.
Hi May! Let’s start with you telling be a bit about yourself and your background. How did you start modeling and making art?
Art has always been an aspect of my life. My brother and I have always been super creative; often coordinating dance routines and performing plays for any family member that we could rope into watching us. I’ve experimented with a few different mediums, but modeling and photography have been the ones that really stuck. It’s allowed me the opportunity to meet kindred spirits and travel; and has served as a great outlet for my restless mind, because every day looks different.
What is No Agency? What sets No Agency apart from other modeling agencies?
It’s a modeling agency! All of my fellow dudes represented by No Agency are wicked smart, multi-faceted, and talented humans. The tired beauty standards and school of thought that womyxn aren’t capable of being more complex than skin deep, temporary beauty are well, tired. Alex and Ashley have been really supportive and approach the modeling industry in innovative ways.
Did you know the other models and artists represented by No Agency before you started working with them? How has being a part of this community changed your creative outlook, or helped you thrive as an artist?
I didn’t! I’m based on the West Coast but go to New York for short work stints quite often, so during these visits I’ve had a chance to link with the crew. It gives me life; witnessing how open, stylish, and badass everyone is, and how unabashedly passionate they are with their work. We’re all rooting for each other! I’ve had so much fucking fun with the opportunities they have facilitated, and I can’t wait to keep growing alongside these bright humans.
As a photographer yourself, what is it like being on the other end of the camera? How do you use your knowledge and creative vision to collaborate and create interesting compositions with a photographer while modeling?
Having an understanding of both sides lends itself to (hopefully) being in-tune with your body and how your movements will translate.
What are the keys to creating a safe collaborative environment in a photoshoot?
I love this question! I am not a perfect human, but I can speak from my own experience and feedback that I have received. I think clear communication before the shoot even happens is so crucial. Establishing boundaries, vision and usage beforehand can eliminate pressure and avoid a lot of awkwardness during the actual shoot. It’s important to constantly touch base with each other. It sounds overbearing but it can be challenging to read someone’s energy in these settings, especially if you are working with together for the first time. Every so often I’ll ask someone how they are doing, if they need water, or if we should grab a snack. These small, basic human gestures display a great deal of respect and consideration for your collaborator’s energy, and create a foundation for open communication.
The tired beauty standards and school of thought that womyxn aren't capable of being more complex than skin deep, temporary beauty are, well, tired.
What inspires you to create?
Currently, I am inspired by movement and dance! I need to take a dance class. I am in the very (very) beginning stages of exploring video and short moving portraits. There is something much more vulnerable and honest to me in video than could ever be captured in a still. Vulnerability really does it for me.
How do you prepare for a shoot?
Let’s speak in ideals, because life doesn’t always allow for all of these small, but important moments to happen. I try to get a good night’s rest, drink lots of water, get some movement (yoga!) in, and make sure I’ve eaten well that day. I always bring snacks, because you never know what you’re walking into. It’s unfortunate, but not many hairstylists in this industry have taken the initiative to educate themselves on black hair care, so I’ve started being more mindful of having my hair pretty much ready to go and bringing a few products with me for touch-ups. Music helps to hype me up, or center and calm me down, depending on what I need.
Do you think that the fashion and art worlds are making a shift towards representing lesser-heard voices?
I think as a whole collective conscience, we are evolving. I do believe that for the most part, brands are pandering to what is “trendy” rather than taking a genuine interest in empowering marginalized people in the current oppressive white patriarchy we live in, BUT regardless of their intent, it is representation. The exposure is granting marginalized artists paid work, so that they can reciprocate this within their community and fund their own creative endeavors. Of course, it is important to be vigilant in holding brands accountable and researching who it is you are supporting, but my mindset has changed a bit in the last year or so from “Fuck white corporate ass Amerikkka” to “Fuck white corporate ass Amerikkka and let me take their $ to launch my own shit.”
How has modeling changed your view of your own work?
I have been shooting film for a year and a half now, and modeling for three. I think modeling prior to shooting provided me with invaluable knowledge of the industry, a plethora of contacts, and an understanding of how it feels to be in the model’s shoes.
What are you working on right now?
Honestly? Nothing. I’m in a space where I am exploring being really comfortable with that. I am always shooting pals, because I have been blessed with so many beautiful people in my life, but I have no master secret project going on. I’m primarily working on myself. The inspiration to create is on it’s way.
I'm working on myself primarily. The inspiration to create is on it's way.