WORKING MODEL: Ashdown Native finding success in front of the camera

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By Quinton Bagley

Multiple photographers have refereed to him as the new James Dean, actor and cultural icon from the 1950s. His dark brown hair, square jaw line and penetrating hazel eyes are enough to make a girl swoon. His suave, confident demeanor belies a maturity beyond his 20 years of age. As an up-and-comer in an industry where sex sells, Ashdown native Joe Pennington remains humble, modest and true to his roots as a professional model.

“I wanted to be a model since high school,” Pennington said. “Actually when I was in the ninth grade, a friend of the family started calling me ‘Calvin’ for Calvin Klein because he said I always looked like I was ready for a photo shoot. The name kind of stuck throughout that time.”

A 2017 graduate of Ashdown High School, Pennington had other plans for life beyond the hallowed halls of Ashdown High that did not include a career in modeling. But things took a different turn after his mom, Joni Pennington submitted his senior photos to a handful of modeling agencies.

“Well, it happened really fast,” Pennington said. ‘I was supposed to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville after I graduated high school.

“Well, my aunt took my senior pictures and I guess they turned out pretty good,” Pennington laughed. “People kept asking my mom if my senior pictures were modeling pictures. So, my mom submitted my senior pictures to the closest modeling agencies in this area.”

It didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing.

‘Within 24 hours, I was offered three contracts,” Pennington said. “So, my parents sat me down and talked to me about me having to make a decision between going off to school or becoming a model. I thought, well, I don’t think I’ll have this opportunity forever with modeling and I can go to college anytime, so I chose modeling.

With so many contract offers at once, Pennington had a decision to make.

“After I was sent the different contracts, I went and visited with the agent at each agency,” Pennington said. “I ended up going with DragonFly Modeling Agency in Dallas, Texas in June of 2017.”

Pennington was originally interested in signing with Arkansas modeling agency Sculp, but backed off since the company was transitioning through different owners. Since that time, Sculp has once again made contact with Pennington. While DragonFly is his ‘mother’ agency, Sculp also has big plans for Pennington through DragonFly.

While his career is in its infancy stage, Pennington has already done work for national and local campaigns.

“I have modeled for both,” Pennington said. “I have been the “face/hair” shot for the hair care brand TIJI – BedHead for men. I have modeled for some online companies such as BIOWorld. I have also had many local campaigns in Dallas. My agent has already warned me that my summer will be very busy with modeling.”

Pennington said that being a model keeps him on his toes. He said sometimes he has as much as a month to plan for an upcoming shoot and other times he has a 24-hour notice.

“Right now, my schedule is unpredictable with my modeling,” Pennington said. “Some photo shoots I have been a part of, I was given a month to plan and, some of my modeling jobs, I have had less than 24 hours notice. My agent warned me about this when I started. She told me that when a person starts out in his modeling career, he has to be patient because it takes time to make a name for yourself in the industry.”

Pennington said he has a lot of fun on shoots but added that it was a business and not always fun and games. 

“Modeling is fun, but it is work too,” Pennington said. “I would have never thought that. I always thought, “how hard is it to pose for a picture?” Well, now I know that it takes a lot of work that I never realized like the… mood, lighting, shade, motions, poses… a lot more than what I was thinking it would be like, but I enjoy it.

According to Pennington not every session is the same. He said that, like school, he had to do his homework so that he would be prepared when he walked on the set.

“Photo shoots depend on the job,” Pennington said. “Every photo shoot that I go on, my agent will email me a mood board which is a collage of pictures that have a particular theme… like the hair style, the types of clothes I need if I am taking clothes (some jobs provide the clothes), and my expression in the pictures.

“The mood board prepares models for a modeling shoot,” Pennington continued. “The day of the photo shoot, I normally walk into the place and check in, and the person over it will direct me to the photographer and he or she will give me instructions from there. Some photo shoots I have been a part of will last two hours and some have been up to seven hours. It normally depends on how picky the photographer is and what he or she is trying to capture in a picture. After I finish, usually models have to stick around and make sure that the pictures turn out for the job.”

Throughout the years, some models have used their looks and popularity to expand their careers into other forms of entertainment such as acting. The late James Garner, famous for his role as Bret Maverick on the 1950s TV western Maverick and Jim Rockford in the 1970s TV private eye series The Rockford Files as well as starring in numerous movies, started his career as a swimsuit model. Current actors who started their careers as models include Ashton Kutcher, Channing Tatum and Mark Walhberg. Pennington said acting was something he would like to pursue if the opportunity came about.

“Definitely! As a matter of fact, my agent talked to me about acting during our first meeting and she still brings it up,” Pennington said. “I think acting would be really cool.”

While his career is skyrocketing, Pennington does have a life beyond the bright lights and cameras.

“When I am not modeling, I am usually working and going to class,” Pennington said. “It’s nice to also work for your family business because they always work around my modeling schedule. I also take classes at TAMUT in class and online. My professors work with me and my modeling schedule when I have to miss class for modeling jobs. I also enjoy spending time outdoors fishing and hunting. I enjoy going to Dallas with Kaylie. We currently have our own YouTube channel called “Joe and Kaylie.”

Pennington said his family has been very supportive of him and his career.

“My brother, Hunter, had to give me a hard time. He teased me that they chose the wrong ‘Pennington son,’” Pennington laughed. “My family was really excited when I decided to become a model,” Pennington said. My family has been very supportive. They like seeing me do what I enjoy. They always encourage me to challenge myself.”

You can hear and see the pride that Pennington’s parents, Michael and Joni Pennington, have for what he has accomplished so early in his career.

“I’m very proud of Joe for continuing to pursue his passion for modeling,” Michael said. “He has sacrificed in other areas of his life to work towards this goal and is doing a great job at it!”

“I have had the privilege going with Joe on some of his photo shoots,” Joni said. “There’s nothing like having professional photographers come up to you and rave on and on about your son. I have heard many times… your son Joe has such charisma in front of the camera. I also hear his southern charm is to die for. All in all, I’m really proud of him. Joe is a great young man who is working and making a name for himself.”

Pennington takes his career as a model seriously.

“I have met a lot of models who have made modeling a full-time career,” Pennington said. “They have all told me that it takes time to get there. As of right now, I model when I can which keeps me really busy.

Many times when one thinks of models the image of scantily-clad women walking the catwalk comes to mind. Pennington said that he has not been asked to do anything that he is uncomfortable with.

“If you know me, I’m really easy going and up for any good challenge,” Pennington said. “I can say that I haven’t been in any uncomfortable situations when it comes to modeling. I have definitely been warned though.”

Like anyone starting a new career, Pennington has goals and aspirations. According to those in the know, his career is on and upward trajectory at full speed.

“I want to be famous one day for being a model,” Pennington said. “I have been told by professionals in the industry that I am on “track” so far. When I was in high school, I started watching a lot of Mark Wahlberg movies. I became an instant fan. Then my mom told me that Mark Wahlberg started his career as a Calvin Klein model. I remember thinking, “I would enjoy that!”

While a person may love their job, are ambitious in their profession and take initiative any time an opportunity presents itself to grab the brass ring, it always boils down to money and can they support themselves financially.

“Depending on the modeling job, the pay can be really good,” Pennington said. “Some jobs, I have been paid hourly and other jobs I have been paid for the photo shoot.”

The future is bright for Pennington. Armed with his Southern charm, Pennington will have many opportunities to see his face on billboards in New York’s Times Square and on the pages of all the hip magazines. From the very inkling of interest to the signed contract and first photo shoot, Pennington has been true to himself and his Christian upbringing.

“Modeling is something I have been interested in for quite a while,” Pennington said. “It’s been a great experience so far and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

Pennington is the grandson of Clyde and Dixie Pennington and Bettye Wiggins. You can follow him on Instagram at joep_017.