By Hannah Ballerstedt
Diana Payne’s natural beauty eclipsed the concrete buildings and rusted train tracks which sat beyond the window behind her. The room’s fluorescent lighting did not seem to offset the gold tones in her skin. She dressed casually, her black hair looked simultaneously polished but untamed. “I always grew up being photogenic and being easy with camera people,” Payne said. She seemed to pose effortlessly, even without a camera present.
Nonetheless, Payne explained that she is most comfortable behind a camera. Talking with her hands, she shared how modeling became a perfect creative escape for her. “I didn’t have to speak, I could just act… I could be myself without having to be heard,” Payne said.
Payne also spoke about how modeling helped to calm her nerves.
“I didn’t have to worry about talking to people or getting nervous. I could just be in front of the camera… I could just go into my shell,” Payne said.
Her anxiety did not show as she recounted the beginning of her career. When she was younger, Panye’s aunt encouraged her to pursue modeling. “She introduced me to a couple of companies,” Payne said, “She pushed me and kept me going.”
In spite of her aunt’s help, Payne didn’t start working right away. “I was so young. I hadn’t matured, I was all gawky and weird looking,” Payne said.
Her career started evolving when she began college. Through working as a Resident Assistant at Roosevelt University, Payne befriended photographer Charlie Sell. At the time, Sell was working on an Instagram photo series depicting Chicago residents. Payne was included in this collage. “I was just helping him out,” Payne said. After being featured on Sell’s page, she made her own Instagram. “When I saw that my picture was getting a lot of likes, I was like ‘Okay, this is cool! Maybe I can make something of this!” Payne said.
After creating a social media presence, Payne and her boyfriend started to take photos in her dorm. “Those are my very first Instagram photos and they kind of blew up,” Payne said.
Later, Payne submitted to agencies such as Wilhelmina and Factor Chosen. “I got kind of far with Wilhelmina,” Payne said, but the company stopped contacting her. However, this did not stop her. Payne decided to take a break from approaching agencies and took time to build her name.
Her talent, style and dedication paid off. While Payne was a freelance model, she was featured in Vogue Italia. Chicago photographer Sihan Wang invited her to a seemingly random shoot. “Most of the gigs are more casual, but this one I could sense she was more serious,” Payne said. Just to be sure the photos weren’t leaked, Wang waited to release them until they were submitted. A couple weeks later, Wang messaged Payne to say that the photos made it to Vogue.
Wang later said that working with Payne was great. “She was very easygoing. During the photoshoot, she listened to my advice and willing to try different things.” she said.
Payne smiled brightly as she reflected on the experience. “Regardless of if I don’t make it too far, or if bail out of modeling, it’s something that I can always carry with me,” Payne said.
Becoming a signed model is also on the list of Payne’s recent accomplishments. Rachel Mitchell from BMG Models Chicago recently contacted Payne. “She said she was looking for new faces because they had just opened a new office,” Payne explained. After thoroughly checking out the agency, Payne felt it was time for her to sign. “It felt right,” she said.
While Payne’s passion for modeling remains a large part of her life, she said she is unsure of what her future will look like. “My mother always said, ‘Make sure you finish your education because that can never be taken away from you,’” said Payne, commenting she is still writing her next chapter. “It’s all up in the air, but I definitely know that I want to do something big, I want to make a difference.”