"So You Want to Be a Male Hand Model?"
by Dan Kapelovitz
In your lifetime, you've no doubt seen thousands upon thousands of hands in magazine and newspaper advertisements, but did you ever stop to think, "I wonder whose hands are these, holding hammers, showing off watches or opening cans of cold beer"?
Well, that hand you barely noticed in your favorite periodical may just belong to none other than Mike Ramsey, male hand model.
Ramsey has recently written "Hand Job," a memoir detailing his experiences in the glamorous world of body-parts modeling. (The book can be ordered from his web site--www.MikeRamsey.net--or from Amazon.com and other fine book sellers.)
"I used the double-play on the words 'hand job' because, the whole time, I felt like I was being jerked around," explains Ramsey. "That's just what the business does to you; it's nothing personal."
Ramsey was a regular model who fell into the hand modeling.
"I would do everything necessary to be in the big time of the business," remembers Ramsey, "but everywhere I would go, I would be recognized for my hands. I had no intention of doing that; it just sort of happened."
Ramsey's hands are bigger than average (he can palm a basketball), and he has long fingers, but it was the steadiness of his large, long-fingered hands that allowed him to procure hand job after hand job.
"I have the ability to move them in real small increments," says Ramsey. "Photographers liked that, because they didn't have to keep telling me to move them back and forth. I would do exactly what they asked. It's like any business--if the customer likes what service you provide, they go back to you; so I became the go-to guy for awhile."
It all started when he beat out Kevin Sorbo (who played Hercules on TV) to score a hand-modeling gig advertising 7-Eleven's sponsorship of the 1984 Olympics. The ad, in which Ramsey's hand is clutching a bunch of medals, ran in most of the major national magazines.
From there, ...........
Ramsey says he was recognized only one time from an ad that featured only his hand, and that was by his own mother. "We were at a Dallas Cowboy football game, looking at the program and up popped that full-page ad--holding the medals. My mom looked at it and said, 'Hey, there's your hand.' "
Not being recognizable by anyone but your mom can actually be a plus in the modeling bizz. "The one advantage that hand modeling has over face modeling is that you can work with the same photographer for ten different clients of theirs and they don't worry about you being redundant. With the face, you can't use the same person with different clients. That helped me work more steadily."
Ramsey modeled other body parts as well: his forehead, his ears, you name it. He posed for numerous jeans ads which only showed his back side, as well as many photos that only showed him from the chin down.
The pay for parts modeling is generally the same as face modeling, except in TV commercials where recognizable actors are paid each time the spot airs.
The actual work involved with hand modeling is often more difficult than standard modeling. "There'll be cardboard or wood or light boxes between you and the product with your hand, often where you can't see your hand" explains Ramsey. "You lay on the ground on your stomach, or you're contorted in some way, reaching your hand through some hole or between things. You have to listen to the photographers and have them tell you what to do. If they could detach your hand, they would probably be happier. I did a Coors Light ad once. The can is silver and reflects everything. I would have reflected in the can; so they had to build this big white cylinder around the can. I had to reach through with both hands and had to pop top after top after top, after they would spray it down with glycerin. Glycerin beads up and makes it look cold. I popped 30 cans of beer, and it was hard to hang onto because the glycerin was making it slippery. It's much more work than fashion shows."
Hand models can earn $150 an hour. "That sounds great to the average guy on the street who may make $12 an hour. If you work two or three hours, two or three days a week, you make okay money, but then the next week you might not work at all. It's just unsteady. The most successful I was was when I spent an 8-to-5 period every day, going out and working clients. Basically, it's a sales job. Being in front of the camera is almost down-time; you're not getting a lot of work. A smart guy will work the crowd, the photographer, the stylist and the make-up person, chatting them up so they get to feel comfortable with you and the next time they can use someone with your color hair and your basic body type, they'll call you first. If you get lucky like I did where you have some special feature like a hand, then you get the extra bonus work."
Modeling is one of the few professions--along with prostitution and pornography--where women are paid better than men. Not only do they get more money, they get more jobs, especially hand and underwear models.
"If women do underwear, they get paid double-time; if men do it, they get time-and-a-half, sometimes just regular pay. With hand-modeling, women get higher rates because it's more demanding on them. They have to have perfect hands. There are a handful of guys--pardon the pun--that can maybe make a full-time living at hands, and there quite a few women that can. With guys, it's just like underwear ads, you really don't see a lot of male underwear ads--it's mostly women. Jewelry and things that feature hands--there's a lot more work for women than men, and generally the men's stuff isn't quite as featured on the details of the hands--you don't show rings for example real close-up on the hands where any little blemish will disqualify you. With men, you can get away with things, which for me was fortunate because I was always nicking my hands up doing just regular guy stuff like sliding into a softball base. You would lose money if you were a female doing stuff like that."
Although Ramsey never insured his hands, he's sure that other models have. They also take other precautions. Some women hand models even wear gloves to bed to protect their money-making mitts.
Ramsey had a few tricks of his own. "I had a photographer's lupe tha I would look through real closely and trim away--I had a manicurer's kit and trim away those dry pieces--and file the nails just so, so they were nice and even with the white space on the edges. I felt like a little artist."
The first thing you need to be a hand model (or any kind of model) is to get an agent. Ramsey said that it is actually pretty easy to find representation (as long as you have the right look). The problem is finding the right agent.
"If you want it bad, and you're willing to work hard for it, there are plenty of jobs out there. Likewise there are lots of reputable agents that will represent you, and there are more fly-by-night people out there who will claim to represent you. That's why you have to be careful.
"Everyone wants to be an agent. Agents get 20 percent from the model's gross, and they would also take 15 percent on top of what the model billed and charge the client; so they're getting essentially 35%; so it only takes three models to make them as much money as if they worked the job themselves. That's why the agent business is pretty lucrative and why if someone comes in who is even marginal, an agent will generally take them because it doesn't cost them anything. All of the fees are paid for by the talent. Some big agencies in L.A. and New York are more picky, but most of the agents in the country will take almost anybody who has a chance of working because it doesn't cost the agent anything to represent you. They give you a list of clients, and you go out and see them. You pay for your own photos; you pay to be in the head book; you pay for the courier service to have your books put out there. The agent just collects the money on the jobs."
Ramsey has even considered becoming an agent himself. "I even toyed with the idea of being a hand-and-parts agency because there's only one in New York that I know of. There's not nearly the competition."
Once you have an agent, the next step is (obviously) getting hired for work. "If you're a new model, the first thing you got to do is start getting jobs--because no one wants to be the first one to use you; they want to know that you've gotten jobs. Then it sort of snowballs."
Reputation for being easy to work with and willing to do almost anything also helps. Some models don't like hand modeling because they want to see their faces in the magazines, especially on the cover.
But if you aren't picky, a career in modeling can be for you, and like Mike Ramsey you can travel all over the world--Mexico, Germany, Japan and France--having your hands be photographed.
(This article first appeared in the August 2005 issue of Men's Edge Magazine)
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