Josh and Shelby are the beautiful people. They are the type of people that you scoff at on social media and roll your eyes in dismissal at; they the type of people that you find yourself instantly and unconsciously jealous of. In a world gone manicured, these are the people of dreams – slim, symmetrical, smiley, always up for a good time. They are, in no uncertain terms, influencers, the people that seem less part of this world and more of something dreamt up and plastered about, to surely ruin your day; a robotic sort of human so perfect that us unsuspecting serfs can’t help but throw down all we have, for whatever they’re selling. But these are, despite all of your preconceived notions, humans – blood, skin, and bone just like the rest of us.
When I met with Josh and Shelby, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d known Shelby for a short spell a good while back but her life had changed drastically since then, and Josh was a complete stranger to me. We agreed to meet up for an interview and a shoot, the work that goes into filling your world with delusion daily, the dirty work of elegance and grace.
Things got off to a fantastic start, Shelby was as bubbly and kind as I remembered, and Josh, a bright-eyed Aussie, Cobain-haired and smiley was a pleasure from the jump. Kind, humble, welcoming, these were, for now, normal people.
Shelby was born a performer; a child of creative parents, gifted at birth with a flair for production – to be amongst the aesthetic, to be part of it, and for it to be a part of her. Growing up in theater, acting and performing led her to modeling and working with local creatives. From this, came a career, a signed deal with an agent, and a lifestyle that everyone who ever knew her would become interested in.
We walked along the water at the base of the Bay Area’s Tampa Heights neighborhood, a neighborhood reinvented from its days of grueling factory work, to one of fun and leisure. This change has made Tampa a better place, a fun place, an interesting place to live and visit. The day was muggy and Shelby wore a sunflower skirt. She was immediately, and without me asking, open to the fact that this was given to her by a company to shoot in for money. I walked and I listened as the two told stories of their experiences together as if they were speaking to family.
I’d always imaged that a social media shoot would be awkward, or pompous, or uncomfortable to witness; I imagined the people walking by scoffing at the audacity of the girl in the flower skirt, and how consumed she must be with herself to pose for pictures alone like that. How pathetic of these two, right? Wrong. It wasn’t like that at all, everything, in fact, seemed so natural, so free and easy as the two collaborated to make something they both loved come to life.
“It’s a new camera.” Josh tells me. “We have to work out the kinks a little.”
He snaps a few photos and talks Shelby through what he’s seeing. The two seemed like they’d done this millions of times, and worked in tandem with the gloomy December draft to produce gold. Shelby wasn’t concerned with who was looking or if anyone was looking at all; she wasn’t ashamed of her role, she owned it, posing gradually and smiling sweetly, pausing to let others pass through or to include me by asking questions about how things in my life had gone in the time since we’d last spoken. And in this I didn’t see a mechanical, blasé beauty, but a technician, working thoughtfully through her craft, one that she’s perfected over years of experience in an industry that is cut-throat and cruel, one where, for some, things can and will go seriously wrong.
I was interested to ask her about her horror stories, about vindictive agents and models who lost their way – and she had a few, however, they weren’t about her. I was impressed (and if we’re being honest, a little surprised) by how buttoned-up Shelby was. She was open about the fact that there are indeed incredibly sketchy people in the content-creation world, but was adamant that she will have nothing to do with those people – she does not, under any circumstance, fuck with these people, and told me with pride specifics about walking away from them outright. We spoke at length about a world where work is sporadic, and payment can take up to 9 months to come through; a world where people make promises they don’t intend to keep, and everyone seems to look out for themselves with little regard for their peers.
For most of the interview, Josh was quiet and patient, he let Shelby tell the stories but popped in when the moment was right. Josh was as well-versed in this world as Shelby was, and full of thoughts and ideas about a variety of different subjects as well. We dive deep into immigration and education, subjects he knows and understands – he is after all, an immigrant from a family of educators. Josh has no lack of opinion of the state of education – the creativity it stifles, the test-centric values it holds, or the often-mass-produced bullshit collection of knowledge it often provides. The three of us stewed over the idea of western production and how fake it all is, and in this I understood fully, and for the first time in the conversation, who it was I’d really been talking to – these were people who value the aesthetic, who wanted to see things with beauty, and with grace, and who struggled to inhabit a world cut clean, and colored inside the lines.
And through that lens, they’ve done this together. The two met during Shelby’s time in Los Angeles on Tinder. They were in neither the same city nor the same country at the time, but somehow, they met. Josh set his Tinder locating to Los Angeles as a joke, and after matching, the two somehow found their way into a stable, long-term relationship; and now, a marriage. Since then, they’ve followed each other around world-over, tied at the hip, insistent on doing things their way – on living a life that they want to live, rather than a life prescribed.
This isn’t a couple produced by the companies that hire them or a couple bound together by image. These aren’t fake and manicured people, but fantastic and thoughtful ones, who want to see, more than anything, a better world, one with a little more beauty each day. Josh and Shelby are a love story that’s almost unbelievable, a bond that’s spanned continents, and a genuine relationship at a time where so few seem to be.
I was weary beginning this project with a couple like Josh and Shelby, I didn’t want the intent of the project to fold on itself right away – I didn’t want the interview to seem strategic, something to catch the eye of a cheap reader by showing them two people that look good on a camera. I don’t feel that way anymore, I spent a good part of the day with two people who love the world as much as they love one another, who have seen and done things before 25 that most won’t ever do, and enjoyed an experience that transcended that which would usually come over a simple cup of coffee. I don’t know what the future holds for these two; what I do know is that they’ll face it, together, camera in hand, and eyes towards the horizon.