A freelance model who suffered second-degree burns to her legs while working on a photo shoot in east Vancouver is warning other models about the dangers associated with risky jobs.
Robyn-lee Jansen said the photographer who hired her for a June 13 photo shoot “looked experienced on paper,” but when she met him at an abandoned warehouse, things quickly began to go wrong.
Hired for the shoot through Model Mayhem, a website that connects models, photographers, hair stylists and makeup artists, Jansen said she was told they’d be doing a “fire queen concept.” She looked up some of the photographer’s past work, which showed two models set back a significant distance from some flames.
“I knew a model who had done a fire shoot with him in 2016, and I felt reassured that it would be safe,” she said.
When Jansen arrived at the warehouse just after 5 p.m., the photographer told her he’d run out of his standard waiver forms. With a two-hour time window at the location, he quickly began to take pictures. He was interrupted by several phone calls and “didn’t seem to be getting the shots he wanted,” she said.
Jansen had no warning before the man allegedly told her to “stand still, this part gets tricky.”
“I turned my head, and I see him squirt this bottle,” she said. “The next thing I know, I’m up in flames. The only flames were on my body.”
Jansen dropped to the ground to extinguish the flames — “it felt like the fire was still scorching deeper into my skin.”
The model said the photographer did not call 911. In excruciating pain, she told him she had to go to the hospital.
“My family is in Malaysia,” she recalled through tears. “I don’t know how badly I’m injured, and I keep thinking about how I’m not going to be able to say goodbye or I love you to them.”
Jansen said the photographer drove her to the hospital, but made her wait while he first packed up his gear. On the way, she said he suggested she tell doctors she was involved in an accident with a barbecue, but added it was ultimately up to her.
“I was really frightened,” she said. “I don’t know him. I kept thanking him. I was being so polite, because I was terrified.”
At the hospital, Jansen told doctors what had happened. She’s since found out that the liquid the photographer sprayed was paraffin, or tiki torch oil. A few days after the incident, he paid her $100 for the photo shoot.
Since then, the model has been in and out of hospital. She can’t walk because her ankles are swollen. Her burns — a combination of first- and second-degree burns that cover about 25 per cent of her body — have blistered and been debrided to remove damaged tissue. She may eventually require skin grafts to help with healing, which could take several months and leave permanent scarring.
“Out of a horrible situation, if there’s anything I can ask for, it’s for other models to learn from this,” she said, advising they insist on a full explanation of what’s going to happen during a shoot, an emergency plan, and that the photographer have the proper licensing and credentials.
Jansen said she’s also seeking legal counsel.
A WorkSafeBC spokesman said the incident was not reported to them. He was unable to provide any information or tips for freelance models before deadline.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Jansen pay for expenses while she’s unable to work.