Back then I was a college student and met Nikki briefly at the ranch, as I was passing through on the way to my room. Nikki was very friendly and cordial, but this girl who was already a very popular centerfold, gracing the covers of almost all of the major men's magazines, intimidated me.
Fast forward to the present, when I'm well-established and comfortable in my role as an erotic photographer. I've worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, many of them on their very first shoots. Nobody really intimidates me anymore, and I'm confident in my abilities to make any girl look and feel beautiful.
Nikki and I reconnected on MySpace, and discussed working together. She feels that this is a perfect completion of the circle that began when my mother did her very first photo shoot — and now, as Suze's daughter, I would be shooting Nikki myself. But there was more to the story than just shooting someone that had begun her career in front of Suze's lens. A few years ago Nikki was involved in a terrible accident, and was forced to put her career on hold while she recovered.
Since Nikki has put the incident behind her and has finally won the lawsuit that she filed due to this accident that happened on set, she is free to talk about it and gave me permission to tell her story.
Almost three years ago she was nearly killed while shooting for an exciting new job that promised a lot of work and plenty of publicity for her. Nikki was hired to host an ongoing series of western-themed events and DVDs, and on this day she was having her picture taken on a horse for the cover of the first DVD. The producer, who had been drinking all day during the shoot, put her on a frisky rodeo horse. The horse spooked and threw Nikki off, and then actually landed on her head.
Nikki's skull was broken in four places and her brain was hemorrhaging badly. Her employer, panicked and intoxicated, fled the scene and left Nikki bleeding in the sand. Fortunately the makeup artist saw what happened and came to her aid. Nikki was airlifted to the hospital, where she remained in the trauma center for weeks.
Miraculously, she survived, but such an injurious episode rendered her unable to work for over a year. Nikki did go back to work eventually, but her jobs were small and off the radar as she continued to recover from the incident, and as she fought in a lawsuit against the man who had watched her get thrown from the horse, and left her to die.
Nikki recently won her lawsuit, but has yet to collect a dime from the judgment. Determined to rebuild her career, Nikki has signed with a new web developer and is re-constructing her website, NikkiNova.com. The content that Nikki and I shot together will be featured on her site as well as Suze.net.
To hear Nikki's story and marvel at what she went through was truly inspiring. I rode horses competitively from childhood through my high-school years, so I know how dangerous they can be.
Though she did suffer brain damage, it really isn't noticeable on a superficial level: she is a very funny, sharp, and spiritual human being. But when asked, she does reveal that she's lost her sense of smell completely, and suffers from brain seizures and minor memory loss occasionally. Besides that, I couldn't see any other effects from the accident.
A professional and very talented model, Nikki came completely prepared with outfits: each one inclusive with jewelry and shoes, all bagged up neatly together. Since I usually have to do all the styling from my own wardrobe at our studio, it was a relief to have someone who had their own clothes, and gave me one less thing to worry about. Needless to say, we got some amazing photos that day.
A lot of people think modeling is an easy job, where the girl just has to look pretty and stand in front of a camera. But Nikki's story is a reminder of how dangerous modeling can actually be, and how the girls are truly at the mercy of the producer and the potential risks that go along with photo shoots. I have subjected girls to extremely cold and hot temperatures, freezing water, bug bites, bee stings, precarious ledges (in heels!) and generally uncomfortable situations. In fact, I once very nearly electrocuted a girl: I was shooting her in a pool and one of the strobe lights almost fell in. Thankfully my assistant caught it just in time.
Overall though, I think the lesson to be learned here is to appreciate your model. Appreciate what she puts herself through to look good for your photographs. Appreciate the careful dieting, the endless hours on the treadmill, the grin-and-bear it attitude when you shoot her in direct sun in the desert, in the middle of August — or when you ask her to get on an unpredictable one-ton animal without a safety helmet. Though the memory of the agony of getting a perfect photo will eventually fade, a beautiful photograph is immortalized forever. But let's not overlook what it took to get that image: it takes a model, like Nikki, who will do almost anything for that ideal shot. And we should appreciate them all for that.