Yesterday I spent quite a lot of time on my knees in front of a naked woman that I’d never met before. No, this isn’t a confession of extra-marital carrying on, I had enrolled myself on an Art Nude photography course with the full blessing of my wife, and was on my knees because that made me level with the model.
I’ve long admired Art Nude as a style. Done well it celebrates the beauty of the human body in a graceful and tasteful way. I wanted to learn more, and eventually found the course I enrolled on, which was run by the Royal Photographic Society (RPS). As the day drew closer I started to get anxious – would I be frozen with embarrassment when confronted with a naked stranger? What if I was unable to see the shapes that I’d read about, and ended up with a load of photographs that were nothing more than voyeuristic?
My anxieties weren’t helped when I arrived and saw that I was the only one of the six attendees who hadn’t got an accreditation from the RPS. All the others would have submitted work to the RPS judges in the past, and passed various tests, so I was worried about showing my lack of knowledge in front of them. As it turned out I needn’t have worried about that, at least. The tutor introduced us to our model, Irida, who was wrapped in an enormous dressing gown and clasping a mug of tea, and explained the format the day would take. He would set up various lighting sets, and we would each get a couple of minutes of one-to-one time during each set with the model to take our photographs. She would run through a series of poses, and we could direct her as we pleased.
When the time came for the first set, Irida slipped off her dressing gown and started to pose for the first photographer. It was surreal. Here was a young woman in a room full of (mainly) men, without a stitch of clothing on, and it didn’t feel odd or predatory at all. When my turn came I felt no embarrassment, no undercurrent of sexuality; I just looked through the lens and shot the photos as she changed poses. The fact that she was a professional, and extremely confident in what she was doing, showed through immediately.
As the day wore on it became even more surreal – Irida was still doing her thing in the different lighting sets but, apart from the person whose turn it was to take photos, most of the people there didn’t take any notice of her at all and seemed more interested in each other’s cameras.
Apart from the photos, what did I learn? In a previous blog I asked whether sexual harassment would increase or decrease in the workplace if we were all naked. My experience yesterday cements my belief that, once there is no more mystery about what lies under our clothes, the sexual charge is vastly diminished. Interestingly the only body parts that drew comment during the whole day were the model’s eyes, which were a vivid blue.
My second observation was not so positive. There was a considerable amount of “willy waving” among my course mates about who had the best camera kit (even if some of them struggled to use it – my anxieties about being shown up were definitely misplaced here). I couldn’t help feeling a little smug when they were bemoaning the fact that their ultra high tech cameras and lenses were refusing to focus, while my trusty 12 year old Canon 7D just got on with it, but the thing that bothered me most was that it was obvious that some of them were going to enter images from the day into photographic competitions. Here’s the thing. If you’re entering an image into a competition, surely it should be showcasing your photographic talents? From what I experienced the talent yesterday was largely not in the hands of the photographers. Yes, there’s the framing of the image to consider, but everything else was done for us. The tutor set up the lights for each scene, and told us how to set our cameras. The model provided the poses, pretty much without any direction. All we had to do was point our cameras at her and click the shutter. Although I’m pleased with some of the pictures I took, I’d feel fraudulent if I claimed they were ‘all my own work’. I think I’d want to feel that I was having much more input into the pictures before I could take ownership of them, and I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable entering them into any competitions unless I’d at least set up the lighting – running them through Photoshop isn’t really enough.
I did enjoy the day, and I learned an awful lot from chatting to the model in the breaks, but I can’t help feeling that this was a little bit like enrolling on a cookery course and then going to McDonald’s, only to find your course mates entering their Big Macs in Masterchef!