Nude Awakenings

Nudes have always interested me. Hold on, hold on. Before you get the wrong impression: I am talking about the most classical of all subject matters, the human shape in its basic, unclothed form, the naked body. The shapes, the hills and valleys, the soft lines and the hazy glow of skin – it all translates so beautifully into photography. I daresay the nude is most perfectly represented in photography – more so than in painting and sculpture. Because it is immediate, true and real.
f4 and 1/80 but at ISO 6400 – night time, it was…
However, apart from viewing nudes in books and galleries, I have no further experience with this artform. Until last week that was. A good friend of mine is currently working on wet plate processed photographs. A wonderful, but lengthy process that produces beautiful once-off images. He is putting a massive amount of care and preparation into this project – much to my benefit because that meant he was in need of an assistant. And his subject matter is the female form – hence my exposure to the aesthetic nude.
Observing the models we worked with, I not only have to commend them for being so uninhibited (in the best possible sense of the word) and natural in front of a lens and two pairs of strangers’ eyes. But I also could not help but wonder whether posing nude is the most honest and also the scariest of modelling of all. Not the slightest, sheerest piece of cloth to hide behind, all lines and bumps and bruises exposed (not that our models had any of those – they were perfect). Self in its purest?
Or maybe it is not the person reduced to its most essential part. However much skin is visible, that is not a guarantee for exposing the soul of the sitter. Some of Alfred Stieglitz’s images of Georgia O’Keeffe come to mind: He took nude photographs of his wife, and yet she is strangely absent from the images, because she insisted not to have her head, hands and feet shown in them. The limbs and torso are hers, and she never disputed that. But the photograph is still not of her.
Essentially, even when having everything you could possibly hide behind, taken away from you, you are still (just) posing. And that can include taking on a different attitude or even persona for the shot. On some level, I think, this is something a photographer ought to experiment with him- or herself. Not necessarily in the nip – any kind of modelling is probably revelatory for a photographer. Giving up the control over image and “image”/representation is scary and difficult. And a hundred times more so when you have also given up your clothes. But even if you have to lock away the results of such an experiment securely – it might be worth while checking it out. I suspect the remote release and a mirror could be great companions…
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