Blood, sweat and photographs 

It’s 2:45 on a Monday afternoon, and I’m gliding up the FDR in a Lyft accompanied by six suitcases’ worth of lingerie, shoes, clothing and props — plus my dog in his carrier. The destination? A ritzy midtown hotel. As we exit the FDR and head west, I notice that we are passing my old office — a glittering high rise, the site of my old vanilla career. My old life rubs elbows with the new.

I arrive at the hotel bright-eyed and almost camera-ready, my makeup already done, false lashes fluttering, with a fresh blowout. All that’s missing is a final swipe of lipstick. My official professional photoshoot isn’t until the next day, but I am determined to squeeze as much value from the hotel suite as possible, which means staging a pop-up DIY photoshoot today.

***

My apartment’s entryway is choked with topsy-turvy towers of boxes from Net-A-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman. 

The boxes wink at me with the promise of the most polished, glossy version of myself. A new, better Shae.

But this promise quickly morphs into a taunt, and the boxes start to make me faintly queasy whenever I look at them.

Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I have. 

My credit card stops working by the time I check into the hotel the afternoon before the shoot. Ever discreet, the hotel staff whisks my mountain of luggage away to a hidden closet. I’m left to come up with the cash, a task that eats up valuable time I had planned to spend taking pictures myself in the suite.

I finally check in, a little sweaty and with New York City street grit on my face from hoofing it across town at warp-speed on a breezy day. 

The hotel upgrades my suite. I have no idea why. Was it a little flutter of my fake eyelashes? My dog’s undeniable charm? 

“Thank you very much,” I say.

I barely register this good fortune; all I can think is, “Well, there goes my color scheme.” 

The suite I’d booked was charcoal gray accented with red and hot pink — riotous color to jazz up Twitter feeds and ad sites. Before the day arrived, I obsessively ogled the hotels’ photos online, studying the patterns on the curtains and the angles of the bed, planning shots, outfits and poses.

This new suite was — well, who knew? I take the elevator upstairs, swipe the key and push open the door. 

Black, gray, and wheat, as it turns out, with a huge terrace (bonus!).

My color scheme is shot, but who cares? I’m relieved to simply be in the room. Finally, about two hours behind schedule, I’ve finally made to the promised land. The nicest hotel suite I’ve ever paid for. The site of some imminent magic-making, hopefully.

The suite has personalized welcome notes, a bowl of fresh fruit and chilled fancy water, which I am afraid to drink.

I shower, throw on a robe, dab the grit off my face and set up my tripod. It’s time to squeeze out some DIY photos in the rapidly fading daylight.

***

Photoshoot preparation begins months before the actual shoot, when I send my deposit to the photographer. 

At that point, I research locations — hotels, Airbnbs, private homes, and outdoor locations — as well as work out the overall concept of the shoot. I finally settle on a relatively unknown hotel with layered, colorful, painterly decor, and settle on the concept: retro explosion of color. I’m playing Art Director, hard

I scour online lingerie shops, Etsy, and dusty vintage shops from Brooklyn to Hoboken for unique wardrobe pieces. As a child, I convinced my parents take me to every toy store in our hometown to find the coolest outfits for my Barbie dolls; these days, I’m the Barbie, and I have my own money, a Metrocard, and a map of every vintage shop on all sides of the two rivers. I’m unstoppable. 

I fill folders with hundreds of inspiration and reference images — mostly fashion editorials — as well as hair, makeup and nail references. I buy lipsticks and lip glosses at Sephora by the handful. 

In the weeks leading up to the shoot, preparation kicks into high gear. I choose lingerie sets, stockings, shoes, dresses, coats. I head to the salon for a haircut and highlights, then a manicure. At the nail salon, I fuss over the exact shade of retro cherry red I want (I still haven’t found the perfect shade). On the day before the shoot, I go back to the salon for a gloss and blowout and fuss over that too. Too much curl, or not enough? I never know. 

***

It’s 5am on Tuesday — shoot day —  and I am going to buy some flowers, dammit.

I have never been to the Flower District, despite living in Manhattan for nearly a decade. Why? The Flower District is on a morning schedule — many shops close by midday — and normally, I am not. I’m almost never up before 7am unless I’ve got a flight to catch or a photoshoot to prepare for. 

After my disastrous day yesterday, I’d managed a few decent photographs and then fallen into a disturbed, worried sleep. 

At 5am my alarm sings and I pop in my contacts, throw on some clothes and haul ass. The photographer is coming at 7:30am; I’m racing the clock now.

Midtown is pitch black as I walk to the subway, groggily passing all the denizens of early-morning Manhattan: garbage men, custodians, porters, doormen coming off the late shift or starting the early one.

Without stopping for coffee — I’m driven by determination and adrenaline now — I catch a packed F train downtown to the Flower District, where I walk laps around a shop, overwhelmed by choice. I hear time ticking in my head; every minute spent ogling tulips or roses is one less minute getting camera-ready. A massive clutch of Iceland poppies seem to wave at me from across the shop, not yet packaged for sale. They have to be mine. I buy the poppies and two smaller bouquets. The shop owner carefully bundles everything in a comically large kraft paper bundle. It’s half my height. I can barely walk with it.

I summon a Lyft back to the hotel. It’s bitterly cold and still pitch black outside. One Lyft cancels, then another. Freezing winds nip my ears as I pace the street, holding back hot and frustrated tears. I resist the urge to lay down on the sidewalk and give up.

Finally, mercifully, someone picks me up, and I race back to the hotel for the real work — my hair, makeup, last-minute steaming of garments, and preparing to greet the photographer at 7:30am.

***

The photographer comes right on time. The morning sun is barely up. For the first time in a long time, I have a creative collaborator. It’s a relief. I throw open the suite’s closet and show him my ridiculously large assortment of outfits. It has the air of Show and Tell, and I’m the weirdly enthusiastic kid who’s brought in ten thousand baseball cards. Our shoot will be four hours.

“You have a lot here!” He says diplomatically. He gets to work hiding all the ugly accouterments of the hotel suite — cords, TVs, little pads of paper. He advises me to shoot first with more clothes, then work my way to skimpy lingerie. I ignore his advice and throw on a transparent, tie-side set in pale pink. It’s one of my favorite sets and I’m determined to shoot with it. No time like the present.

Here’s how photoshoots go:

Put things on. Pose. Take things off. Put things on. Pose. Take things off. 

Move your head to the left…chin up…chin down…try something different with your arm.

Now stand up. Stand on one foot, balanced on a stiletto heel. Other foot. No, the other foot. Try turning your head the other way. Grab one side of your skirt. Now the other side. Brush your hair over your face. Throw your head back. Comb your hair — you’ve got flyaways.

Have a Betty Page moment, lounging seductively on a couch. Now prop yourself up with your hands. Butt up and out. Chin down. Toes pointed. Now bend a knee. Bend your torso toward the light…no, the other way. Balance unsteadily on your knees.

I enjoy photoshoots. The time goes quickly. For all my careful planning, everything comes down to fate and snap decisions — what my hair decides to look like, what outfit choices I make in the heat of the moment. 

***

To a companion, a photoshoot is not merely a photoshoot. Photoshoots have the air of final exams and graduation day, rolled into one. Rock it, and you’ve got reams of photos to dazzle with, taking your career and life to new heights; flub it, and you’ve flushed thousands of dollars down the toilet. 

Oh, and also? 

You need to rock it without any formal modeling experience. Naked, or nearly naked. 

Also? You’re the model, budget coordinator, creative director, art director, producer, prop master, location scout, wardrobe stylist, hair stylist, and makeup artist — combined.

Also? You’re tired, and you’ve been subsisting on salad for the past month. 

Godspeed.

*** 

Our photos are our calling cards. Not only do they establish our physical attributes, legitimacy and professionalism, but they present our personal style, personality, and preferred milieu. They say: “Yes, you can trust me to look elegant for a dinner date.” Or: “I love fitness.” Or: “Talk to me about Russian literature.”

They also tell the world who we wish to attract. 

I’m forever chasing photos that capture beauty, personality, sophistication and class, all at the same time. It’s surprisingly difficult.

When planning photoshoots, I cannot separate the photos from my aspirations. Every moment of planning, every new outfit, every pose, every swipe of lipstick — they are shot through with my goals for myself. How far can I go? Who can I be? What can I make mine?

And there are so many goals: the satisfaction of being memorable and distinctive; being seen, understood, respected, desired; creative growth; the admiration of my peers. Especially that last one — admiration of my peers. Compliments typically come thick and fast from clients, wannabe clients, and a wider circle of male admirers; but, when coming from female peers, they really mean something. Impressing a man is pretty easy; impressing a peer is harder, and more meaningful. The peer had been on the business end of a camera too. She knows what it takes for a great image. 

And on the flip side: the silence is deafening if you post a photo where you look busted or exhausted or simply boring. No one wants that.

***

Do clothes make the escort? It’s complicated.

I get the impression that most of my suitors mostly care about the woman under the clothes. My personality, my heart, my mind. How wonderful that is. God, I’m lucky.

In photos, though, you need to look the part. Good photos are a stake in the ground: “I’m like this, not that.” Good wardrobe makes the difference between an “eh” photo and a spectacular one. Extrapolate that to clients and bookings, trips and shopping sprees and dinners at wonderful restaurants and all your wildest dreams. Whew.

Most of us GFE providers aim to look polished, sophisticated, expensive. A cocktail dress with designer shoes (often red-soled Louboutins) is practically the escort uniform. Ditto Agent Provocateur lingerie. Ditto an all-black ensemble with black thigh-high stockings.

This sameness makes me want to rebel. 

I pop open my closet and thumb an oil-splattered, patched jean jacket bought in Montreal — how about this, fancypants?  Instead of a Herve Leger cocktail dress, I buy a tomato red chiffon number, 1920s stockings on Etsy, 1940s fishnets, a 1950s marabou bolero, and a dress with a sheer black over-dress — which, in true slut fashion, I wear sans dress. Give ‘em elegance and quirk. I order Louboutin T-straps, but return them. They aren’t me. The vintage pieces — a little timeworn and rare, demanding of care and attention — those are me. Bring on the yachts, bubble baths in five-star hotel suites, or whatever life has in store for me. I’ll have earned it through being my true self.

***

View photos from my March shoot in the Gallery.

***

This post was written by Shae Ashbury, a blonde NYC escort with some bangin’ new photos. Visit my booking form, gallery, patronage and details, and testimonials. If you found this post valuable, consider tipping me by emailing a Net-A-Porter or Etsy gift card to shaeashbury@protonmail.ch. Thank you for your support!

Shae Ashbury