She Mixes Music and Modeling

by Nolan Crabb
Jefferson City, Missouri
© 2004 - Dialogue Magazine

Quick! Name the most visual component of the entertainment industry you can think of. Then ask yourself how difficult it might be for a totally blind person to be involved in it. When it comes to being a highly visual part of the entertainment business, very few jobs are as vision-oriented as modeling. As to how hard or easy it is to be a totally blind model, few people can answer that better than Cara Quinn. Quinn was born with retinopathy of prematurity, which combined with glaucoma to rob her of all her sight by the time she was 15. But she made good use of those early years with limited vision, and today, this confident young woman who lives and works near New York City credits her success to an early love of the camera and the influence of her grandmother. "For several years, I had sight in my right eye," Quinn says. "Even as a little girl, I loved looking at pictures. My grandmother did a lot of photography. She had done lots of marine and aerial photography. Her pictures just fascinated me." A diminutive Cara rapidly became the subject of many of her grandmother's pictures. "I was always posing even at a very early age," she recalls. "I was an attention hound; there's just no other way to put it. I developed a love for music, too, and started to perform. I would do little plays and all kinds of things like that around the house. No audience was too small." Quinn's childhood was one in which she was encouraged to be creative. She found creative expression in her music and her grandparents made sure she had plenty of exposure to concerts and art museums. "I fell in love with all the aspects of art," she remembers. "It was just natural that I would do artistic modeling in college. Some students I knew approached me and asked if I'd give it a try." Quinn realized she had a real ability for holding poses for prolonged periods of time. She saw the challenge of artistic modeling as another way of creative expression, and she enjoyed it despite its challenges. "Learning to hold poses for a long time isn't easy," she explains. "The difficulty of it, of course, depends on what you're doing. The trick to being a success at it is making it look easy. I could actually be holding a pose where I'd be in pain, but the pain can't show through. You have to keep smiling--you have to be on." Quinn says once she began modeling in front of the camera, those few years in which she had sight paid off. She is able to visualize how the shots should look. "When the photographers ask me to do things--to pose a certain way--I can visualize how that's going to look; it really helps to be able to compose the shot in my head." The highly visual nature of modeling made life difficult for Quinn. Agencies and photographers refused to believe that a totally blind woman could model. "Modeling is so visual that discrimination is inevitable," she muses. "You can't let that get to you though. I have an excellent portfolio, and that helps when it comes to getting work. But it's not easy." To keep her sanity, Quinn turned increasingly to her music. "In the early 90s," she says, "I would get modeling jobs wherever I could, but mostly it was the music that kept me going. I even began to buy into the idea that I liked modeling a lot, but my blindness meant that I'd never be able to really be as successful at it as I'd like to be." In the mid-90s, Quinn's desire to model full-time became stronger than ever. "I had moved to Colorado by then," she recalls. "I suddenly found myself in the midst of all this beautiful scenery; I learned to rock climb. I knew I had to do outdoor modeling." She began doing outdoor nude modeling and concurrently got a job teaching music in a music store. Soon, she was featured in the store's catalog and became its spokes model. Quinn ultimately combined her love of music and modeling when she released her first CD. It's picture included a pose of Quinn with a dragon statue. The statue is located in a park in Golden, Colorado. Quinn recently moved from Colorado back to the New York City area, where she reasoned she could get more modeling work. That gamble has paid off, but the work doesn't just fall into her lap. She says convincing photographers that working with her is a good idea still isn't anything like child's play. "Some of the photographers really have their doubts," she says. "They don't always know how to approach me. They don't know exactly what to do. That part is like being blind in any other job. You have to do a lot of educating. You have to work at putting people at ease initially, and you have to seize the moment and jump in there and prove yourself early on." Quinn has done promotional work for a motocross race that included swim suit shots. She's also done work for the Buick division of General Motors in association with the Professional Golf Association tour. "They didn't know I couldn't see initially, and they were fine with my work," she says. So how does a blind model put on makeup successfully enough to keep finicky photographers happy? Quinn says it's all about trust and taking advice from associates who understand the business. "Sometimes, I'll get people I trust to tell me how the makeup is," she explains. "Sometimes, the photographers have very specific ideas as to what they're looking for, so I'll take direction from them. I particularly have to worry about makeup around my eyes. As a result of glaucoma, my eyes are deep set. I have to bring them out a bit, so I lighten them with a deep concealor. It goes around them and over them. It has to blend with my skin." Like any sighted model, Quinn works with agencies and plays by the rules of the business. "If you're clean and reliable," she explains, "you're naturally going to get more work. I'll always take a chaperone with me when I work with a new photographer. That's not a blindness thing. Anyone in this business who knows what she's doing operates that way. You always use a chaperone when working with a new photographer." When she's not modeling, Quinn is busy teaching others to play the guitar and sing. She creates music as well, using software called Powertrax Pro Audio. She uses a laptop and JAWS as her screen reader. With the laptop, she manages her appointments and shuttles photos to various agencies. She can also do e-mail from her cell phone if necessary. Asked what pointers she would give other blind and visually impaired people who want to embark on a modeling career, Quinn said persistence helps. "I think you have to know yourself well and know what you really want to do," she reflects. "Figure out an area where you can really make a difference. My eyes look different, and I capitalize on that in different ways. Just recognize you're going to approach this business from a different angle than anyone else who gets into it." Quinn says reaching out to others and networking is also a major must. "You need honest visual feedback from your friends. Trust me, people will be afraid to give that to you. Even photographers will be afraid to give you that feedback. But you need it, so you'd better find people who will be absolutely honest with you every time. It's also good to have someone who can creatively describe what's going on around you." Quinn says being a blind model means drawing on inner strength when the rejection comes. "You're going to encounter rejection. That doesn't make you a bad model or not pretty. It's about them, not you--the rejection, I mean. Don't just give up and walk away and assume you can't do this. Agencies are always looking for new faces and new people. There's no reason you can't do this." She says getting acquainted with others in the business is essential. "Get to know other models and photographers," she urges. "You can do that online these days. You have to really want to do this kind of work." As Cara Quinn chats up customers during an automotive promotional event, she reflects on the runway of her life's journey that brought her to her current position as a working model. She remembers with fondness a photographer grandma and a vivacious little girl who was always eager to be the subject of those pictures. * * * * * Resources To view Cara Quinn's portfolio or learn more about her, visit on the Internet.