Little Daniel Dinko of Ferndale can't say the word "camera" yet, buthe's been spending a lot of time in front of one lately.
The 19-month-old with big brown eyes and a quick smile is just having a good time, his mother says, but in the process, he's on the verge of launching a lucrative modeling career.
Dinko, a client of Annapolis Agency in Severna Park, was offered contracts by three New York modeling agencies early this fall. Other contracts are pending, his mother said.
"He likes people. He lovesthe camera and likes to have his picture taken," Julie Dinko said. "Right now, it's like a hobby for us. If it's not fun for him, I'm going to stop."
Dinko is one of five clients of the Annapolis Agency who recently were picked up as clients by the larger New York agencies, a big step toward getting jobs in the competitive modeling business.
Although Daniel has yet to land a paying job, the level of interest from New York agencies is a very good sign that he will get work, according to his local agent.
In addition to his good looks and personality, Daniel is "a very special baby" for many other reasons, his mother said. After a difficult pregnancy, Daniel was born 10 weeks early and weighed only 4 pounds at birth. For the first six months,he had to be attached to a heart and breathing monitor 24 hours a day.
"It was only taken off for a bath, and then we put it right back on," said his father, Daniel Dinko Jr.
After Daniel was born, the Dinkos' first priority was to make sure he was healthy, Julie Dinkosaid. But after he was off the monitor for six months and received aclean bill of health, the Dinkos started thinking about putting Daniel into modeling.
"People kept telling us how beautiful he was andthat he should be in ads," Julie Dinko said. "They'd stop us in the grocery store. . . . We got stopped several times in New York when wewere up there."
The Dinkos started the process, as many parents of would-be child models do, by going through the yellow pages and calling ad agencies. The Dinkos and other families using Annapolis Agency said it is the only local agency that will work with young children.
Laura Cunningham of Laurel said she called 15 local agencies in Maryland and Virginia before finding Annapolis Agency,the only one willing to see her son, Kody, then 1 1/2 years old.
A year later, Kody is starting to be noticed and was picked up by several New York agencies this fall.
Cunningham said Kody's aunt and godmother, who is a model in New York, urged her to get her son into the business.
"His godmother was really pushing it," she said. "She kept saying, 'He's gorgeous.
You've got to do something.' "
Although excited about the prospects for their children, Cunningham and Dinko are quick to point up that starting out in the business is not easy. Neither is it a guaranteed, or even likely, road to additional income.
Both mothers said they undertook the process because they were not working outside the home and could devote a lot of time to it.
Dinko said many people mistakenly think that once a child is picked up by an agency, the agency does all the work. The agency helps get clients job interviews, but that's only part of the process.
"You have to keep after them, making calls all the time, sending out resumes. . . . It's a lot of work," she said, estimating that she spends a couple ofhours every day working on Daniel's "career."
"You have to be available whenever they want you," she added. "You have to be able to pick up and go to New York" on a few days' notice.
Dinko said many models are competing for work. And the New York agencies are "quick totell you if they don't like your look" or don't want to use a particular model.
"You have to be able to take rejection," Daniel Dinko said. "They'll come right out and tell you, 'We can't use your look.'They have nothing against hurting your feelings."
"The people in New York are really something," Julie Dinko added. "They are very rude and very aggressive."
To break into the field, models generally need an agent. Many of the larger New York agencies won't see prospective clients unless they have signed with a local agent first. To getin to see some of the bigger New York agencies -- such as Bill Cosby's talent agent, Grace DelMarco Inc. -- the Dinkos and Cunninghams went on a trip with a representative from Annapolis Agency.
Bethany Shaw, model director for Annapolis Agency, said parents who would like to pursue modeling careers for their children should make sure they're working with a reputable agency. If an agency insists on many up-front fees for photo sessions, classes or other services, it's a bad sign.
Annapolis Agency is associated with Shaw Studios, a photography studio run out of the same offices in Severna Park Office Center on Ritchie Highway. The studio is owned and operated by Shaw's husband, Richard Shaw. Although Bethany Shaw recommends her husband's services to clients who need professional photographs, the agency does notrequire photographs from Shaw Studios.