I am a photographer and an artist and I really admire the genre of fine art nudes – they are all about shades and tones, lines and curves, light and dark, and highlights and shadows. Fine art nudes are a far cry from pornography (though I know they still aren’t for everybody) and can be a beautiful way to celebrate God’s capstone of creation.
I am also a minister, ordained and everything. And yes, I’d rather perform the wedding ceremony than take the wedding pictures. Someone else can figure out how to get Aunt Gertrude and the four year old ring bearer to smile at the camera at the same time. Yet one of the amazing things I am discovering as I’ve dove into photography and storytelling fulltime is that my camera has become a ministry tool.
In November I stumbled upon a book titled, “The Scar Project” about 50 women under 35 years old who had suffered from breast cancer. It is a hauntingly, beautiful documentary that illustrates how individual and personal breast cancer is; not something that is so easily wrapped up with a pink ribbon. The book has become a very helpful tool for women who have breast cancer. It also won a Pulitzer Prize.
This got me thinking about the different scars we carry as individuals and how much more powerful they could be if we could gracefully expose them. My hope is that through my writing and my photography that I can help people put a voice to their stories when they may not have been able to find the words or images on their own.
The Fine Art of Nakedness is about being open and vulnerable and choosing to expose rather than cover up. My journey with this started with an artist friend of mine who was going to be painting a self-portrait of herself dancing. I asked her if I could photograph the process and she agreed, later telling me that it was the first time she had ever let anyone into her work space when she was painting so personal. Before paint was put on canvas she removed her socks and shoes. The picture I took of her naked feet, covered in paint, captured a story of healing as those same feet had been bound in casts and braces when she was crippled as a child. Now they are unbound. Now they dance!
My mother approached me to shoot a new portrait of her although she feared how her nerve damage from a brain tumor surgery would make her facial features sag. She overcame the fear and has a story of her life on display with a beautiful portrait that makes her (and others) cry for all the good reasons.
For another woman it was about shedding the strong things she normally uses as her defenses and instead wearing some thick, pink, boxing gloves, realizing that it is the softness in her life that needs to seep up to the surface.
This journey has included photographing the nakedness of a teenage girl’s head that used to be full of beautiful hair but has recently suffered allergies that made it all fall out. This young woman bravely took off her wigs and her hats and posed for a couple of the most beautiful pictures I have ever taken. You can read her story here.
For some subjects it has involved peeling off the shame from their x-spouse and taking new portraits to fill old frames that show that life and family still move on.
For others it has included physical nakedness for the sake of seeing themselves through another set of lenses when their self-worth has so been wrapped up in their perception of their body image. These aren’t boudoir photos for their husbands or boyfriends; they are just a gentle gift for themselves when they needed to find healing and acceptance in their own skin.
Sometimes I’ll have a daring idea to ask a friend to pose for me. Last week I approached a beautician to let me take pictures of her morning ritual as she gets ready for work. This means she is letting me take pictures of her before her makeup has been put on or her hair has been done up. This, I’m sure, is a stretch for her as I’ve never seen her look anything than porcelain doll perfect.
I have another friend who has taken flak for not getting her grief in order after she lost a very close friend. She came to me with an idea of a photo shoot that is meaningful, personal, and goes to some of the very core of her pain.
Another friend dared to allow me into the room as she was giving birth. She offered up her modesty in an effort to capture a treasured moment for her, her husband, and someday, a story for their child. Her bravery resulted in some amazing photos, if I do say so myself.
All of this openness and vulnerability has started something deep in my soul and I’m pursuing it with cautious abandonment. I could tell I’m serious about this journey with an experience that happened this weekend. At the Robie Creek race I positioned myself at the finish line and looked for runners whose expressions told a story about their race. One of the women I captured looked like she had just jogged around the corner, not the 13.1 grueling miles of this half marathon. She looked as if she was a fitness model. Turns out, she is.
Now any normal, red-blooded, American male photographer would have responded that he was a fitness, swimsuit or glamour photographer. But when I sat down yesterday to respond to her I opened up about my story-telling passion. Instead of asking if I could take shots of her abs I asked her if she would open up to me about any insecurities she has about herself and her body while in her profession. In the long run I think I have a better chance of capturing a memorable photo of her soul than her tan lines.
I almost felt stupid hitting the send button, but then again it was an example of my own nakedness in not pretending to be something that I’m not and being excited about what is stirring inside me.
She didn’t keep me in suspense very long. Not only was she open to my idea but she shared her heart of starting a program for girls and women about body issues and health. She sees her profession as a door to help others, not just make magazine covers.
Nakedness really is a fine art. This life is a better journey when we travel together in vulnerability. I think it is freeing and more fulfilling.
If you have ideas about this path, please share them with me. If you feel stirred, but don’t know what it looks like, then let’s talk. Perhaps as you share your story the creative images will come. I’d love to collaborate with you!
P.S. and if you want to pose for fine art nudes, I won’t turn you down for those either.