I don’t do nudes, I do nakeds. They’re not coy, they’re not “erotica”, they’re not (to most minds) porn, they’re not allegorical, or pushing some sort of social theory or illustrating an ideology (i.e. they’re really neither “nude” or “naked” in the “nude” vs. “naked” dichotomy touched on in, e.g. here), they’re just photos of naked people. Often quite explicit (in ways that seem to upset Americans, but they’re really pretty tame by the standards of my background). And, of course, they’re not done with any of those mannered filters and contrast / saturation manipulations whose only purpose seems to be to draw attention to themselves and their own (self-proclaimed) artiness (or, worse, coyness). I guess I’m in Lee Friedlander territory here (except my bodies aren’t quite so carefully- and artfully-posed to look as artless as all that).
A decade ago I came across a second-hand copy of “The New Nude” (put together by Nerve’s Genevieve Field), one of those very turn-of-the-century books published Before It All Went Wrong, when earnest playfulness and self-proclaimed transgressiveness seemed the very model of cool hipness. It’s a sort of slightly down-market version of the rather tin-eared grownup stuff that Aperture used to be so good at (and that mostly just strikes me as twee).
But there were some good images in it, if you ignored the words — stuff I’d never thought of, stuff by some of the unusual suspects like Robert Maxwell, Nan Goldin, FiLH (Frederic Goudal, who was one of the first people I linked to back in the Paleolithic era of the web when one still did such things), or Sylvia Plachy — and after poring over it for a while at home I came to the obvious conclusion: I don’t do nudes, I do nakeds.
You’ll never see my nakeds in hipster City galleries (or in a nice coffee table production like “The New Nude”), (un)fortunately; nor will you see them in something more congenial like Medium’s Vantage (a publication I follow obsessively, by the way…). Not because of the images themselves, but mostly because I can’t do the words that talk up the subtext, that flesh out the gloss, that subtitle the obvious (and if you read “The New Nude” you might well come to the conclusion that the new nudes are just old nudes clothed in the Emperor’s New Words…).
And, inevitably, there’s more to it than that. Because I never use professional models, my nakeds are done with friends and acquaintances. I typically have signed releases for all of them, but that only covers the legal side of things. The truth is, I’m squeamish about any displays here (or in public generally) of identifiable people from my life — it tends to feel (to me) like an invasion of privacy, regardless of the original agreement — and when they’re naked, so much more so. The revelation just feels too, well, revealing, made even more raw by my relationships with them. And the revelation isn’t just about them, it’s about me, too, and what I (probably obviously) feel about some of them. I guess I’m not big on baring my soul. Explicitly, at least.
And even though a couple of my nakeds are some of my favourite photos, I don’t even put the most explicit images up on my studio walls. And that’s not just because it might frighten the horses, it’s because — again — some of these are of locally-recognizable people, and who wants to be paraded around naked in front of people they never even knew existed?
So this will probably be precisely the only Photolalia article that doesn’t have an illustration in it — just a coy (and coyly-manipulated!) photo. Shame on me.