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
"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
"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
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
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.
* * * * *
To view Cara Quinn's portfolio or learn more about her, visit
www.onemodelplace.com/model_list.cfm?ID=52516 on the Internet.