When photographer Steven Sebring first brought up the idea of making an encyclopedia of 1,000 poses to Coco Rocha, he said it was an idea he’d had for a while — but he’d never found anyone capable of doing it. “That sounded like a challenge to me, and as I said, I love a challenge,” Rocha writes in the introduction to Study of Pose, the resulting book of 1,000 poses she modeled for Sebring over the course of three days, out this week from Harper Design.
“It sounds like a huge number, but I was like, ‘Well, I’m known for my repertoire of poses, so yeah, I think I can do 1,000,’” Rocha told the Cut earlier this week. “But between 500 and 800, it was getting real tough. By 800, I was done, and I told them, ‘Let’s just do a book of 800 poses because I have nothing more.’” But with help from Sebring and Rocha’s husband, James Conran, Rocha made it to 1,000 — including poses inspired by everything from classical dance (prior to modeling, Rocha trained as an Irish step-dancer) and art history to Michael Jackson and James Brown.
And the book is just the beginning. Sebring shot all 1,000 poses on what he calls his “rig”: a geodesic dome filled with cameras that shoot simultaneously, producing images that can be viewed from 360 degrees, like sculptures (à la Sebring’s film for Donna Karan’s 30th anniversary ad campaign, featuring Karlie Kloss, and, more recently, Rocha’s creepy pregnancy announcement). This December, they’ll be releasing an app version of the book — which will include renderings of each pose visible from 360 degrees. Sebring, inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s seminal record of bodily movement, The Human Figure in Motion, hopes the project will become a reference for other artists and photographers. “I don’t know if anyone will look at every picture,” he said. “Maybe a kid … Because for me, the book is pretty overwhelming. I’m curious to see what people do and how they interact with the app.”
The Cut spoke with Rocha about her background as an Irish dancer and what it’s like to be photographed from 360 degrees at once.
Did your background in dance help you to come up with poses?
I think dance helped a lot, but a lot of people forget that I used to be an Irish dancer, so I’m still very stiff from my torso up. In ten years of modeling I’ve trained myself to relax and be able to use my upper body. I’ve always thought of modeling as a performance, so I don’t mind kind of pretending. I kind of pretend in a lot of my poses that I am a ballerina, or a hip-hop dancer, or a grunge performer. For the book, it was definitely a mix of classical poses from dance, and then James, my husband, and Steven would find references from art history and pop culture and film. They would look it up and then I would do my own interpretation of what that would be, from Michael Jackson to a prima ballerina to Venus rising from the sea. We tried to get it all in there.
What was the process of shooting like?
We shot it on the “rig,” so there were 100 cameras taking the one image. It’s a very new way of capturing images, so it’s exciting to shoot on. But, being in that room, it’s kind of a dome. There’s no windows, there’s no light, and you’re stuck in there for three days. You start to get a little … a little crazy.
Are you conscious of your body in different ways than usual when you know you’re being shot from 360 degrees?
You just can’t be conscious of your body. When you do normal editorials, you’re usually clamped in the back of your dress, or there may be someone in the background with a wind machine on you — there are just so many things going on in that image. With this, it’s just you — and the viewer sees every form of you. You can’t be self-conscious about it, especially shooting in a bodysuit leotard. The whole point is so you can see every line, every shape.
How do you decide what facial expression feels right for a pose?
For certain ones, it was just about the agony of that pose. I mean, it’s 1,000 poses — but it was really hard to do 1,000 emotions. I think in general models tend to do their favorite faces, or their comfortable face, but your facial expression is just so important. You don’t want to have an editorial of 20 photos where it’s just you giving a Zoolander face. You want to be able to give them a variety, so I tried to do that.
Did you learn anything from working on the project?
What my body could do. There are definitely a ton of poses in there that I have never, ever used on a photo shoot, but it’s interesting to see how much you can push yourself. It’s also a great reference piece for younger models to see that there aren’t just three basic ways of posing. You can do a lot more than just, you know, “hand on hip; hand off hip.”
Do you have a favorite pose from the book?
We shot it straight through, from “1” being the first and “1,000” being the last, so I don’t quite remember everything in there. But, the last few are quite fun. Halfway through I knew that I wanted to rip my leotard apart and tear my hair out, because it just got to the point where I was like, “I don’t know what else I can give you.” So, the last one’s kind of cute: I was ripping the leotard apart and my hair is falling out.