Art Model, Panda © 2014 Terrell Neasley
“I never refused when he wanted to take a picture,” said Eleanor Callahan, the 91-year-old widow of the photographer Harry Callahan. “I never complained, whatever I was doing. If he said: ‘Come quick, Eleanor — there’s a good light,’ I was right there.” – New York Times “The Artist’s Wife: A Constant Muse Who Never Said No”
So I looked up the definition of a muse. All where fairly consistent in referring to either the mythological daughters of Zeus, to think about something intently, or someone who is a source of inspiration an artist. As artistic endeavors go, I think a muse is a bit more than that. The word even sounds beautiful, “….MUYOOOZ”. There are models and then there are muses.
Most all artists who sculpt, paint, draw, or photography the human form need models. As a photographer, I need models in my life constantly. I can’t do what I do without models. Sometimes I need a certain shape, style, or hair for a certain project. I can search around and find someone who meets those specs or has the desired characteristics to complete my project. So I’ll say a model is project oriented as a requirement to complete a desired goal.
Art Model, Panda © 2014 Terrell Neasley
A muse on the other hand goes a bit further. A muse can start as a model, but then develop into more. In more cases than not, this relationship is derived from a familiarity developed over successive modeling sessions. Then you also have those special cases where a muse pops into your life like magic and bestows gifts that allow you to develop as an artist. So I’ll say a muse is craft-oriented as an option to complete a desired evolution in a model/artist relationship. Yeah…that’s it.
“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”
~ Ray Bradbury

To date, I haven’t spent more time shooting any one person more than I have with the phenomenon you all know as Panda. She hasn’t lived in Vegas since almost a year now and I gotta say I miss me some Panda. Its not easy to simply find or hire a muse as any artist will attest to. Every now and again, you get a few that stick with you, inspire you, and inevitably make you evolve your style, your craft, and your self as a person. Having one, must less two at any given time is tough. If the chemistry ain’t there with the non-verbal cues, then that muse relationship may not develop. You don’t identify a muse by her name badge. She doesn’t answer a craigslist ad looking for a muse. That relationship isn’t usually established right off the bat, but some are and it was my honor to have that with Panda. 

Art Model, Panda © 2014 Terrell Neasley
Now don’t get me wrong. Cuz I can definitely see some of ya’ll’s minds going there. This isn’t to say, the artist and muse has to establish a relationship beyond the artistic confines that birthed it. So get your minds out of the gutter. Panda is married with a kid and at no time did I (or will I) disrespect that. In fact, it can be a challenge for some artists to handle that, but for me, the muse relationship was not worth the sacrifice to ever find out. But then some of the most meaningful relationships have indeed sprung from the model/artist relationship. Case in point…my fave photographer and muse combo, Edward Weston and Charis Wilson. A mentor of mine just got married a year or so ago. Same thing. So I’m not say a photog should NEVER get involved with a model, but the situation and timing has to be right. And most of all its gotta be mutual, of course.
It starts with the attitude. And then, the connection, followed by respect. Suddenly…POOF! You’ve found your muse. Panda, starting out had the right attitude that fit my work. Understandably, this will be different from one artist to the next, but for me her willingness to pose nude and to fully explore my vision with me, cinched it. Granted, not all muses need to go to the extreme she does. If I could envision it, she was pretty much game. Much like the quote above says, she was a model who didn’t say no. And its not so much the fact that she hasn’t to day told me “no”. I think it speaks more to the kind of relationship that we have wherein she simply trusts me AND that our ideals are so in line that she doesn’t NEED to say no. She cares about the art as much as I do. Dunking herself in the frigid Colorado River, AFTER she had already gotten out of it is above and beyond the call of duty. I saw a better spot for a shot only minutes after she dried off and for the sake of the shot, she got back in that water again. 
Art Model, Panda © 2012 Terrell Neasley
We connected quickly. In fact, I would even say we connected prior to actual shooting. I initially didn’t believe she was actually sincere about modeling for me the Friday night we met, til she called me again EARLY that next SATURDAY morning to confirm. I knew I had something special on my hands. Her quirky style and those big eyes lent itself to my art like the perfect match. From the start, she listened intently as I described the goals for the upcoming session. Now a good muse will help you figure out your project, but not take over the project. Panda’s gift is her ability to sense and anticipate what I’m going to ask for. That’s the connection. She can see my non-verbal cues and very accurately and consistently predict what I’m going to ask for her and she simply moves or repositions herself prior to me completing the thought in my head much less getting the words out of my mouth.
Art Model, Panda © 2013 Terrell Neasley
The mutual respect comes by recognizing each others time, effort, and boundaries. Of the 21 shoots we did, non of them were ever quick. Panda doesn’t schedule a shoot unless she knows she has the time to give me. This allows things to flow much easier since there is no rushing about. I can take my time and get the shot or let things develop. I try to be conscious of her efforts to deliver for me and try to understand that that level of energy to put up with me is not easily maintained for extended periods of time. And I’m also conscious of the fact that I don’t EVER want to piss off her husband by keeping her out too late. I’m not trying to do anything that could result in my work being PandaLESS, so I’m respecting her husband in this relationship as well. And trust me, this dude is as cool as they come. 
I don’t know when I will get to shoot her again. I’ve made an attempt to not discuss her in past tense, as if my shooting days with her is done. She could come back to Vegas or I could go to where she is. Or we could even meet up at some spot in a totally different state (or country!) and shoot there. I’m willing to bet she’ll be in front of my lens again. I know you all remain hopeful! 
Art Model, Panda © 2013 Terrell Neasley