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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Captured By A Quiet Soul

Images by Shameer Khan

"...focus on the positive things in life"

We meet outside the Starbucks on 14th Street and introduce ourselves. He gives me a gentle hug and smiles. I smile back. After luckily finding a free table we sit across from each other. His eyes suddenly squint in seriousness and he stares me down. Somehow I feel like an ant being examined by a zealous teenager with a magnifying glass. I want to look away, but I know that I shouldn’t.

This scoping of my face goes on for seconds, though it feels like minutes. In a subtle voice he instructs me to turn my head slightly to the side. I do that and his thick eyebrows wrinkle. He's pensive. I’m told to turn my head to the other side, but his expression doesn’t change. I'm thinking this meeting is going so well. Maybe I'm not as striking.  Finally I'm told to suck in my inner cheeks. “Like this,” he says and assumes the perfect angular face with pouted lips.

Inwardly I’m saying to myself, this guy is crazy! But he seems to know what he’s doing and trustingly, I try it. Those black brows wrinkle, animatedly again, as he shakes his head no. Apparently I’m trying too hard. “Like this,” he re-demonstrates. I make another attempt and this time he nods with satisfaction.

“Okay good.  Let’s go,” he finishes.

I follow him out the Starbucks and seconds later we enter a building that’s his friend’s studio. The temperature has dropped tremendously so it’s too cold to shoot outside.

His name is Shameer Khan, a Trinidadian native living in New York. At the time we met, he was on the cusp of his teenage years. For his age he is extremely knowledgeable about the fashion industry, in particular—what model agents want. He reels out—in a non-bragging fashion—a list of girls he got signed with agencies like Elite and IMG. There's something about his photographs that captures the pure essence of a model, even the ones with the slightest potential. Now these agencies send him their models when they need development test shoots done.

As I was instructed, I keep my puffy extensions straightened. The weave is so well done, that it looks like I was born with that full head of hair. He presents an H&M bag with clothes he bought from the store and I dress in an orange leotard and black leggings. This outfit is much simpler than my usual shoots, but he reminds me that it’s about my body, not about the clothes. I already have on a light foundation, but Shameer applies an extra layer, still enough to look natural, and surprisingly, applies my eyeliner, lip gloss and uses the eyeliner to contour the sides of my face. Taken by the comfort of his actions, I ask him where he learnt all this. He explains that sometimes stylists and make-up artists are a no-show to his test shoots and so, eventually, he learned to do everything himself. I am very impressed.

The end result of my shoot with Shameer
He patiently directs me into the poses, in an almost-soft-spoken voice. The movements are not sudden or dramatic. Very simple. Just enough to highlight my length, my features and that I can, at least, pose. I suck in my cheeks just like we practiced and he snaps away. The easy-going Shameer is smiling and that is a sure sign that the images are good. After a few changes the shoot is over and I’m looking forward to the possibilities.

It’s hard to count how many models Shameer has discovered, but it’s safe to say at least twenty—males and females combined, and that’s just being modest. One of his greatest finds is Diandra Forrest, an albinistic model, who captivated interests by fashion agents right away.

In no time the Trinidadian born photographer realized that he was good at what he did. When others took notice, he quickly became a respected name in the New York fashion niche, receiving special features on and publishing editorials in UMag, Hommestar—The Pop Magazine, and Highlights Magazine, just to name a few.


What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake in the morning?
First, I thank God that I am alive, then I reach for my phone!

What can’t you leave the house without?
Can’t leave without putting on my Chanel Homme Sport cologne that I got as a gift from one of the models I work with, Michelene.

From left: Oscar Reyes, Iman, Shameer, Joan Smalls
Give us an idea of your typical day?
Wake up, brush my teeth, make coffee, check my emails, visit my favorite blogs, then plan out my day, jump in the shower, get ready and head to the city. Some days I may have a shoot, other days—a meeting, or maybe just shopping or something.

Do you believe you have found your calling and when did you realize that?
Yes I think I have. When I was 16 years old I got my first camera from an MTV event and I fell in love with photography. Unfortunately I was robbed and that camera was stolen, but eventually, my parents later got me a professional camera because they saw how much I loved photography.  I still us that camera today. I never liked school so I didn't apply to college because I knew that this is what I wanted to do, for sure.

Anybody famous or intriguing you’ve met or come across in your career/life? What was that experience like?
I’ve met Tyra Banks through a very good friend of mine Oscar Reyes, who was her agent at Elite. She took us out for Frozen Yogurt and then to a comedy club. It was fun. She's actually an amazing person.

Who do you hope to meet or work with one day? And why?
I hope to work with Nicki Minaj lolll… I would love to shoot her one day. We are both from Trinidad and both grew up in the same neighborhood (Southside Jamaica Queens)

How do you usually end your day?
I just grab my favorite snacks, chocolate, and soda, jump on the couch and fall asleep watching TV.

Is there anything that has happened to you in your life that has sobered you up, or has impacted on your life today?
Just moving to this country at the age of 9, and going through a lot of struggles when my family and I got here, my parents sacrificed a lot to give me and my brother a better life.

What philosophy do you live by?
Take life one day at a time and focus on the positive things in life; and forget about all the negative things.

Any closing words from your awesome self? Like maybe your goals for 2012 and beyond? Anything!
My goal for this year is to travel and see the world. I haven’t been back to my country in 13 years and I plan to go very soon to see my family. Then I plan on going to Europe! Especially London and Paris, because I have a lot of friends there :)

Shameer's Portfolio:

See more of Shameer's work @

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

'Wal Wal' Keeps It Going in South Africa

“…My dreams keep me going!”
Sometimes we are born in threes. Valentine “Wal Wal” Gaudin—pronounced, Valonteen Godah—knows all about this, since she was kicked out of her mother’s womb by her two brothers. In essence, she is the oldest of the triplets. 

The twenty-nine year old grew up in a small village on the west coast of France, called La Roche-sur-Yon, and as a child enjoyed playing with her brothers, bike riding, and basketball.  She decided at an early age that the nickname “Val” would sound much cooler as “Wal”, and as result is affectionately referred to as such. Or “Wal Wal”, if you prefer. Now light years away from those childhood days, Valentine is a proud Brand Manager at the TRACE network in South Africa. 

Her journey from France to South Africa was no coincidence. Since teaching English in France proved highly unlikely, Valentine decided that taking a semester abroad to teach in South Africa would grant her that opportunity. She fell in love with the country and the following year went back and enrolled in Rhodes University. In 2005, unbeknownst to her journey, we met. She was a French Teaching Assistant at Albion College and I was in my final year. Val's vivacious and affable personality took me by surprise.

You see, while I learned French in high school, a part of that study included learning about the country’s history. Much attention was given to the Anglo-French with accents so heavy, that even when they spoke English it still sounded like French; and the country’s racial and social divide, where blacks, non-whites, and immigrants faced grave discrimination. However, meeting this spirited French girl softened that image. I could easily understand her not-so-heavy accent. She showed appreciation to and knowledge of my Jamaican culture and music, and effortlessly integrated with blacks and the international students.

After her year at Albion, she returned to France and acquired her Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communications then packed her bags and left for her second home—South Africa.

These days Valentine remains driven by the excitement of life—one that offers her the perfect rhythm and beat. So there is no surprise that she now resides in one of the most culturally vibrating countries in the world, working in one of the coolest jobs. Granted it’s hard work, but why should one complain when he or she gets to work with and meet celebrities from all over the world? As Brand Manager to TRACE, South Africa, Valentine is proud to share that the network is launching their Sports Channel this coming April.

And what exactly is she doing when she isn’t Tracing? Val has established a jewellery brand derived from her self-given nickname, called WAL Earrings. The idea came to mind after persons continuously inquired where she had purchased a pair of earrings she had made.

“I thought it would be great to start making a bit of money while doing something creative that I love,” she explains.  While this may be her hobby, Valentine envisions her brand will burgeon to the extent of marketing and selling to retailers and eventually hire a production team. “Who knows?! My dreams keep me going!” 

So Wal Wal, tell my readers a bit more about you…

In your list of accomplishments, what has been the most memorable or meaningful?
I don’t have a specific one, but I’m proud of the hard work I’ve put in to be where I am today. I mean, who would have thought that a French girl, like me, from a small village would be the brand manager of one of the most famous music video channels in South Africa (TRACE)? Hard work pays off! 

What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake in the morning?
Shower! I really need that to wake me up. 

What can’t you leave the house without?
My phone!! I feel lost without it. I have a Blackberry, so I can check my e-mails, twitter, etc. With my position I need to be connected all the times.

Give us an idea of your typical day?
Well, it really depends on what is going on during that week. Usually I have meetings and press conferences, and I ensure to make time every day to work out. I usually go to Bikram Yoga from Monday to Wednesday and go to the normal gym the rest of the week to run. I’m currently training at night for a 10km run downtown Johannesburg, organised by Nike. So I need to get ready! 
Earrings from WAL's Afro Hearts Collection 
Do you believe you have found your calling? And when did you come to that realization?
I can’t say that I’ve found my calling, but I enjoy what I do. I'm also trying to work on my own projects - such as the WAL Jewellery. That's definitively something I really enjoy doing. I will try to put more work into that project in the next few months, but for now I have to pay my bills. 

Anyone famous or intriguing you’ve met or come across in your career and life? What was that experience like?
Being in the entertainment industry I’ve come across quite a few celebrities such as retired French Footballers, Zinedine Zidane and Christian Karembeu, Trey Songz, Slum Village, Ryan Phillippe, and Sean Paul. You don’t really get to speak to them because of their 'status' but it’s always great to pose for a photo with them ^_^
Val poses with French ex-footballer Christian Karembeu
Val parties with Hollywood actor, Ryan Phillippe
She steals a photo op. with Dancehall artiste, Sean Paul
Who do you hope to meet or work with one day? And why?
This is a tough one. I know my answer is going to sound very typical but I would really like to meet Beyoncé and her baby, Ivy. The singer is extremely talented, keeps her private life out of the gossip newspapers, a fierce business women, and she's got curves like me!!! lol

How do you usually end your day?
I usually end my day by working out. I need it to chase all the stress away. Then I usually watch TV to unwind.

Is there anything that has happened to you in your life that has sobered you up, or has impacted on your life today?
Meeting my boyfriend Jimmy. He is an artist and follows his passion, which is music. He taught me to follow my dreams, find what I enjoy doing, and give it a try.

What philosophy do you live by?
As my dad would say: "There're no problems, only solutions". I love it! I also strongly believe that when you think positively, positive things will happen to you.

Any closing words from your awesome self? Like maybe your goals for 2012 and beyond?
Love u Chevy ;-)

See samples of Valentine's Jewellery Designs below: 
Afro Hearts

The above three photos are of WAL Earrings
See more of her collections at the links below: