A male artist seeking to make classical images of a female nude today is inviting controversy. He has perhaps respect for the long tradition of the female nude in Western art, as described by Kenneth Clark in his seminal book, The Nude, but must recognise the unpleasant reality that the tradition Clark describes objectifies women. He does not want to add to the current mass proliferation of sexualized photographic images, sometimes self-created. But at the same time he obviously cannot contribute to the unsparing self-examination of the realities of female sexuality and the female body which Frances Borzello describes in her book The Naked Nude. As Borzello says, “The new nudes ask awkward questions and behave provocatively. … In its refusal to edit out the unacceptable, the new nude represents something not seen before in art”.
In seeking to chart a way through this dilemma I sought another way to subvert the premises of the classical tradition. The first of those premises is that as Clark indicated in the subtitle of his book, the classical nude sought to be “A Study in Ideal Form”. It seeks to present an idealised form of the female nude, young and classically proportioned, which establishes a narrow and stereotyped view of the female nude. The second premise is that the classical nude concentrates on the body and its physical form, and not the person who inhabits that body. As Peter Lacey rather coyly describes it in his book The History of the Nude in Photography, “in all fine photographs of the nude, her identity is never the dominant factor of her presence”.
This series of photographs seeks to challenge these premises by creating images which portray a distinct individual, not an anonymised body, and which celebrate the beauty in every female body, rather than seeking out an ideal form. The objective has been to involve a range of sitters who between them represent the diversity of women and to have each sitter actively engage through the camera with the viewer. I wanted to capture the whole person and make each sitter an active participant in creating the image.
The sitters have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some are professional models, some are occasional models for life classes and some had never sat for a nude image before. I would like to thank all of them for their generosity in agreeing to sit, their tolerance for the sitting process and the time they have taken to reflect in writing about presenting themselves to the world in this way. I would also like to congratulate them for the overwhelming sense they have projected of being comfortable in their own skin. And finally I'd like to thank Mischkah Scott whose enthusiasm for this project and support to each of the sitters has been invaluable.
I was inspired to become a professional model by a kind of femininity that I’d never seen before in my present culture; the nude as art. It was classic art nude images that were being created by women of my age and younger! Not women from the renaissance. They were nude. Naked. They were proud, defiant of sexual objectification and free, like ethereal beings.
What I loved about this project and what ultimately spurred me on to become a nude model myself was that moment you see a woman, a woman of any age, size, height or ethnicity, see herself for the first time liberated by the awareness of herself as something more than she could have imagined: a confident and beautiful NUDE woman who felt safe and happy. It is sometimes, if not always difficult to allow ourselves to feel all of these things at the same time. Why is that?
Classically the nude is submissive, unassuming, it is unobservant of the gaze cast upon it. The nudes we created here show a different attitude to the young nubile bodies with the averted gazes you see traditionally. These nudes are of strong, individual women who not only explicitly give the viewer permission to view them while nude, but also look upon the viewer while he/she does so and basks in the glory of being ‘seen’. It’s a kind of ‘Neo-Nude’.