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Shonda Laurelee Mackey

Note: This article appeared in Solis Magazine in late summer 2013.

At first glance, the photos that make up the modeling portfolio for Shonda Laurelee Mackey may not seem like they feature the same girl.

Each image’s style bears little resemblance to the next photo. In one, the 5’7” beauty contorts her crouching body to hide a bloody butcher knife behind her back, wearing short hair that’s colored with aqua, platinum blond, and lilac streaks and a cheeky grin. In the next, she’s a blond pinup girl wearing leopard-print leggings and gazing off-camera with bedroom eyes; in another, she’s covered in a trench coat and walking through a trail of autumn leaves as if it’s a runway. Yet as varied as these photos are, Shonda leaves her signature in each.

Besides her obvious physical traits – Shonda sports tattoos over her arms, knuckles, legs, and back – she leaves a unique imprint. In each photo she speaks to the audience with honesty, often with a sly smile, yet almost always with a meaningful vulnerability in her expression.

“I’ve done literally everything, been a chopped up zombie, I’ve [had] dreadlocks, shaved head, blue hair. I make all of it work because I’m still able to show what I see within me,” she says. For the Phoenix-based, 26-year-old model, what she sees in herself is a result of a long journey of self-discovery.

Born in Pueblo, Colorado, at a young age she learned to adapt quickly as she bounced between other Colorado cities, including Rifle, Grand Junction, and Florence, which she refers to as a “prison town.” While she was at Columbine Elementary School in Grand Junction, she says she lived the “classic Cinderella story:” she shared a home with her “evil” stepmother while her father was away working. She never knew much of anything about her mother besides her name.

By fifth grade, she moved in with her grandmother in Florence, but she says she couldn’t escape her social struggles there. “No matter what grade or what city I was in, I still got bullied and pushed away as an outcast,” says Shonda. “It didn’t help that I lived in the ‘old burned down school’ according to all my peers. I never would have any friends over to stay the night because of the ‘terrible’ things that had happened in our inherited house – they were all too scared.”

Yet she says this time wasn’t all bad. Her younger cousin Austin came to live with her and her grandmother when he was seven months old. They raised him together and Shonda calls Austin “the closest thing to a brother” she’s ever had. She even started making friends, but she says she had to leave the life she was starting to enjoy to move back to Grand Junction with her father by high school. The stress of the move took its toll on her health. Shonda says she started putting on a lot of weight at once, starting at 75 pounds to nudging a size 11 as she entered a new school.

At first, she says, she sought unhealthy ways to lose weight. She says she would starve herself and force herself to vomit. She says she constantly felt ill and frustrated that either the excess weight left behind loose, baggy skin or the weight wouldn’t come off at all. At a certain point, “I put my foot down and decided within myself that I am better than this and I can do this the right way,” she says. With the help of her father, she researched protein-based diets and workout routines and dedicated herself to being in school from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. to use the school’s weight classes. She joined her school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and says she was inspired to start the first all-girl exhibition team, which went on to compete at the state level. Following her success, she graduated high school and, later on, dental assistant school, with steady work bartending on the side.

Nevertheless, personal setbacks began to plague her again during this time, and she calls it some of the worst years of her life. She says she suffered through several abusive relationships after high school, including one with a man who drunkenly kicked her out on the streets. She says she spent a few months homeless until a good friend kindly took her in and patiently helped her back on her feet. It didn’t take long for another personal blow to strike. Her cousin Austin, then 13 years old, was fatally hit by a vehicle while on his dirt bike.

“What I would give to trade places,” she says, reflecting on his accident. “You can go through a thousand different ‘what-ifs’ but I’ve come to realize that it does not matter the circumstances. If it’s meant to happen, it will one way or another.” Days later, her birth mother passed away due to bad health. And since then, she says she’s had two cousins pass of heart attacks this past Christmas as well as her dog only a few months ago.

These tragedies, Shonda says, have shaped her perspective. “It was then that I searched in me like never before, searching for myself strength and anything I possibly had to go on,” she says. “There is always going to be death; it’s part of life. But living each day to the fullest is the only way to succeed from such events. I hope to inspire those who know my story, those who see my work. To know that no one can tell you anything or help you in any way differently than you can find that inner strength to go on yourself.”

It was that inner strength that helped set her modeling career in motion. Beginning at the Barbizon Modeling School during her junior year of high school under her father’s encouragement, she says she learned the basics of styling, posing techniques, and the expectations of the modeling industry. After graduating there, she proved to be a self-starter by taking her own photos with a digital camera, editing them with basic software programs, and studying other models.

Armed with the experience of a few local gigs in bridal catalogues and fashion shows, she says she mustered the courage to contact some agencies in Denver. “It ruined my hope, I tell ya,” says Shonda. “I got turned down repeatedly, told I was a joke and I would never amount to anything by one of the most respected agencies, Donna Baldwin. It was the worst feeling to be denied of your dream. “I decided, forget them, I’m going above their heads straight to the source because I know I have what it takes,” she continues.

She contacted magazines directly and shot her first editorial for 303 Magazine in Aspen, Co. Though she says she was almost overwhelmed just to be shooting in the magazine, she competed for the cover of that issue against models from Mrs. Baldwin’s agency – the agency that had rejected her and told her she had no talent – and won. Inspired by this triumph, she says she has earned every job and gig by herself, from magazine covers to dinners at the Playboy Mansion. She has appeared in over two dozen magazines so far and has been in more than three dozen runway shows, live appearances, and videos.

Shonda carried that go-getter attitude into other facets of her life, including her signature tattoos. Her first tattoo, she says, was self-administered through pin and ink. This tattoo – a trail of stars starting from her toe up her side – has faded over time, but her passion for body art has not. For her first professional tattoo, she had to be crafty because her father was strictly against it. To disguise it, she chose to have the self-designed cross done on her back when she turned 18 and timed it with winter season, so that revealing spaghetti straps wouldn’t give it away. For every tattoo after that, she says she has proudly continued to create original symbols, relying only on herself and her tattoo artist for custom designs. These include images of swans, crosses, text on her knuckles, a large Cthulu-like creature on her left shoulder, and a piece she calls “Medusa” on her left leg.

“Each one of my tattoos has a story and a meaning behind it. I don’t get tattoos for the ‘look’ or to be ‘cool.’ It’s an art form that I respect and that helps me express myself and my vision,” she says. As for what that vision is, she points to a famous quote by English photographer Cecil Beaton to describe it: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safer, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” Shonda’s career mirrors this idea through her extreme and provocative photo shoots, alternative appearance, and perseverance through her personal struggles.

Still, she reflects on the adversity she faced to find her footing in her career. “Everything that I do has been one day, one step at a time, and has been made off of pure inspiration with no guarantee of success,” she admits. “It’s a risk, with a reward that only I can see or feel or receive.”

Since she seemed so confident in her art, Solis Magazine asked Shonda for advice for other up-and-coming models. She offers these frank tips: “I’d say figure out what it is precisely you want to do in modeling,” she says. “Study models that you admire, study their poses, practice in the mirror and take your own photos. Learn how it is you will look if you do this like that or pose like this. It’s too often I hear of an aspiring model who has to take 100% direction from the photographer. It’s not their job. Unless they have something specific in mind, a desired pose or look, then it’s really up to you to keep moving.

“But, I must also mention how many frauds are out there, there are a lot of guys who get a camera and call themselves photographers just to get nude shots of girls, with promises of getting in this or that magazine. I see so many girls who would do anything for a chance at fame … it disgusts me. You can research who you’re shooting with, ask for photos, ask for a Model Mayhem portfolio, look at the past models that they have worked with. “Also, keep a backup career in mind, you will only be able to pose for so long,” she insists.

So what’s next for the inked model? Shonda says she’s moving to the west coast, where she’ll continue to model and waitress to fund her schooling for a “backup career,” noting the brevity of modeling careers. She is also venturing into music and can be seen singing in the music video “Shining in the Dark” with Andy Bowen. This isn’t her only tie to the music industry, however; she’s currently engaged to Richie Cavalera, the frontman of the metal band Incite.

Shonda says she also plans to use her modeling career to help more than herself. “I hope to get more involved with charities and different organizations that help those in need, and use my modeling and exposure to help, to change, and to improve people’s lives, the real goal of my life,” she says.

As for the art itself, she says she’ll continue to draw on her life experiences to create provocative work. “If I can make you think or feel or bring to life your feelings, your creativity and strength, or imagination, maybe even fears, then I’ve accomplished what I came to do. My photos will always live on and will always be available even after I’m gone.”

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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Print

 

Leah Jung

Note: This article appeared in Solis Magazine in late summer 2013.

 

If you had to pick out someone who is one of the most well-known models of inked magazines, you wouldn’t guess it’s Leah Jung from talking to her.

“I really don’t like modeling my tattoos,” she admits. “It’s just part of my body. I mean, you can only take so many photos of my tattoos…I’d really like to focus on my music.”

​But even if inked modeling isn’t her first love, there’s no doubting her success once you see her. The leggy model has blond hair, blue eyes, and colorful tattoos across her chest and most of the right side of her body. These tattoos, some of which have been lasered off and drawn over, are so bright and detailed that there’s no wonder why they have taken the spotlight of Leah’s career.

And she certainly has the resume to back it up. Leah has been on the cover of dozens of magazines dedicated to tattooed models, including Tattoo Life Magazine, Skin Shots International, Guitar World Magazine, Glam Rock Magazine, Inked Magazine, Skin&Ink, and many more. In addition to magazines and expos, she has appeared in a popular commercial for Evian Water called “Baby & Me.” In it, she dances happily as she sees a reflection of herself as an infant in the windows of a city building. The commercial ends with the company’s tagline, “live young.”

Though Leah is successful now, her first steps into modeling were tentative. She says she was a quiet girl growing up. She comes from a small town in upstate New York, where she says she read a lot of books to keep herself occupied because she found the town so boring. When she was 16 or 17, she says her friends would ask her to pose for photos or model for a painting.

“I didn’t enjoy it that much,” she says. “I didn’t seek it out.”

It wasn’t until she took some promotional photos for a song she had recorded that she says she decided to take modeling seriously. Happy with the way these photos turned out, she says she followed a friend’s suggestion to submit them to several websites for magazines. Within three months she was on the cover of The Village Voice. Two months after that, Inked asked her to come in for a casting, though she admits she was not entirely familiar with the magazine at the time. Despite this, she was soon featured on the cover of their magazine.

In the three years since then, most of her portfolio is comprised of photos in roughly the same genre: shots that focus on her tattoos, sometimes showcasing her flexibility with backbends, but mostly standing straight to camera to draw attention to the ink on her body. That’s not to say that is all the modeling that she has done, though. She points to more creative photo shoots where she has sometimes been “pretty,” sometimes been “sexy,” and sometimes with “crazy hairstyles,” as she calls them. For example, in one shoot, she covered herself in mud to portray homelessness.

Yet Leah says the spice of her modeling career comes less with the photos and more with the location. Fortunately for her, her career has taken off both nationally and internationally. So far, she has modeled in places such as Denmark, Argentina, Vancouver, and Italy. She says the opportunity to travel has been her favorite part of her modeling career.

And she is not done with modeling yet. Though she is known for her inked modeling, she says she hopes to find more work in fashion and glamor modeling, as well as product advertisements like her Evian ad. She also says she would be interested in managing other models.

To prove her talent for model management, Leah offered some advice to Solis Magazine for aspiring models and musicians.

“I get a lot of messages from young girls asking about modeling,” she says. “You just have to get in that community and meet the people who have been important in that community, whatever area you’re in – be it fashion or inked or whatever – and talk to them; associate yourself with those people, be a nice person, know what your talents are, and present them in the right way. It’s who you know … and you’ve got to have a backbone about it and keep going.”

In the meantime, she has been developing her music, which she says is where her true artistic inspirations lie. Though Leah has been singing her whole life, her music career has not taken off as quickly as her modeling success did. When she first brought up the idea of professional music to her parents, she says she was met with disapproval.

“I was never encouraged to do that,” she says. “[T]hat wasn’t the kind of career that you could do.” She says her parents told her that she should forgo her passion in favor of a stable job and a practical retirement plan.

Based on the lack of support for her dream, she instead pursued the traditional route. She went to SUNY Alfred and a community college. After graduating, she spent six years editing legal documents for the New York State government. Still, her dream to be a musician was never far from her mind. While she was working as a legal editor roughly four years ago, Leah met with a songwriter that she respected named Danielle Gaudin and gave her a CD of herself singing.

“She was over the moon about it,” says Leah. “She told me I was amazing and all these things, and I thought, ‘Maybe I should listen to her,’ because she was amazing.” Leah sang on one of the songwriter’s songs called “Porcelain,” a smoky, down-tempo tune bitterly marveling at an ex-lover’s new girlfriend. She was then inspired to ask other musicians if she could provide vocals for their tracks. In addition to not having any professional experience, she did not have any recording equipment to make music on her own, nor did she have the money to invest in her own projects. Therefore, she continued to work with other artists.

One of the tracks she has recorded includes a collaboration with the rapper Fitted, who once opened for Lil Kim, called “I Miss You.” The song, which details the emotions following a breakup, features Leah’s vocals on the chorus as well as a costarring role in the accompanying music video. She has also earned her stripes in live performance by frequenting open mic nights and acoustic shows with a project she used to have called the Humming Burden.

Nowadays, it’s all about Leah as a solo artist. She finally has the experience and the means to invest in her own LP. With her first album, she says she is keeping her musical themes relatable by exploring grand and enigmatic topics such as romance. She says her soulful pop genre has been described as “a haunting, jazzy, baroque pop” reminiscent of Fiona Apple and Amy Winehouse. She says she has found some difficulty describing her sound, and in her defense, her voice is indeed unconventional; it wavers between low husky tones to a fuller cry in her higher range, married with a thin vibrato similar to Gwen Stefani’s. The result is a vulnerable, introspective sound, which makes it curiously enticing. Her single, “Afraid,” is available on her website, leahjung.com.

While the album is still in development, her schedule is still packed to the seams. In addition to modeling on the weekends, Leah works full time at a tattoo studio with the artist Lalo Yunda, who was a contestant on the TV show Ink Master. There, she handles appointments and social media as well as answering emails. She also writes three different magazine columns. For Ink Style and New York Biker, she reflects on her experiences with tattoos and shares quirky stories about how others have reacted to her body art, and in Dark Discovery, she interviews women about dark subjects such as scary experiences or their favorite horror stories.
But she hasn’t let her busy schedule discourage her. You can still see her modeling her tattoos in magazines and expos. As for her upcoming album, you can keep up to date with her music news on her website, leahjung.com

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Print

 

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Copyright Chaos: Why Canadians should protest against SOPA and PIPA

As an Internet addict, January 18 was a dark day for me. Not just because I couldn’t watch the latest cat video on Reddit, but because it was a reminder of the worst case scenario of the Internet — and you should be concerned, too. I wrote about problems with SOPA and PIPA for Centretown News.

This article is now online at Centretown News. Check it out!

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Print

 

Bam! Pow! Fighting comic book sexism starts now!

Why is there the stereotype that there are no female comic book readers?

I argue this is because mainstream comic books pander to an exaggerated heterosexual male market — and I’m willing to call them sell-outs because of it.

Check it out on Centretown News.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Print

 

“Nerdlesque”: Making the unsexy sexy

What happens when nerds don fishnet stockings? An Ottawa burlesque group is exploring why “geek” is the new sexy — and they’re not the only ones.

Here’s my story published on Capital Arts Online.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Print

 

Viva Von Allan: Ottawa comic book artist profile

“Dear Mr. Allan,” wrote Isabella Gobel last year, who was in grade three at the time.

“Your book Stargazer. I’m reading it…. I liked the pictures at the end, this book was amazing. I wish I could keep it and read it again, again and again, but I have to return it in five days so I probably can’t but I just love Stargazer.”

Von Allan has been peering over his glasses at me during most of our interview about his first three comic books. Yet as he describes this letter, he looks down at the table and shakes his head, grinning. He says reading letters like this is “amazing,” and says he hopes it means he has succeeded in his self-imposed challenge of using girls as protagonists – “characters that are not like me,” he says.

Apparently, Isobel isn’t the only comic book fan who thinks he’s doing well. In September 2010, Allan was nominated for four Lulu Awards – awards that celebrate women and women-friendly comics – for The Road to God Knows…, his first graphic novel. This and his two subsequent graphic novels, last year’s Stargazer and Stargazer Volume 2, out Oct. 12, feature strong-willed girls or teenagers facing self-discovery, written using a mix of introspection, humour, and compassion.

On one hand, Allan looks like he is right about the contrast between him and his characters. The tall 30-something artist has a goatee with an overgrown beard reaching past his neck and a shaved head. Over his black t-shirt he wears a black leather jacket, which he takes off so his hand gestures can keep up with his animated speech.

At the same time, Allan injects himself into his art. The Road to God Knows… is a semi-autobiographical snapshot of his childhood and its challenges. In the slice-of-life graphic novel, Marie is a teenager growing up among poverty and loneliness who is struggling to learn how to cope with her mother’s schizophrenia. Though the book doesn’t end with what he calls a “happy ending,” eventually Marie realizes the need to let go. Similarly, the fantasy/adventure Stargazer opens after the recent death of Marni’s grandmother, and as she and her friends embark on a quest for a magical artefact her grandmother left behind, by Volume 2 Marni learns to move on from her grief over her grandmother. (Allan says the similarity between the names “Marie” and “Marni” is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the books’ analogous themes.)

Allan himself grew up on welfare in Ottawa. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother battled schizophrenia until she died when he was 20.

“I was a poor kid, I was a fat kid, and I had no self-esteem,” he says. “And because of that, the little money I could cobble together I spent getting comics.”

After working at the Ottawa Public Library’s main branch in his teenage years, he started working at Perfect Books on Elgin Street as a young adult and became familiar with the publishing industry.

Without any experience, he began teaching himself how to draw at the age of 25 so he could use comics to tell stories.

More than a decade later, this artist seems to know his stuff. Before I could ask him the interview questions I prepared, he enthusiastically engaged me in a conversation about the comic book industry the moment I sat down, asking about my interests and offering analysis. Three hours later, we had covered everything and more about comic book publishing, young literature, art design, entrepreneurship, and media theory. This passion and critical reflection are what attracted him to begin The Road to God Knows…, and he says he chose to take a risk with his first book.

“At the time, nobody was talking about mental illness in comics, and I wanted to do it with compassion,” he says. “I wanted to show that somebody dealing with mental illness isn’t less of a person, isn’t less compassionate as a person, isn’t less loving as a person, and that was very important to me. And I think Road accomplished that.”

A number of publications have positively reviewed The Road to God Knows…, including the Library Journal and Booklist Online, which he says gave that story a bump in publicity that Stargazer lacked. After Stargazer Volume 2’s release, Allan says he’s considering breaking away from his first three graphic novels and perhaps experimenting with colour comics, periodicals (versus one-story graphic novels), and even free online comics. He says he might like to try a social commentary should he find the right story idea.

“What I’ve learned is it doesn’t come easy, it takes a lot of work, there are a lot of false starts, and you never stop being a student,” he says.

“But when people are passionate about something, it clicks.”

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Print

 

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure: Muskoka Team Challenge

CANADIAN BREAST CANCER FOUNDATION CIBC RUN FOR THE CURE
MUSKOKA TEAM CHALLENGE

MUSKOKA (JULY 22) – The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure 5K Run and 1K Walk is on Sunday, October 2, 2011, and the competition is already heating up in Muskoka, Haliburton, and Parry Sound as local businesses form teams to challenge each other.

Three teams ready to take on the competition include Muskoka Bear Wear’s “Pink Team” who are raising money for their team by donating $5.00 from the sale of each PINK Cadet, Hoody and Zip sold in any of their 4 Muskoka locations. The Muskoka Mammories team led by Suzanne Martineau from RE/MAX; the Muskoka Mammories challenge other real estate offices in Muskoka to participate in this important event. Additionally the staff at Classy Cuts Hair Salon in Bracebridge is ready to challenge other hair salons in Muskoka to support the foundation.

Individuals can also pre-register for the Run for the Cure. While the Corporate team challenges are a lot of fun, there are also other ways to join as a group including friends and family, schools, youth groups, sport teams and women’s only groups. Please visit http://www.runforthecure.com to join an existing team or to create your own.

Cheryl Hammond, a Run for the Cure committee member and also a member of “The Whipps,” says she’s excited to participate in this year’s event. “I’ve got an enthusiastic group of walkers that have joined my team. We are excited to be part of the first Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure in the heart of Muskoka. I think there is going to be an amazing turnout and I’ve heard the prizes are amazing!” says Hammond. There are many local businesses that are getting behind this event and individuals that want to contribute. “The best part of registering as a team is the camaraderie amongst friends. It’s going to be a lot of fun and the proceeds are going towards such a worthwhile cause,” explains Hammond.

Participating in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure with a team multiplies the enthusiasm, the laughter and maybe even the tears shared at the event. It also strengthens the impact everyone will have by helping the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation achieve its vision of creating a future without breast cancer.

For those that are unable to attend the Run for the Cure, there are still other ways to give to the Foundation. For example local jeweller Stan Tait has offered to donate 25% of sales of his Angel Pendants sold at select hair salons to The Run. Classy Cuts hair salon is selling local jeweller Stan Tait’s silver angel pendants. His pendants will help raise money for Classy Cuts’ and other local salons teams. Other unique types of local business fundraising is encouraged; please contact one of the Run Directors Debbie or Alison to find out how you can be involved.

In 2010, the Run for the Cure raised $33 million across Canada to fund innovative and relevant breast cancer research, education and health promotion programs. This year, the Foundation hopes to break that record. So Muskoka, sign up for the Run for the Cure on Sunday October 2, 2011 and be a part of the pinkest run – walk event that is guaranteed to be a memorable experience.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Print