Known for photographing outrageously sexy models who look as if they only exist in fantasies, artist and photographer Mike James has an unmistakable style. With the popularity and all the good feedback we’ve received from the July feature on Mike’s gorgeous models, known as the “James Girls,” I knew a follow-up was definitely in order.
As with all of Mike’s former and current models I’ve corresponded with, the ladies who gave me their comments for this feature, speak very highly of Mr. James, personally and professionally, as he does of them. The James Girls included in the first article can all be considered current James Girls, as they have all done recent shoots with Mike and plan to again. Just two of the ladies featured in this piece fall into that category. Unfortunately, the others now currently reside in the “Former James Girls” file but there’s hope they may again appear before his camera.
The vision in red above is one of Mike’s current favorites, Mala Mastroberte, from a very recent shoot entitled “Red Devil.” Mala is one of the two ladies in this article who currently models for Mike and graciously responded to my request for her comments on what it’s like to work with him. Of course, it goes without saying who all the photo credits in this article go to.
Mala Mastroberte is also very experienced behind the camera as well as in front. A pin-up fan and photographer herself, she and Mike have a favorite model in common; her. Mala tells of her association with Mike:
Meeting Mike was a contemporary serendipity. He’d been an established pin-up artist and a sculptor for many years, when I first started doing what’s become the latest phenomenon; selfies. Fascinated with vintage pin-up, pulp and paperback cover art, I’ve been recreating and creating mock-ups of “vintage” covers and pin-ups and posting them on-line. In my little photo studio I would do everything from costumes and make-up, through self photography, to editing. Now some of my best selfies are available in a little book called Malaland Magazine Covers from Binary Publications as well as posters and limited edition canvas prints and special photo books …but back to our story! Our mutual online friend, a pin-up gallery curator from Belgium, Paul Grisar (PinupExpo.com), knowing both of us and our work, played a pin-up match-maker. He put us in touch and did not rest until a photo shoot was scheduled. Being a bit particular when it comes to my idea of pin-up and being of the vintage and retro conviction, but also quite fascinated with Mike’s very distinctive style, I did not know what to expect from our meeting. From the first shoot I felt very comfortable working with him, even though some of the ideas I probably would not have executed or even conceived without him. He definitely likes to push boundaries, which makes him a pioneer to be copied by others over and over. But this recognizable style is not to be easy duplicated, even though Mike often openly shares his “tricks” and “tips.”
As an aspiring pin-up artist and an enthusiast of fantasy imagery, I’ve learned bundles from Mike and I believe that my experience with the camera on both sides contributed to our work together as well. Photo shoots can be tons of fun, when working with the right people, but they are also hard work. When looking at the fabulous images with Mike James’ signature, not many people realize how much time, thought and effort goes into each one of them. One of the qualities I appreciate in Mike the most is his professionalism, sprinkled with wit and so much enthusiasm. When I come to his beautiful Pennsylvania abode it is usually for a few days, packed to the brims, we work relentlessly from the early morning until the nightfall, and then we spend several hours still, reviewing the photos from the day, discussing ideas and getting excited about the next day of pin-up and glamour. I love to be able to let go of all my prejudices, even though I don’t think I have many, and constrictions and just show the pin-up in me; happy, free, sexy, playful and witty. Mike’s studio is complete with a vast wardrobe for his models, tons of super fun props and full, professional make up set. I believe it would probably be fine if I come with a toothbrush only, but I still bring some of the cherished items from my collection of pin-up lingerie, clothes and props. Also just to show them off to him. In that regard he can be like your BFF!There are countless “firsts” for me, which I can credit to Mike and many memories that make me smile when I recall them. Like the time when we were filming a video in a supermarket and an older gentleman thanked me for bringing back memories because I was wearing seamed stockings. Or the time when Mike had me “pet” the rock on the other side of the pond on his property, which I had to first climb in high heels.Whether it is a photograph, drawing or a video vignette, his creations are the new frontier of pin-up and I am very happy to be a part of it. Another great testimony to Mike’s personality is the fact that the models that he loves to work with are all strong, beautiful women in their own rights. We come from many different backgrounds, we all have our own very full lives. Some of us met and know each other, some only know the pictures, but trough him we have? Become a community …called the James Girls!
Mike says of working with Mala:
I first became aware of Mala on Facebook in 2008 through my Belgian gallerist, Paul Grisar. At that time, Mala was meticulously re-creating old pulp paperbacks covers of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, using herself as the cover girl, not only operating as model but as photographer. Mala was an impressive girl, talented, hard-working, dedicated, pretty, leggy as hell, and with great sense of style.The three of us, Paul, Mala, and myself, each adoring pin-up as we do, began conversing online regularly, for over a year. For some reason, I had it in my mind that Mala lived near Paul in western Europe, perhaps Belgium. I would have gone on thinking this until Paul suggested I photograph Mala for myself. Of course, I told Paul I’d love to, but because Mala was overseas, I couldn’t afford to fly her to my studio. That’s when laughingly he informed me that Mala lived in New Jersey, just a 100 miles or so from my studio, AND had a car! Well, that was the beginning of a remarkable relationship.
I think our first shoot was in late 2010 and we did many many shoots over the next 2-3 years. The glorious results have appeared in magazines, and hopefully in an upcoming book. But Mala’s freedom to model for me recently took a turn for the worse when she took up full-time employment in a city further from me. I miss her. What a GREAT classic pinup model!
When asked about which models he’d most like to see featured in this follow-up, who weren’t featured in the first piece, one thing Mike said to me was “you MUST include Tina Krause. She is by far the most famous model I have, and I’ve shot her more than any of the others.” Mike says he doesn’t have a favorite model, because they’re all his favorites ….but if he absolutely had to choose one, I’d bet he say Tina Krause. She did her first shoot with Mike 18 years ago but it was not just a “stepping stone” in her career. Even though she has since established herself as as one of the best-known indie horror film actresses of all time, she has done shoots with Mike over the years, the most recent being this year (when the shot at left was taken), looking better than ever at 44. Despite her busy schedule, Tina was happy to get in touch with me to include her comments. She says of working with Mike:
Well, most shoots are great. In fact, I didn’t have a bad shoot, they were all fun but I think the best was when we went to the Pennsylvania State Fair. Now, that was funny and we took a picture with a cop. We used to do the conventions and those are always fun. My favorite outfit had to be the red metallic bikini. I did my first dance video in it. I liked it so much that the next shoot I did, Mike, the sweetheart that he is, actually gave me the bikini. I love that outfit. I truly hope we get to go to Paris one day and do a shoot there. That would be amazing!Mike is an amazing photographer with an amazing eye and outside of shooting models and making them look like goddesses, and we love that, he is also a top notch artist and not just girl sculptures. He actually has exhibitions in high end galleries in and outside of the USA. The work that he does is so captivating and intelligent it will literally blow you away. I have nothing but great things to say about Mike and his work. He is truly an amazing talent.
Mike on working with Tina:
Tina and I have an unusually long history together of which I am very proud. Tina was practically the FIRST model of my pin-up photography career, back in 1997. And now, almost 18 years later, I’m STILL photographing her, because she’s cool, and remains AGELESSLY beautiful!
In those early days, I employed Tina as a mascot/spokesmodel for my resin-kit company Azimuth Design. I used her image in print ads and took her to trade shows to help me sell my wares. It worked great. Tina was popular with fans at trade shows because she was already famous for the movies she was staring in. To capitalize on that fame, I began selling pinup art prints of her at these trade shows which soon became an industry unto itself, almost overshadowing my well-known resin sculptures. I began shooting DVD cover art that featured her for EI Cinemas.
A few magazines also took notice of my pinup pics of Tina. Among them a giant 200-page Tokyo quarterly, called “CoolToys” who up until that time had been covering my sculpture releases. CoolToys began a regular feature called “Tina’s Room” where each issue had 3 or 4 pages devoted to my photos of her. Tina became so popular in Japan that at one point they wanted to fly us into Tokyo for autograph signings.
Photographing Tina now is absolutely frictionless. During her most recent shoot with me in September, I hardly even needed to instruct her on what make-up colors I wanted, what hairstyle, what posing, what facial expression, or anything. At this point Tina knows EXACTLY what I need and nails poses on the very first exposures.
But, as highly as I think of Tina as a “professional model,” I place her within the top 3 models I’ve ever shot, Tina is primarily a film star. The online movie-data directory IMDb lists 110 movies in which she is featured. She is ALWAYS working. Lately, Tina’s more into the production end of movie-making. Video interests me as well, and currently we are discussing getting funding to do a pin-up video series in which she will star.
Diane Yang is one of the few Asian ladies Mike has photographed, not that he prefers models of any certain ethnicity. Although he’d love to have her in front of his camera again, Diane, still looking as lovely as she did in these photos from 2002, seems to be settled down into a domestic life and has left modeling behind. Says Mike on shooting Diane:
Diane and I really got along especially great, even though I only shot her one time. She always said she wanted to come back. We had planned it. But she was busy a lot then when single. She was a dance instructor in Brooklyn …I don’t think she had a car, and,at the time, in the early 2000s, I did not have access to a place in NYC we could shoot at. So, it never happened, though we kept in touch and talked about it still.
In 2002, I was creating a calendar where the proceeds of the calendar sales was to go to the wives of fallen firefighters of 9-11. The promoters of the calendar and myself chose 12 different models to shoot, one for each month. We did a one day shoot of each of the 12 models, who were all from the boroughs of NYC. Diane was Miss February, I think.
I liked Diane immediately. She was AMAZING to look at, statuesque, and unusually shapely for a Asian girl. She was packing beautifully-shaped, long, dancer’s legs as she was indeed a dance instructor. She had a beautiful face, smile and a ready laugh. But, as physically gorgeous as Diane Yang was, and still is, her personality shined even brighter. She was just an absolute pleasure to work with. I love that spirit …not only because such girls are frictionless to work with, but the camera catches that joie de vivre.
It’s rare on first shoot that a model is fully trusting of the photographer, for understandable reasons. There are nefarious guys with cameras out there, and the model doesn’t know if you ARE one of those, so they are naturally cautious, reserved. They play it safe, don’t allow themselves to act “too sexy” and be a little on-guard. Diane was not like that in the least; she jumped in like a pro right off the bat ….fully trusting.
What I want from a model can be a little scary for some. It’s because I’m not just shooting pretty pictures. I tend to think in terms of “characters” or dramatic “situations.” It’s not unheard for instance, that within an hour’s time, I can have a model dressed as a baby doll, a vixen, a superhero, and a tied-up damsel in distress. (Laughs) I think I did all those with Diane.
Whatever the character, as soon as Diane was in costume, she understood what I needed from her. She “became” that character, knew to act timid or innocent, strident or proud as the costume required. Most models are great at posing flirty and smiling nicely, and of course I make sure to cover those traditional ideas and poses. But I often need a model to play a “part.” Really good picture models have “acting chops” like that. I request different facial expressions other than smiles, possibly showing anger, surprise, sadness, pouting. Emoting can really make a picture come alive. Diane could do that great.
Born and raised in Australia, Jessamyn Rose says her classical dance background is an asset to her when she poses for photo shoots and that she enjoys transforming herself into different looks and characters. Qualities that make her an ideal James Girl. She’s modeled for Mike on two separate occasions, much to the satisfaction of both parties, so future shoots are a definite possibility. Mike on Jessamyn:
Hailing from the land down under, Jessamyn Rose, though a little girl, instantly made a very BIG impression on me. Her body, beautifully configured and the color of porcelain, makes the perfect plinth for her utterly gorgeous head, resplendent with full, blazing, naturally-wavy red hair, flashing green eyes, and full, plump lips. So, not only a perfect body, but the face of a china doll! One would be hard-pressed to DESIGN a better model.
Add to that visual package that she is a pure delight, with a ready laugh, great work ethic, and ALSO possesses a near-endless catalog of great model poses and you basically have every pin-up photographer’s dream come true.
I just love everything about Jess. If you told me she was the only model I had to work with for the remainder of my life, I’d be fine with that. Time with her passes like a rocket.
Most of my models will tell you I work fast, hard, and for a long time. I am quite the taskmaster. During both shoots we had together Jess was plagued by a dietary problem that affected her stamina, but she powered through like a champ, maybe even outperforming the average model. She is just an amazingly professional and very giving person.
Rei (that’s it, she works sans surname) is another lady from down under who’s graced Mike’s lens. His favorite parts of Rei are her legs and her mind. Says Mike:
Rei is my Yin-Yang dream come to life, that perfect mixture of nice and naughty. I hate to be this objectifying, but there is actually a “physical” dividing line between Rei’s naughty and nice parts … a DMZ if you will … at her waist.
The top half of Rei is super-cute and sweet looking. She seems almost like a pixie, or anime character. So pixieish in fact, that on her second shoot, when she arrived with her hair cut short, I actually shot her as a brunette Tinkerbell. A very innocent-looking top half.
From her waist down, Rei is utterly wicked; her legs and ass look as if designed by the devil himself to inspire lust! Rei is the owner of big, long, meaty, voluptuously shaped legs, almost a third oversized for the rest of her body. Add a derriere to make Beyonce jealous. I could make a career of just shooting her lower half.
But (despite her great body) the most amazing thing about Rei is her brain. For all her cuteness and sexual appeal, she’s an amazingly intelligent woman with a whip-sharp sense of humor. She speaks her mind too. I think because she shoots a lot with female photographers, she’s alert to misogyny that periodically creeps into pinup photography done by males. I’m not talking nudity, she’s smart enough to realize there is artful nudity and in fact has done GREAT nudes. But she gently puts the brakes on poses she finds too raunchy.
She’s sometimes challenging to me, but I welcome it from her. I live with a very wise woman. I realized long ago the value of listening to the well-considered female perspective.
I love hosting Rei, and I miss her. Our off-shoot hours are so fun, and valuable. For one, I have someone to mark up the articles I write, as she’s a professional proofreader. Unfortunately, she’s a half globe away from me, in the sunny climes of Australia. So, I can only shoot her when she comes to the USA on other business. I hope that’s soon.
Another big thanks to Mike James of Azimuth Designs as well as Mala and Tina for their comments.