James Girls

The elite "Special Forces" of pinup models

Artist and photographer Mike James has been capturing gorgeous ladies with his camera, pen, and sculptures for nearly 20 years. Every image he publishes are just as much illustrations as they are photographs. Featuring out-of-this-world sexy models in outfits that he often creates himself, the ladies’ poses and themes range from the outrageous to the the fairly mundane. Of course, seeing ladies looking like this doing everyday tasks such as cooking breakfast or doing the laundry seems inconceivable, which is all part of Mike’s unique style.

Also a pioneer in the resin sculpture field, Mike’s figurines are considered the finest of their kind. Not mass produced, the characters are his own original creations that he carefully crafts himself, to maintain quality. As for his work with a brush, some of his pin-up girls can be found on video cover art, speedboats, and even a professional lacrosse goalie’s helmet.

I recently contacted Mike and asked him if he would tell me a little about some of his lovely models, whom he’s dubbed “James Girls,” to which he happily obliged. (I can’t say the ladies in this article are his favorite models, because all the models he regularly shoots are his favorites, he tells me.) Of course, wanting to hear from the other side of Mike’s camera lens, I also asked several of the James Girls what it’s like to do a shoot with Mr. James. After hearing their replies, it’s no wonder that most of the ladies who did their first shoot with Mike over a decade ago, still pose for him today. Above is one of those ladies, top Hollywood stuntwoman Jasi Lanier, from one of her most recent shoots with Mike, entitled “Caged Legs.”


Jasi Lanier
“Midnight Avenger”

Jasi, who’s actually a stuntwoman and action actress first and foremost, has been close friends with Mike James for 14 years. As with all the ladies I’ve spoken to who’ve modeled for Mike, Jasi has very high praise for him, and he’s one of the few pin-up photographers she works with. With stunt credits that include taking rooftop falls, crashing through windows, and being set on fire (as she was in an ad for Wrangler jeans), one would probably think doing pin-up modeling would be like a day off for her, but not quite so. Says Jasi on shooting with Mike:

I love modeling for Mike. I’m such a tomboy that he really helps me get in touch with my girly side, and because of him, I’ve learned to love having a muscular booty and legs. I don’t have a favorite shoot with Mike but he is one of my favorite photographers to shoot with even though it’s like a workout. With Mike, you’re flexing certain muscles, tightening others, and keeping you face and hands soft at same time. Tough, but always worth the shot. I don’t have any particular favorite outfits. It’s all a fun dress-up for me.

“Sun Offering”

“Picnic Angel”

Ianna Deity
“Space Cadet”

Inanna Deity says she goes through a transformation when she shoots with Mike, which is evident in the characters she becomes in the photos. A good example is the one at right  from the shoot entitled “Space Cadet,” which you don’t have to be a Trekkie to love. Said Ianna of working with Mike:

Mike James ….who is he? He is a simple man with a complex vision. He is the creator of Inanna!

Mike gives me the space to be whoever I want to be without the fear of being judged. With Mike, I can be a child, an adult, a lover, a sinner, an angel, a devil, a dancer, a fighter, a celebrity, or just the girl next door. He lets me be and captures the many sides of Inanna through the magical lens of his camera. I have discovered so much about myself by just playing make believe in the tub, on the porch, in the kiddie pool, out by the pond, tied up on the dome, picking flowers on the prairie, stretching on a picnic chair, and laying in the boat surrounded by water lilies. He maintains a safe and respectful environment allowing his models to self-discover and to confront their inner-selves. We play, we fight, we tease, we argue, we laugh ….we have a blast. We shop for costumes …..he alters them to dress me for his next vision of a beautiful being. He is extremely intelligent yet utterly innocent. He is highly creative yet exceptionally humble. He brings the best out in me. With Mike there is no limit for who I can be or what I can do. He is the creator of Inanna, a pinup model!

Inanna Deity
“Road Trouble”

When asked if there was a particular favorite photo shoot she had done with Mike, Inanna replied; “I’ll let you pick your favorite. They’re all my favorites. Each has a story behind it. You pick the story you want to publish.” With that, I asked what the a story was behind the shoot entitled “Road Trouble,” in which Inanna posed on a rural roadside, wearing a literally traffic-stopping red dress. Inanna replied:

(We were) freezing our ass off in the middle of the woods, cars passing by looking at my provocative red dress, almost half naked, standing by the roadside, Mike waiting for a moment to get in the middle of the road to capture the hitchhike moment, trucks sounding their horns, looking at us like we are out of our minds. Then, he lays on the ground with the camera on his eyes trying to make me look taller than 5″3″ (laughs). By this time, cars are stopping to take a closer look at us like we are two lost and crazy souls running around the woods. Once done,we  jumped in the car, driving as fast as we could to lose our spectators, laughed our heats out, half frozen, and went home and had a cup of hot soup that his beautiful partner Sandy had prepared for us.

Inanna’s next shoot with Mike will involve silk, an aerial mini cube, trapeze, and a pole. (Author’s Note: No kidding. I have seen photos of all this.)

“Sudsy”

“Last Rays”

Erika Smith
“Laundry”

Not that it should overshadow her other achievements as an actress and singer, but Erika Smith is one of the best Marilyn Monroe tribute performers in the world and it’s clear to see why. Erika is one of the few (if not only) ladies Mike has photographed as a character not of his own creation. Erika on working with Mike:

Mike is one of my favorite people. He’s hilarious, creative and full of energy. When we shoot together, we always wind up gossiping, chatting and goofing off. I think he gets almost annoyed with me sometimes because we goof off so much I lose focus on the shoot. Also, when I’m working with Mike, I occasionally have those moments when I’m aware I’m working with someone who is truly gifted at what he does. He’s kind of a mad genius. One thing he does is draw these Vargas-worthy sketches of pin-up girls with little sayings on them. He’ll knock out one of these in under two minutes. Then he’ll show it to me, or show me a bunch of them he’s done over the past few weeks, and ask me to imitate the pose. Besides for being creatively gifted and a great artist, Mike has his art down to a technical science. He knows the lighting, human body, and human psychology to know what will look best in a photo and be most appealing. Whenever I’m dating someone new, I always show them Mike’s pictures of me, and that gets them hooked, just in case my other awesomeness doesn’t. Out of all the photographers I’ve worked with, I’d say Mike’s photos of me are the stand-outs. No one else is doing what he does, or can produce a similar look. He’s a true original with a unique style.

Erika Smith
Erika as Marilyn and no need to say she was the    center of attention the entire time she was in Le    Relais De Venise L’Entrecôte that day.

When asked which shoot with Mike was Erika’s favorite, I was guessing it was the one with her as Marilyn recreating the iconic “Seven Year Itch” scene, but it was a different one they did while on location in New York:

As for my favorite shoot, I’d say it was a shoot we did in Harlem last year. Mike has been into shooting video for the past couple of years, which at first I hated because his concepts were so simple, and being an actress I wanted something more complex (laughs). But of course, he is playing into human psychology of his audience wanting to see the models doing simple, everyday things. So we went up onto a roof and I was wearing a gold metallic bikini. It was about 100 degrees. I said I felt like J-Lo in the bikini, so I started dancing around singing “Jenny from the Block.” Mike filmed me, and had me sing and dance my version of the song over and over for about 20 minutes. We were both dying laughing, it was so silly, especially the part about Oprah, and the sample of the guy shouting “from the BRONX!” which I imitated. There was a pickup basketball game on the ground, that we wound up stopping, they were all staring at the action on the roof. Afterward, Mike couldn’t stop singing “Jenny from the Block” either, it was stuck in both of our heads. He sounded ridiculous singing it in his male voice, talk-singing Midwestern accent. Mike wound up editing the video into a really funny, cute little sketch and put it on Youtube. That’s all folks, I could go on forever! (laughs)

Erika Smith
Erika recreating the iconic scene on the actual subway grate that Marilyn Monroe stood on for the publicity shoot for the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch

Knowing that Mike prefers to shoot original characters, I was curious to know why he shot Erika as Marilyn, so I asked him. His response:

Erika has done Marilyn for many years and I had an idea she had not tried before (unbelievably to me, since she’s in New York City), and it was to pose her on the same subway grating Marilyn posed on for The Seven Year Itch publicity photos. I found the location and we met at the spot together, but the sun was harsh, directly overhead, so we had to wait an hour or so for the sun to disappear behind the buildings. I took her to eat at the French restaurant which is today right in front of that subway grate. It’s called, “Le Relais De Venise L’Entrecôte.”

Mike went on to say that after posting just one of the photos from that shoot online of Erika with her skirt billowing over the subway grate, she was immediately contacted by other photographers to recreate the scene. So, after so many photos of her doing that appeared online, her never bothered retouching any of the other photos he had, some of which were really great.

“Sofa Kitten”

Rachael Robbins
“Good Morning”

Rachael Robbins, whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing in April, has also known Mike James for 14 years. She’s actually the one who brought Mike’s photography to my attention, after I saw an amazing photo of her in a red dress from a shoot she did with him last year entitled “Red Hot.” Rachael says Mike is her favorite artist to work with, and coming for a lady who’s a former Playboy model and has worked with some of their top photographers, that’s really saying something about his skills. Mike’s photos of Rachael have been published in some major books such as Taschen, and Goliath, as well as his own coffee table photo book, Super Girls.

Also an actress and stand-up comedienne, Rachael isn’t shy about expressing herself on camera and stepping outside of the box to get creative when it comes to pin-up modeling, which is a quality that makes her well-suited to be a James Girl. Says Rachael on working with Mike:

Well, Mike used to have me out to his place in Pennsylvania and we’d shoot for three days. He was a total slave driver! We’d shoot two days worth every day! I’d get so slap happy that at the end, any outlandish thing he suggested, I said “Sure! Why not?” One time he suggested I put my hair in pig tails and sit in a closet with baby bottle, nipples glued to my own nips! Crazy, right? Well, that photo (entitled “Bad Girl”) has been the most published one of me!

Rachael Robbins
“Bad Girl”
A lady who always seems to have more than one iron in the fire, Rachael has also directed some of her friend and fellow James Girl Erika Smith’s Marilyn Monroe tribute shows and, since my interview with her just a few months ago, she’s just completed director Matt Zettell’s Axe to Grind. The film also stars Scream Queen icon Debbie Rochon, whom Rachael also starred with in 2008’s Bikini Bloodbath Carwash. When she’s not in front of the camera, Rachael enjoys horseback riding, which she considers her “zen place, where being glamorous means nothing.” She’s also a foremost authority on carpenters’ pencils.

“Net Gain”

 “Lounger”

Avery Misuraca
“Genie”

Avery Misuraca instantly caught Mike’s eye when he first saw her at a comic convention in New Jersey in 2001, where she was appearing as her alter ego and own creation, Countess Vladamira, the “Diva of Horror.” Already an experienced model at the time, Avery, an alumna of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, has appeared as Vladamira in such films as Terror Firmer and Vampire Night, as well as graced the covers and pages of top horror publications, such as Vamperotica and Scream Queens Illustrated.

Mike hasn’t shot Avery as the Countess nor has he shot her as Vampirella, whom she has “unofficially officially” modeled as since 1996. A reason for that is he prefers to shoot and create his own original characters. However, it has been suggested by yours truly that Mike should consider doing his next shoot with Avery as Vampirella, who’s a personal favorite. (Avery was the cover model for Vengeance of Vampirella #1 and she and I are in complete agreement that the modified costume Talisa Soto wore in the 1996 film was unauthentically awful.) Besides the samples from her personal favorite shoots shown here, she also did a rare topless shoot with Mike entitled “Clean Avery,” with her modestly, but ineffectually, covering herself while in the bathtub.

Avery Misuraca
“Bird Watcher”

Now living on the West Coast with a view of the Pacific Ocean right out her back door, Avery, a long-time animal rights advocate, is also actively involved with Fur and Feather Animal Sanctuary, which is a no-kill environment whose mission is to provide adoption services, shelter, and medical care for homeless and un-wanted animals. She also currently has very good sources for Geoff Tate (formerly of Queensrÿche) concert tickets.

Although it’s been a few years since Avery has been in front of Mike’s camera, they have plans on getting together again for a shoot next year (and I sure hope she takes her Vampirella and Countess Vladamira outfits.)  I hopefully look forward to an interview with Avery here sometime in the near future.

Avery told me she was actually in a wheelbarrow when this photo for “Mini Devil” was taken and Mike later transformed it into a champagne glass via his photo editing wizardry. A rendition of this shot was used for the artwork on the stern of a speedboat named “Little Devil.”

“Bed Story”

Dahlia Derriere
“Undie Shopping”

Describing herself as “just a regular girl who likes to model on occasion,” Dahlia Derriere is the “newbie” James Girl of this bunch, having worked with Mike for the first time just a year and a half ago. However, she’s obviously made quite an impression with him as she’s featured on Mike’s recent full-page ad for Azimuth Designs, which can be seen on the back cover of Tease and Cake magazine. (The front cover is adorned by another James Girl, Mala Mastroberte, who will be included here in the second feature on James Girls.) Dahlia on the two times she’s worked with Mike:

Mike James and I have only worked together twice. However, out of those two shoots, the most recent one was my favorite. I first met Mike via Facebook in early 2013. As soon as I saw his work, I fell in love with it. Early on I told him that I greatly admired how his pinups inspired me to go to the gym rather than starve myself. After talking on the Internet for awhile, we finally set up a shoot. At shoot number one we were just getting to know one another, kind of like a first date. Due to our previous interactions, it was much less stressful the second time around. As a result of the increased comfort level, we got a lot more accomplished as far as looks go and I feel I did a much better job of posing and making facial expressions. Any favorite outfits? My favorite outfit that I wore for Mike James was the naval outfit accompanied by the authentic vintage Navy hat. You see, my Pappy (Grandpa) served in the Navy during the Korean War and I am very close to him. In regards to my favorite outfit overall, it was probably the flapper dress that I wore when I shot with Lone Star Pinup Photography. I simply adore the roaring 20s. Mike James is an extremely talented artist and it is a great pleasure to work with him. We always have a lot of fun. Plus, he even added a new vocabulary word to my lexicon: Diapery (adj): To resemble a diaper, not sexy. As in, “Dahlia, those panties are too diapery. Try this pair on, they are much smaller.” (Laughs) Like I said, we always have a blast.

Dahlia Derriere
“Ahoy”
Besides Dahlia’s work with Mike James, she mentioned a couple other noteworthy photographers whom she’s modeled for and shoots she’s done. In 2012, she was chosen to be on a billboard for a local antique mall in central Pennsylvania called “Old Sled Works,” which was shot by Celeste Giuliano Photography. Revealing she also has a bit of a dark side, she says Ryan Matthew Cohn’s fabulously macabre yet beautiful home was her favorite location to shoot at because it was “right up her alley.” Stay tuned to this site for a very possible solo feature on Dahlia in the near future.

 “Black Dahlia”

“Emmisary”

“Angelissa,” (left) first created in 1995, was Mike’s first commercially released sculpture. Unfortunately, Angelissa is currently sold out. If and when she’ll be available again is something only Mr. James can tell you. At right is a sample of just one of Mike’s many printed drawings, entitled “Kiss Crazy.” See more of Mike James’ models and artwork at Azimuth Designs Official Website, Facebook fan page, and at his Tumblr blog.

A big thanks to Mike James himself and all the lovely ladies featured here.

About Chris Charles 451 Articles
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music biz there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of Effective Magazine, and add him on Facebook and Google+

8 Comments on James Girls

6 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. More James Girls – Idol Features
  2. Jasi Lanier for Heinz Ketchup – Idol Features
  3. Rachael Robbins – Behind the Scenes with Mike James – Idol Features
  4. Dahlia Derriere – Idol Features
  5. Avery Misuraca – Idol Features
  6. Inanna Deity – Idol Features

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