If I was to attempt to write this intro like a Wikipedia profile, it might sound something like this. Michelle Lobb is a Newcastle-based model, photographer and modelling coach. In addition to this, Michelle’s family own and run Wickham’s The Lass O’Gowrie Hotel. Michelle has been nominated for five Grammy awards, four Golden Globes and an Oscar, as well as being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. (I might have been a bit lazy with that copy-paste job. If any of those details seem to cross over too much with David Byrne’s profile, please forward an email to email@example.com.) Michelle has since graduated from modelling only and began photography and management from (around) 27 years old.
I drank a Coopers (I want to win that speaker thing) at the bar and asked Michelle about her career so far.
You grew up in Newcastle?
Yes, between Newcastle and Sydney. Mum and Dad had a pub in Balmain when I was born. We lived above that one too. We bought The Lass and while we were waiting for the tenants to move out, we lived at Old Bar for a year and a half. It was right on the beach. We’ve been here ever since!
I was just out the front and saw 'Ian and Sharon Lobb 1991' in the concrete – is that when you moved here?
Yeah. We've been here a long time.
You grew up upstairs here? What was that like?
For the majority of my life I’ve lived in pubs, so it's pretty normal to me [laughs]. It definitely gave me a lot of social skills, being surrounded by so many people all the time growing up.
Your dad seems to know everyone around here pretty well.
It kind of runs in the family [laughs].
How did the modelling come about?
I started when I was 13. I was really set on it. Mum went along with me – she took me around to a few agencies; we went to Sydney a few times. This one agent in particular fell in love with me. The next week I was shooting for Harper's Bazaar and General Pants Co. It was pretty intense for my first few gigs. From there I was working non-stop.
I modelled in Germany for a little bit – my agency sent me over there. The first week I was there I had to shave my head into this mohawk for a shoot. My haircut wasn't current with my portfolio – it made it complicated down the line.
It was worth it?
Yeah, of course [laughs]. The bank account was looking very healthy after that.
Do you still have the photos?
Of course – I've kept everything.
I saw an old one of Wez the other day for Just Jeans. It was pretty cute.
He's a beautiful boy.
You were 26 when you stopped doing it?
Yeah, it was around then. I had had enough for the time being. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes – not as glamorous as what everyone sees. You could go to five castings a day, no guarantees. I'm pretty thick-skinned, but it wears you down.
Was the decision to start taking photos part of that? Taking the power into your own hands?
No – I was completely done with the whole thing. As soon as I stepped outside of the industry, though, I really missed it. I think I'm made for fashion. I can control a room pretty easily if I want to – I think it's what you need to be able to do to be a model.
I've only seen a few episodes of Australia's Next Top Model, but I feel like that's what they're always going on about. It's how you present yourself. I wouldn't say that I am stunningly beautiful, but when it comes to selling myself it definitely comes easily to me [laughs].
Does that translate into taking photos?
Yeah. I really missed being part of the whole thing. I came into photography by mistake really; I went out for a few drinks one night with a girlfriend and my mum's camera. I took photos the whole time, and the next morning we were going through them and we both agreed that they were actually OK [laughs]. I figured I might know a thing or two and might not have realised it. I messed around with it a little bit more, just for fun, and one thing led to another. I learnt about shooting in manual and all that kind of stuff.
I started doing a lot of management and mentoring of other models as well. When people book me to shoot, I will keep an eye out for potential in them – I'll do that little bit more for them. I've taken young models to Sydney before and shown them to different agencies. Last week I helped find models for Angus and Julia Stone's new clip; this week I'm looking for The Rubens.
So you look around from agency to agency?
I'm really passionate about finding new talent – people who haven't modeled before. I can really shape them, get what I need out of them. I teach them how to hold themselves, how to walk, how to talk… Everything.
Are most of the models you have on your Instagram pretty new?
They're all fresh people from the beach, the street, wherever.
So you enjoy the work more now?
I love it. I really enjoy spending my time with creative people. I'm finding helping people out, pushing them, to be really rewarding. Being in Newcastle especially. I'm taking work from Sydney, work that agencies would normally snatch up, to Newcastle. I haven't found a similar thing happening – and it’s a shame. I'm definitely someone who works best in collaboration. If there's anyone out there looking to work together on something, get in touch!
It's like Newcastle Fashion week – I didn't even know we had one.
Yeah, this was the first one here. It's the same setup they have all over the world.
Do you think the whole presenting-yourself-power thing has adapted into your social media presence as well? What do you think has fed that success?
I really don't know [laughs]. I have no idea about how the algorithms work or anything. I think I'm really shit at it, to be honest.
That wasn't really the answer I was looking for [laughs]. I thought there would be a secret.
Are you chuffed that the overpass on Railway Street is open now?
Yes! Oh my god. They opened it at midnight on a Saturday, and Dad came rushing into the pub. We all thought the building was on fire or something. He collected us and we took a walk over the footbridge. He made me film him going up the lift – he and I were the first ones to cross it properly.
Catch Michelle’s work on Instagram @littlelobby.