The Sexy Side of Abandonment: Scranton Lace Pin-Up Girls
Giving New Meaning To “Scranton Lace”
Anyone who explores abandoned buildings eventually runs into evidence that suggests a whole lot of sex goes on within those dark, sticky and usually moist spaces. Like a passionate affair, ruins are exciting! Standing in one makes your heart beat faster and the world outside fades from your consciousness as time stands still, and you’re thrust into another world.
Presently, many of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s abandonments are understandably being utilized as backdrops for music videos by local bands such as Astorian Stigmata, and fashion photo shoots by bloggers like Riss Vandal of Fashion Vandals. And now, thanks to Sullivan’s Pin-Up Photography, the Scranton Lace Factory has a whole new visual image to ponder and appreciate!
Scranton Lace, a factory basically abandoned by the owner in 2002, when workers were informed that it was closing “effective immediately”, first became a popular site among people who engage in Urban Exploration photography, and photojournalists covering our nation’s age of industrial decline. Now, with the facility currently under renovation in order to bring it back to life, photographer Bonnie Sullivan was able to secure the location in order to conduct one of her specialty Pin-Up Model photo shoots.
Knowing how much I loved photographing Scranton Lace, since I’d been there several times before, Bonnie graciously asked me to stop by during the event, where I was able to convince two of her models to give my readers an inside look at becoming a Pin-Up model for the day. And after watching this process in action, I truly believe that every woman should do it at least once, just to be able to say they’ve done it. Apparently, transforming yourself into a Pin-Up is one of those pivotal, life-changing experiences, in terms of confidence building! And in this hyper-connected, social media world, who doesn’t want to feel more confident while having their picture taken?!
Jennifer Walsh-Crosland was the first model to arrive. “This is fucking awesome”, were the initial words out of her saucy red painted lips as she strutted into Scranton Lace’s now infamous bowling alley, with her ruby “ribbon candy” pumps and Bettie Page store shopping bag. Jennifer, who has done this type of thing before, was excited to finally see the interior of the Scranton Lace Factory. It had been one of her ambitions for quite a while. She said, “I was excited because the building and the company have such a historical influence on the culture of this city. It’s been around since the 1890’s, employed many of our area residents throughout the years, and holds so much energy.”
And as an added bonus for her spouse, who escorted her to the shoot, Mr. Crosland was also able to get a private behind-the- scenes look at that history all for himself. “He enjoyed being able to walk around the building while I was doing the shoot. He got some really great pictures from a place that we would have otherwise never had the opportunity to be inside”, Jennifer shared.
The next model to show up was Nikki Falcone, which seems like a name ready-made for an alluring Pin-Up bombshell. This was her first experience, so her entrance was a little more subdued as she took in the entire scene, which could be a little intimidating for a first-timer. But as Nikki watched Jennifer in action, under Bonnie Sullivan’s expert direction, she seemed to become more at ease. It was clear that Bonnie, with the support of her husband Joe Sullivan, was running this show. “Walk with a little swagger”, she instructed Jennifer, as she stood, in those spectacular red heels, in the middle of a post-apocalyptical looking bowling lane, with two weathered bowling pins grasped in her hands. “Don’t hold them evenly”, she directed, “hold one pin by the neck and the other down further.”
At one point, while adjusting Jennifer’s dress by hiking it further up her thigh, Bonnie told Jennifer, “Yes, you ARE that kind of girl! Go with it!”, as she snapped her camera shutter closed several times in quick succession. “Act like you own it”, she instructed Jennifer, “Lift ‘the girls’ (Pin-Up speak for boobs) and cinch the waste!”
When asked about the onslaught of posing instructions, Jennifer responded “The direction that she gives is what makes it so awesome! I mean, I’m just a normal chick; I’m goofy and uncoordinated, but with Bonnie & Joe behind the camera, all of that goes away. They just have a way that makes you feel so comfortable and so confident!”
I asked Jennifer if, after working with professional photographers, she had one posing tip that she would share with others to make their own pictures better. Her response was, “If it feels weird in the moment, more than likely, that’s going to be the best pose of the day!”
The next model to step into the spotlight was Nikki Falcone, who was doing the photo shoot as a gift for her husband, who is into all things retro, as a gift for their anniversary. “He’s been looking up a lot of (Pin-Up) pictures”, she explained, “So rather than be jealous of those models, I thought maybe I could do just as well.” And do it, Nikki did!
“If you feel comfortable, your photos will look awkward. So be uncomfortable”, instructed Bonnie from behind the lens, as she led Nikki through some shots on top of the roof of the massive industrial complex. “Do you want to pretend like you are climbing the ladder in your heels?” Bonnie asked Nikki before telling her to climb up one or two rungs. “Get your “girls” to the right (those boobies again)”, she shouted to Nikki before taking the picture.
During my time watching Bonnie in action, I couldn’t help but notice how often she mentioned “the girls” to her models. So I had to ask her how important boobs are when creating a compelling Pin-Up image. “The Pin-Up is all about cleavage, leg and facial expression”, Bonnie explained, “If you look at all the classic pin-ups of Vargas or Elgrin, they have elongated legs and/or lots of cleavage that go along with their curvy, and never waif-like, bodies. After all, pin-ups were used as a distraction back in the day, and if you’re going to distract the boys from their troubles of war, legs, cleavage and curves were just the thing to do it, no?”
If the purpose of the Pin-Up girls of the past was to provide a distraction from the horrors of war, I wondered if the resurging interest in Pin-Ups is a reflection of something about the times we live in now.
Bonnie offered her opinion, “Perhaps…and that just may be a large part of it. But I also think that a lot of women just want some “me time” for a minute. Women from all walks of life, have just become so busy these days. We get up in the morning and stand in front of the mirror, tossing our hair up in a knot, or quickly getting ourselves presentable for our work day. We don’t take time to primp and pamper ourselves these days like they did “back in the day”, because we don’t have the time with our busy work schedules, balancing the kid’s schedules, working, husbands, etc. And I think some of the women who come to us for sessions just want to feel that “old school glamour” again, who want some “me time” and have photos to create the memory. Because once they leave our session—BAM–they’re thrown back into their horrendous schedules and busy lives. So in a sense, this could be a “distraction” of another kind, not from war, but a distraction from our rushed lifestyles.”
“We’ve also become bombarded with sexual images in our daily lives — some tasteful and some not so tasteful”, Bonnie continued, “The Pin-Up image takes that notion and throws it back to “old school” when sexual images were fun, flirty and only hinting at “naughtiness”. It takes you back to a time when society was more turned on by the curves of the female body underneath clothing than full on, in your face nudity. That’s not to say we have anything against tasteful nude images. We don’t! Nude doesn’t equal pornography, though. There’s a definite difference. I think these are just a few of the reasons for the resurgence.”
I asked Bonnie what motivated her to start taking Pin-Up style photos in the first place. “I’ve always enjoyed the Pin-Up image”, she replied, “A friend asked me to do a photo shoot of her for a “Pin-Up calendar” she wanted to give as a Christmas gift to her boyfriend. She emailed me and said it’s something she wanted to do, and just never felt like she knew a photographer who would pull off what she was looking for. She was familiar with my style of photography and had seen some of the work that I’ve done in the past. So, I agreed, and it was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had — that we both had, really! I loved editing her photos and seeing such beautiful images that I helped to create. That’s when I turned to Joe — knowing this was something we just had to work on together out of our mutual love, not just for the classic Pin-Ups, but photography as well. I remember telling Joe that if I truly believe everything happens for a reason, then, that day was no accident and was meant to set us on a path of the business we have today.”
I wanted to know what motivated women to want to be photographed in this way. “Several reasons”, Bonnie explained, “Some do it as a gift for their significant other. Some do it because they need a “pick me up” after a devastating event such as divorce–or in some cases, maybe that’s more of a celebration and not so much a “pick me up”! Ha-ha! Others do it to celebrate a weight loss or some other turning point in their life. Some want to take a minute out of their busy schedule and feel beautiful and glamorous. And then, others do it just because they love the art of Pin-Up photography and want to emulate their favorite Pin-Up models. It really is a personal thing; we find that the reasons are varied.”
I wondered what motivate these particular models to want to do this. Nikki said that the idea came to her after seeing the result of a photo shoot that one of her friends did with Bonnie & Joe at a candy shop. Jennifer was also motivated to participate by a friend, who happened to share a post from Sullivan’s on Facebook. “They were offering a photo shoot package at a great price, with a donation for Toys for Tots”, she said, “I thought it was a great way to be able to get a special Christmas gift for my husband and do a good deed at the same time.”
“I will be really honest”, Jennifer explained, “The first shoot I did, I was REALLY nervous, but after it was all said and done I LOVED IT!! Everything about it, going out and finding the perfect outfit to match the theme I wanted to go with, finding the right pair of shoes that were really going to POP in the shoot. Having hair & make up done–the pampering was one of my guilty pleasures.”
For this photo shoot, Jennifer opted to make a special trip to Philadelphia in order to find the perfect dress. “It was AWESOME!”, Jennifer exclaimed, I made a trip to the iconic Bettie Page store because even though I had a ton of places I could order a dress from, I wanted to go to a place where I could try on several dresses, to make sure I got the perfect one, not only did I look great, but I felt very comfortable.”
Nikki said that she fell in love with her dress at pinupgirlclothing.com. Bonnie says that clients can always check with her to see if she has any Pin-Up inspired clothing on-hand that appeals to them. “We’re still building our wardrobe”, she explained, but we have several dresses ranging in size from 4 to 18. If we don’t have their size yet, then we can definitely direct them to a few places where great finds can be had.”
Bonnie encourages clients to consult with her prior to their scheduled shoot because she can help them with all aspects of preparation in order to create the perfect Pin-Up look. “We offer hair and makeup as a complimentary service, EXCEPT for venue shoots where there are multiple shoots, and it’s just not possible time-wise. Shiloh Salon & Day Spa in Olyphant actually work with us and give all our clients a 20% discount when they go there to have their hair/make up done right before a shoot. They are a fabulous team and a Pin-Up inspired salon with images of Audrey Hepburn, Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe adorning the walls. If a client just doesn’t have the funds for getting their hair/make up professionally done, YouTube is a great tool for vintage/retro/pin-up hairstyles!”, she told me.
Of course models can also take charge of creating the look they want all for themselves, as Nikki did, “Stephanie Rozelle from Head to Toe Salon did my hair and makeup, she is a friend I’ve known since high school.”
The definition of a Pin-Up Girl is basically any model whose image garners wide appeal. I wanted to know if, as a photographer, Bonnie thought that every woman has an inner Pin-Up Girl waiting to be unleashed.
She responded, “I think so. Some of the best sessions we’ve had were of self-proclaimed “tomboys” who wanted to embrace their feminine side for a day. You don’t have to be a “girlie girl” to want to feel beautiful as a Pin-Up for a day. Pin-Up is a genre that crosses a wide range of backgrounds and social statuses. We’ve worked with ladies who have their doctorate degree in education, to hairstylists, to the fast food employee, and the stay at home mom. Ladies everywhere, no matter who and what title they hold, want to be a beautiful Pin-Up to some degree for one day! It’s fun! It’s something out of the daily grind! And it’s something you walk away with a memory of , as well as prints to hang on your wall or share with your significant other!”
Jennifer added, “There are a lot of women that secretly have a little Pin-Up vixen inside them.” While Nikki said, “Absolutely! Every woman has their own style and appeal and some just need to find it and share it.”
I wanted to know if these ladies had any advice for women who secretly wanted to do this but didn’t think they had enough confidence to actually pull it off.
Jennifer responded, ” If you’ve ever wanted to go outside of your norm, break out of the box, yet do it in a really classy way–DO THIS!! I’m the first to tell you, I may have a big personality, but I’m really, really shy –I’m my own contradiction—but this experience took me WAY out of my comfort zone, and I’m glad that I did it. It brought me out of my proverbial shell – not just by having the pictures taken, but then again, when Bonnie & Joe share them on their Facebook page. It’s out there, for all to see – take it or leave it, like or not – it’s me.”
Nikki said that anyone can do it, with the right attitude. “Own your pictures,” she said, “ The confidence definitely shines through and the more you think “I’m awesome, I’m beautiful, I can do this” the better the photos seem to be.”
Bonnie explained, “I think we all feel like that to a degree, no? But I would tell her that no one ever goes in front of a camera without feeling nervous. Every woman is her own worst critic. A Pin-Up session is often a great way to empower yourself and embrace your body and all of its imperfections. Pin-Up isn’t about being the perfect weight, the perfect height, the right size nose, or any of that. You never have to feel as though you “measure up” in the Pin-Up genre! It’s the one genre that accepts and actually appreciates the curvier body over the less curvy frames.”
I wondered if the models learned anything about themselves by participating in this experience. Nikki responded, “That most of my insecurities are in my head. And the pictures allow me to see what my husband sees in me all along.” While Jennifer explained, “I’ve solidified that fact that when I want something bad enough, I make it happen, which makes me realize that I am stronger than I think I am.”
And of course we had to discuss the challenges of doing a photo shoot with models at a venue like Scranton Lace. The first time I had the opportunity to take photos at this location; I was there with people dressed more like doomsday preppers, in army fatigues and steel toe boots, which is a far cry from pretty dresses and designer pumps!
Nikki said that walking around the debris in heels was the biggest problem for her, “My normal day shoes are DC Skater shoes, so heels can be a challenge on normal ground. The roof was interesting too since my heels sunk right in.”
According to Bonnie, “The debris is a challenge sometimes; you obviously want your clients to be safe as they walk around in their heels. Not having electricity for our lighting can also be challenging. You want the shots to be bright, crisp and well lit for the client.”
I asked Bonnie why she chose the Scranton Lace Factory as a location in the first place. “I’m a fan of abandoned buildings because of the “beauty of decay” that I find appealing –which is why I like to put Pin-Ups in such places ,the contrast of the beauty vs. decay of something once beautiful”, she said, “Scranton Lace has some fantastic architecture and amenities like the bowling alley that just worked so well with the Pin-Up theme whether it be the classic retro Pin-Up or even the lingerie session we did there.”
Nikki thought the setting was a perfect place for a Pin-Up shoot, “The clash of beauty against the beast I guess you can call it. Here’s someone put together so well, against a backdrop of urban decay, something that’s falling apart, and it just makes her stand out that much more. It’s very visually stimulating.”
And Jennifer added, “What was appealing to me was the fact that here I was, all done up and looking HOT – standing in a beautiful ruin. I feel it’s the perfect combination of the two.”
Obviously, Scranton Lace is important historically. And unfortunately, we live in a time when many historic buildings exist as “zombie buildings”–a real world term that is being used to describe buildings that are not usable for their intended purpose because they are in need of repair, and are owned by entities that cannot afford to do so. I wanted to know if Bonnie thought that allowing photographers to use these locations for photo shoots could be beneficial in any way for the building owners in terms of generating renewed interest in gaining public support to try to save these buildings.
“Absolutely!”, she enthusiastically responded, “The general public often times only sees these buildings/structures from the outside and has NO idea of how absolutely gorgeous and stunning some of these buildings are on the inside! And by allowing photographers inside to hold shoots, once the public sees some of these photos — suddenly that building is no longer just the “brick building down the street”, instead they see the building in a whole new light.”
Jennifer said, ”These buildings may be skeletons of their former selves but they still hold so much beauty and that beauty deserves some recognition. I couldn’t wait to get inside to feel it. On my way out, I stood in a huge empty room, which I could only assume held looms at one point… it was so quiet, all I could hear was myself breathing , but the energy I felt was electrifying! That’s what I was looking forward to – that feeling – it’s hard to describe, unless you’ve felt it for yourself , but for that few minutes, I could close my eyes and feel the building.”
Scranton Lace Loom Room April 2011
Scranton Lace Loom Room September 2011
I asked Bonnie to describe the Pin-Up Model experience for someone who has never done it before. “It is empowering”, she said, “ and addictive if I were to judge by how many repeat clients we have, and how they tell us their experience with us is like getting a tattoo. Once you have one, you want more! None of our clients are “professional” Pin-Up models, at least not to date. Every one of them that does this for the first time, initially they’re nervous, and by the end of it, they’re beaming with excitement, confidence, thanking us and telling us how much fun they had and can’t wait to do it again. I think it goes beyond the “fun” aspect. I think they feel empowered and that’s what is addictive. The empowerment of embracing their bodies in a way that perhaps they never thought they could or ever would.”
I asked how a client should prepare themselves mentally before their photo shoot. “Empower yourself by practicing some classic Pin-Up poses and/or facial expressions in the mirror. It’ll give you a chance to see how you look, what poses you find flattering to yourself, and it’ll put some control into your lap at your session”, Bonnie responded,” We always tell our clients that you really need to exaggerate everything for Pin-Up–if you feel foolish when posing the way we direct you to, or with a particular facial expression, then you’re doing it right and your photo will be perfect! And a glass of wine before your session doesn’t hurt either….. but ONE glass, not ONE bottle. Drunk isn’t beautiful, Ha-ha! And expect LOTS OF FUN! Joe and I are very laid back and like to have fun as well as make it fun for our clients! Joe and I shoot at the same time, from different angles, maximizing photo options/angles for the client. I usually do all the directing, so it’s not confusing for the client —- and while I’m directing, Joe is usually keeping an eye out for flaws in the shot like a clothing tag sticking out, a hem problem in a dress or whatever the case may be. But Joe and I like to have fun and crack jokes. There’ve been times when models have had a hard time making their “Pin-Up expression” because they’re laughing so hard at our nonsensical banter.”
I noticed that the models seemed to become more confident as their photo shoot progressed. Bonnie told me that my assessment was 100% accurate. “I think the atmosphere that Joe and I try to create during the shoot helps our clients to loosen up and ease their concerns about their flaws”, she explained, “We’ll ask ahead of time if there is anything about their bodies they just hate –face it, we all have those issues!– and even what parts they love about themselves! We’ll try to down-play that imperfection during their session. I think our clients see that as we start shooting, and it helps to boost their confidence knowing that we are going to be sure we photograph their best and down-play what they’re not fond of. We try to keep the atmosphere light and help ease their anxiety. We crack jokes; we try to involve them in the outcome of their experience by asking if there’s any particular shot/pose they want to try. And even if they have shot with us before, I think the anticipation of having their shoot, sometimes planned months in advance, has them amped up and rocking their nerves, and once they begin the shoot they’re like “Oh yeah, I forgot how easy this groove is!”
I asked what Bonnie thought her husband added, as the male perspective, to the creation of the Pin-Up image. She explained, “Face it, a man will see a woman in a completely different light and with a completely different appreciation than another female does — it’s in our wiring, photographer or not. There are times when Joe will suggest something or add a little “tweak” to the shot or pose….. But just the same, it’s that suggestion/tweak that takes it from sexy to “WHOA!!” Joe appreciates the art in the female form and he uses that appreciation to help create some stunning images in our business! I know there are Pin-Up photographers out there who tout themselves as an “all female team” and that’s great — there are women who may not be comfortable with a male photographer. But, we’ve been told by a few of our clients they appreciate the “male eye”, particularly for boudoir sessions when the client is giving the gift to the man in her life.”
I wanted to know if a man should ever consider purchasing a Pin-Up photo session as a gift for the woman in his life. Bonnie thinks it would make a great present because “what a fantastic compliment it would be for your significant other to say “Hey honey, I bought you a Pin-Up photography session!” Wouldn’t that say that he/she already thinks you’re an amazing, sexy being and wants to see it brought to life in Pin-Up form??”
You can find more pictures from the Scranton Lace Pin-Up photo shoot on the Sullivan Pin-Up Photography Facebook Page and contact information, as well as other photos, on their website.
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Cheri Sundra © 2013
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