When we think of models there is a certain physical look and type that comes to mind, and this is indeed true for many facets of the industry. But fashion or advertising campaigns are not the only forms of modeling that exist, and this is not a reference to the erotic or pornographic industry. While these are definitely valid avenues for a person to pursue if they do not fall into the standard requirements of the fashion industry, they are not the only alternatives.
Our world is populated by photographers with varied skill levels, and each of them brings their own vision to the art form, even if they borrow from their influences. One of the things that diversify their portfolios is the inclusion of subjects who fall outside of the expected norm. In many cases, it is these images of the very individuals who do not fit into the accepted mold that receive the most attention, because they fall outside of the box and allow the viewer to explore a new perspective. Some photographers choose to focus solely on non industry subjects, which creates a special demand.
There is a certain type of modeling that spotlights the alternative individual, allowing the tattooed and pierced an opportunity to express themselves in front of a camera regardless of what the industry is looking for. Some of them become famous in their own right, such as the Suicide Girls, while others have built up a quiet, but slowing burning intensity, like Tattoo 23, that produces a different kind of fame, on a smaller, but no less exciting scale. Another one of these models is Caleb Shinobi.
There are many visual qualities that set Caleb apart from his contemporaries, with the first being that he is Asian. This particular ethnic group is finally receiving the attention they deserve, but even amongst his own, Caleb tends to stand out. Standing at 5'11", he is taller than what we would expect from an Asian model, and his body has become it's own canvas for artists, as he is covered in tattoos, most notably that of a gun pointing down on his abdomen, which - when in jeans - gives the impression of resting just inside the waistband area.
One of the first impressions after looking through Caleb's portfolio would center on his creativity. His images are expressive, almost surreal, bursting with color and interesting props. There is also a blatant use of sexuality, with nudity figuring prominently, but never appearing gratuitous. The style may invite comparisons to David LaChappelle or Justin Monroe, but the look is completely his own. No matter what elements you reference for comparison, the truth is that no one else, that I've seen, is doing what Caleb is doing.
Finding his place as a model, and discovering that there is in fact a market for his look, was liberating, and Caleb could have rested on that accomplishment, but instead he chose to step behind the camera and proved himself to be a talented photographer as well. And his look will soon be more familiar after the publication of a photo book he is featured in by the incredible Henning Von Berg.
Caleb and I have been familiar with each other's work since I first joined Model Mayhem, and I can attest to his humility. In spite of all the attention he is now getting, he remains humble, and somewhat surprised that he has been able to find an audience with interests beyond the standard muscular frat boy. I have always found beauty in those that stepped outside the box, and it is for this reason that I wanted to feature him.
BLISS: How did you get your start in modeling and what initially attracted you to it?
CALEB SHINOBI: At first I never imagined that I would even be considered decent enough to even be anything more than average, but when I first realized that "hey I like this" is when I was on a show called 20/20 with Barbara Walters a long time ago and when I was a flight attendant and people recognized me on the plane. I just loved the attention! But I thought I could never be a model. I still cant believe I shot with so many amazing photographers and models that I never would have imagined in my life I would have, or done anything with those kind of talented, beautiful people when most guys are better looking than me. lol Then I discovered that some people actually like skinny tattooed guys like me. I still can’t believe it.
B: What was your first shoot like?
CS: I was very nervous and I felt like what the hell am I doing here, could this be a mistake on their part and what could anyone see in me? I still can’t believe that someone like me that’s scrawny with lots of tattoos in an industry where the majority of mostly (beautiful) white guys dominate.
B: Do you have a favorite photographer that you've worked with? If so, why?
CS: I know this is going to sound like I’m full of it, but every photographer is my favorite because they have all given me a chance when there are so many far better looking male models out there, and most of the ones I’ve worked with would let me try my ideas out and never held me back, even when they’ve never done anything as risky. What I try to do usually is not the same old mainstream that I’m so tired of seeing all the time. So thank you for taking a chance on me.
B: Are there any particular photographers that you would like to work with in the future?
CS: I would like to work with as many different photographers, professional and amateurs alike because I learn from every experience how to be a better person and to accept the good with the bad because you win some and lose some and sometimes when you least expect it, good things come from bad things.
B: Did you start as a model or photographer? Was it difficult to make the transition from being in front of the lens to behind it?
CS: I began as a model, mostly because I love to coordinate things, as all my shoots except for one or two, was all planned out and all the wardrobe/locations were provided by me. But I wanted to be a photographer so I can feel what they feel and to be a better model from that too.
B: In comparing modeling to being a photographer, is there a preference? If so, why?
CS: I love to be the photographer because I can see exactly how I want it to be and have more control over the situation, but I’m so sad that I’m not in the photo sometimes when its such an awesome concept or location.
B: You photograph both males and females. Do you find that you have more of an affinity for one sex over the other?
CS: I could lie, but like most photographers we tend to shoot more of the sex that we are attracted to anyways, but I hated being rejected by someone that’s really cool but only shoots women so I promised myself that I will try my best not to do that.
B: What would you consider to be your best feature?
CS: OMG I don’t even know, I guess my tattoos because without them, I don’t really have any good features really. Ha-ha
B: Your range is impressive. Some of your images are simple in theme, while others could be viewed as erotica. Do you collaborate on any of the ideas for these shoots?
CS: I don’t want to take all the credit but as mentioned before that besides only about 2 shoots out of all my shoots (I lost count how many I've done now) but I learned that if I don’t get props and wardrobes myself, I cant rely on anyone else to get it exactly the way I want it to be so I get everything together and ask the girls sometimes if they can provide just the shoes and tights if not, I just go and get them.
B: There is another model whom I think is just incredible (tattoo23), and like you, there is a level of humor that runs through some of the images, no matter how outrageous. Is the injection of humor something that appeals to you or a way to calm the overall perception of the final image?
CS: I totally believe so, I mean I really want it to have substance to be taken seriously like some of the incredibly dark/edgy art shots out there but just like all my shoots if your ask anyone I’ve shot with, I find it more important to have a good time and that they laughed a lot rather than getting good shots sometimes because its just a fun time that we will remember forever regardless how it comes out. And I would rather have people say nice things and how fun it was than have good photos and have had a miserable time and not ever wanting to see me again anywhere, because I think word of mouth is just as helpful to working with others, just as it could be hurtful.
xB: You appear naked in many of your photos. What is your general attitude about nudity?
CS: To all the religious conservative people out there, I don’t understand how nudity is wrong and offensive sometimes when nudity is the most natural human form and where we are nude, labels, stereotypes, social classes disappear (well most of it anyways) and this is how we are made by god/nature/whatever, and we should embrace it, not be ashamed.
B: No matter whose port you explore on Model Mayhem, the fact remains that if there is nudity in any of their shots, those photos will generate the highest number of views. You obviously do not have a problem with nudity or eroticism. Does this generate more interest from photographers (and models) to seek out working with you?
CS: Actually my nudity has made many very talented photographers turn me down but I say hate all they want because I’m doing what I want and not what society or those kinds of restrictive photographers want, so I try not to let it affect me that much. And I try not to take this too seriously because I’m not much to look at anyways lol and I just like to have fun and get a few good shots while doing so and meeting and making so many wonderful new friends that can accept me for who I am and not what society wants or tells me how I should be.
B: I'm sure you've had many offers. Have you ever, or would you ever consider working in porn?
CS: OMG I wish I had as many offers as many people believe but my penis isn’t very big and my body is not anything to get excited over, so no real offers. I have done photos that are a little too much for Model Mayhem but nothing officially.
B: How would you define the difference between erotic art and pornography?
CS: I feel that even if someone has an erection and it is done tastefully that it is a form of art, because its a very natural state of being and its not fair and very sad that many sites and society immediately casts if off as pornography when if anything, it should be considered humorous because, well it can be sometimes.
B: What advice would you give a new model starting out in the business?
CS: That no matter how many people you feel are better looking out there, that someone and many people will like your look because different is good, and even if you are gorgeous and you didn’t get chosen for something, it doesn’t mean that you’re not beautiful, its just that they were looking for someone that would match the idea they have in mind. I worked with so many people who are a billions times more beautiful than me and they’re always sad because they didn’t get chosen from a casting call of so many people and I tell them, well at least you were even considered for it because I’ve never even been to a real casting call. Lol
B: When I look at your images, I am most impressed by you lack of limitation. You seem to be able to fit into a multitude of roles. How would you describe your style?
CS: I know that most people think I just try to do outrageous things for attention or shock value but mostly I do what I do because I think it will be fun and I want to capture that moment. I’m actually trying to do some shoots where it’s not so out there, so I can be better rounded and not a hypocrite of people doing the same things over and over again lol
B: Your look is definitely not what would be considered the standard in our society. I, however, think you have tremendous appeal and an undeniable sexiness. What is sexy to you?
CS: Aw thank you! I really don’t get that as much as people keep thinking I do, especially from the gay community or people that I would love to be more acquainted with sexually... I get more love and compliments from women and LOTS of open minded straight guys and sometimes older gay gentlemen all the time. They can look beyond just the surface of what I portray myself to be I suppose. I believe sexiness is anyone that can portray themselves as who they want to be and not care what anyone thinks and to just do the best they can, and it really shows when someone is passionate about something they love.
B: On a lighter note, tell me 5 fun facts about Caleb
1. I speak Japanese and little French
2. I was a flight attendant (stewardess lol)
3. I lived in Japan, Scotland, London, Egypt, Amsterdam, NY, Detroit, Seattle, San Fran, Chicago, I think I will stop there cause threes too many to list.
4. I was in the Navy as a combat medic with the Marines stationed all over overseas again and I loved the military! The straight guys were all so nice to me even when many of them found out I was gay.
5. I am in nursing school in Honolulu, Hawaii
And one more - my hair is sky blue right now. I change my hair color often and I'm loving it!
B: What is your ultimate goal in this industry?
CS: Just to continue to have fun and get in a few more magazines because that makes me happy that someone unconventionally not beautiful can make it in this industry too sometimes!
©2009 Sean Dibble
For more Caleb Shinobiwww.modelmayhem.com/755199
For Shinobi Photographywww.modelmayhem.com/1109826
For Clockwork Shinobi (Photoshop Wizard)www.modelmayhem.com/1180058
Princess May Santiagowww.modelmayhem.com/716229