One over-exposed morning on Bondi Promenade, an olive-skinned, 5’10” vision of long limbs and enviable jet black waves was lounging seaside in a mohair coat far too heavy for Sunday brunch. Fifty metres down the walk, I was crouched much less glamorously with my monster of a wildlife lens. Five minutes prior, I’d left Shanali with posing instructions and a spray bottle for her hair, and for the next hour of shooting, the pair of us drew quite some confused stares – on her end, passersby stopped in their tracks for fear of interrupting a photoshoot… but where was the photographer? On mine, every man and his dog wondered why a paparazzo was sitting cross-legged on the pavement, and who could possibly be the subject of such an invasive photograph.
Certainly, neither Lara Bingle nor Red Foo were anywhere to be seen.
Just before 10 o’clock, one Sunday bruncher clicked and shyly exclaimed how much she’d loved Shanali on her recent success on Australia’s Next Top Model. A Bondi Speedos advocate stopped and asked for a photo “to show his mates”. A quartet of schoolgirls pointed and whispered amongst themselves before scuttling past in a frenzy of squeals and red-faced giggles. A father explained how much his daughter admired her. A mother gushed over how flawless she looked, even without makeup. Meanwhile, heavily zinced tourists didn’t really know what was going on, but took photos anyway – after all, she was beautiful, so “she must be somebody”.
We took refuge from the sun to go through our shots so far: “If Top Model gave me nothing, it gave me a profile,” she laughed, baffled by the public intrigue, then looked at me earnestly, “but it did give me a lot.”
At 17, Shanali is blindingly mature, charming and hungry to learn. She’s not interested in the politics of the industry – she wants to know about the change. Melissa McCarthy’s recent ELLE cover, for instance: unlike the internet outrage over the coat allegedly chosen to cover the actress’s fuller figure, Shanali is more interested in the decision behind the cover. McCarthy shapes pop culture in a very unique way. She never takes things too seriously. She bends media standards.
It’s simple, really.
And it’s this broader view on what’s happening around her that makes me so sure that Shanali Martin, patiently waiting for me to finish attacking her hair with a spray bottle, will be a global success story in a decade’s time. Yes, she’s a ‘Fresh Face’; yes, she’s ‘One to Watch’; and indeed, her success will come much sooner than those ten years. But, Shanali is built to walk in Paris and wired to be a businesswoman. And not one of cheesy silver screen diamantes (she’ll be shedding her reality television skin the minute she books her first print editorial and runway show), but one of Grace Coddington value and prestige.
Next minute, Shanali’s shaping Gen Y in the same way McCarthy shapes X – or at the very least least, she’ll be writing about the ones who do. And the world will be listening.
Just you wait.
Model: Shanali Martin @ IMG Models
Photography & Styling: Margaret Zhang
Look 1: Sabo Skirt Sweater, Model’s Own Trousers
Look 4: The Beauty Chef Beauty Fix Balm
Shot on Nikon D600 with Sigma 150-500mm: I’ve been experimenting with this lens a huge amount recently, everywhere between shooting looks on self-timer to campaigns (admittedly, more so for commercial work, or shoots like this one, my usual self-portrait dig – the lens is a little too front heavy for my little tripod without a photo assistant…). As much as the guys at DigiDIRECT thought I was out of my mind when I said I intended to shoot human subjects with this monstrous Sigma, I’m just as much for using a wildlife lens (even hardcore paparazzi wouldn’t be keen for this particular arm workout) on people as I am for jackets as skirts, or shirts as hats. But, the results are everything I could ever wish for in outdoor editorial photography – despite the incredible depth of field, there’s no loss in vivid background colours (essential for a location like Bondi), and the long-range detail it’s capable of, once your bicep acclimatises to the kg’s, is just as good as my 85mm.