"A good nude photograph can be erotic, but certainly not sentimental or pornographic."
--Bill Brandt, British photographer (1904-1983)
In 1988, I was a staff writer at my college magazine and was given the most liberating assignment of my life: Interview campus art models and see what it was like to lay around naked all day. Once I discovered the models were paid $10 an hour - a fortune to a struggling student - I immediately signed up and proposed a first-person account to my editor.
My debut was not well planned. It was the first day of my period and let's just say I had to be a vigilant monitor. But what I remember most about that first session, was when one of the students suggested they move "the model" - I was rarely addressed directly - to another part of the room for better lighting. As I was sprawled out across a low table with a bounty of pillows, I was told not to budge - they would simply move the table. Then, four strapping young men each got up, grabbed a table leg and moved a very naked me across the room. I felt like Cleo-fucking-patra - it was surreal.
Then there was that other time when my hair, piled high atop my head, got a tad too close to the overhead light. "Um, teacher," someone said, "I think the model's on fire!" I remember thinking, 'The model's on fire? That's weird. Hey, wait, I'm the model!' On that day, I felt more like Joan of Arc.
Over the next decade or so, I made a healthy living as an Art Model in art schools, senior centers, junior colleges, universities, animation houses and movie studios. Occasionally, I would pose for private artists or artist groups - the best gigs of all.
I would tell myself it was for the money (I made $500 in one day as the 'official breasts' of the American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Awareness pamphlet) but the reality is, the modeling made me love my body again. Growing up female in Southern California's shallow beach-celebrity culture does not bode well for one's body image. Like most of my peers, I thought myself ugly and too fat. We were all wrong, of course, but hanging out at the beach every weekend sure made you look down a lot - mostly on yourself. There's nothing like playing the proverbial bowl-of-fruit role to put things in perspective.
Turns out, there was an unexpected benefit to posing nude - beyond paying my rent. It didn't take long for me to appreciate the beauty of my nude body as much as the artists did. Being the proverbial bowl of fruit, their job was to capture me in my natural state, not to judge or wish me any different. To this day, I feel far more attractive with my clothes off than on. The experience also gave me an additional bonus - an appreciation for artful nudes. Once I felt that liberation, it was easier to capture it from the other end.
So imagine my delight when I came across the "Curves" project at Mozaik, a Canadian site that celebrates art through human interaction and group projects.
"The subject of roundness and of slenderness could not be more actual. Nowadays, several women have difficulty appreciating their own body image. However, The Human Mozaïk chose to sing the praises of curves and of round bodies by inviting some forty women from across Canada aged from 18 to 50 years old to lend their forms to semi-nude photography and to unique artistic creations inspired by their curves. Each model’s curves and roundures were interpreted by different artists according to their respective styles, techniques and medium."
The Mozaïk~Curves book is also a collection of testimonies, poems and affirmations written by the models themselves - check it out.
Also, do explore ArtNudes, a photoblog dedicated to displaying a variety of tasteful creative nudes from a long list of talented photographers. Curated by Michael Barnes, the site is a resting place for the photographic appreciation of the human form au naturale. I'm partial to Grace Oh's outdoor shots - the reminder that we are natural beings in a natural world, after all.
Speaking of which ... my good pal, Lisa (another budding photographer) and I make an annual hike up in the mountains and sprawl our naked bods out across big boulders. Then, we aim our lenses at one another and just have a blast. (I highly recommend granite for b/w backdrops.)
Both experiences - in front of and behind the camera - are good for the soul and even better for the eyes. We did this last Sunday and I was very reluctant to leave those big warm rocks. I got some beautiful shots of skin, angles and shadows and, alternatively, my boobs got some sunshine. (Below - a shot I took several years ago in the same spot.)
Finally, meet Spencer Tunick, a photographer who has made a name for himself by arranging large groups of naked volunteers in public places all over the world. He's been called the "maestro of the nudescape." His numerous installations and documentaries are like nothing you've ever seen. Spencer actually sculpts shapes using masses of nude human forms and then photographs them in places like Times Square, the Zocalo in Mexico City and - Brrrrr! - glaciers. (To bring attention to global warming, natch.) I love that he's been arrested numerous times but never formally charged. I mean, what do you do with a guy who's dressed but has 500 naked friends?
"A body is a living entity. It represents life, freedom, sensuality,
and it is a mechanism to carry out our thoughts. A body is always
beautiful to me."
Back in 1999, I participated in one of his mass photo shoots and the resulting photograph now hangs proudly on my wall. It was about 8:00 a.m. in the middle of the freezing desert playa at Burning Man. There was Spencer with a ladder, a bullhorn and a few helpers. He made two circular 'piles' of us, putting all the poor folks with tattos in the back as he prefers to display human skin in its natural state.
There we were, a giant collection of dusty toes, shriveled scrotums and saggy boobs all scrunched in together and playing possum. I was struck by how we were all the same, pared down to the final common denominator - our form. Without the clothes, the accessories and the language ("NO TALKING!!!! WE NEED YOUR FACES TO BE STILL!!! NO SMIRKING!!!"), it felt like being reduced - no, promoted - to our basic humanity. All our scars, stretch marks, cellulite and odd hair growths were on display - no room for hiding. As a result, there was an intense, and very unexpected, feeling of camraderie. Turns out, nobody's perfect but we're all pretty damn beautiful.
So, ladies, summer is almost here. I highly recommend getting naked or at least getting out your camera appreciating someone who will.
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