Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's so bad about being seen naked?

I have a query which I would really LOVE to hear from you all about. 

I just read back through some correspondence I had last year with one of my models.  At the beginning of our process, she was very clear and adamant that she wanted to show her whole body.  Fuck anybody who didn't like it.  Richmond is conservative, but fuck them.  Her body.  She gets to do what she wants.

During the course of our conversation, over months, she retreated from that stance completely and ended up at times being very upset that I had included a tattoo in her piece even though she hadn't even recognized herself in the picture the first time she saw it.  I offered to remove it and did.  At that point, the picture was virtually anonymous.  In fact, a friend of mine told me she knew who it was - her niece - totally wrong.  Many people think they know who the model is, and each of them has been wrong.  Not that I would give them the slightest indication of whether they were right OR wrong - my models have the option of complete anonymity if they want it.  People sometimes ask slyly if my model for some piece was such-and-such and I give them absolutely no indication of whether they're right or wrong.  It's none of their business.

But what is interesting to me today is what harm people think could come to them if they are identified in the pictures.  The woman I just mentioned became extremely alarmed that she could lose her jobs if anyone recognized her or that any of 3 different people might stalk her because of them.  She felt concerned that they would send the pictures out on the Internet and make her life holy hell.

I don't understand that.  I don't know what they could do that would make her life hell.  The picture is fairly demure.  It doesn't show her genitals at all.  There is an outline of her breast that shows, but mostly it's legs and arm and hands and foot.  It's a lovely picture, beautiful and calm and sacred.

I truly don't know what someone could do that would be harmful to her about it.  Unless she allowed them to have power over her because she perceived they did because they'd seen that picture of her without her clothes on.  But in reality, what power could they have?  That's my query to you.  What power could they have?

What is it about being naked that makes us fear people have power over us?  Naked in real life walking down the street I can understand would be very vulnerable.  But in a picture, unidentifiable?  Or even identifiable?

I have chosen to draw my own self portrait in which I am very naked.  I have feelings about being seen nude, but ultimately I can't come up with a reason not to show it beyond some slight embarrassment that others might judge how I look.  But that would be their problem.  If I'm OK with how I look, then what they say can't get under my skin very far.

This, to me, is one of the most fascinating things about doing this work.

Most of the models have feelings about being seen.  Most of them are anxious about it.  One or two women have said they had to sign moral clauses for their jobs, and they're concerned that posing for me would violate the clause and give their employers just cause to fire them.  I would love for one of my models to be fired so we could take the employers to court and chase this one down!  Yeah, boy!  (Not that I want someone to lose their job because of me, but I would LOVE the opportunity to pop holes in the idiocy of the claim that posing nude is immoral.  Especially for this project which is all about the sanctity of the female body.)

Do you, dear reader, know anything about the law?  Is it truly possible to fire someone because they've posed nude?  I know celebrities get all kinds of raucous press if it's discovered that they've posed for Playboy or Penthouse, etc.  I admire how Madonna responded to that - "Yeah, so what?"  Wikipedia explains it thusly: 
In July, Penthouse and Playboy magazines published a number of nude photos of Madonna, taken in New York in 1978. She had posed for the photographs as she needed money at the time, and was paid as little as $25 a session.[43] The publication of the photos caused a media uproar, but Madonna remained defiant and unapologetic. The photographs were ultimately sold for up to $100,000.[43] She referred to the whole experience at the 1985 outdoor Live Aid charity concert saying that she would not take her jacket off because "[the media] might hold it against me ten years from now.

I looked at a bunch of the pictures online just now and I don't find them objectionable at all.  Some of the ones from Playboy show her crotch, but most of them are just pretty pictures of a female nude, tastefully done.  They're like ones I take of my models.  The lighting is pretty.  The form is beautiful.  The compositions for the most part are nice.  They're artsy nudes.

There are many women who have posed nude for art classes or for photographers.  They do it for many different reasons.  The ones I've spoken to have universally good experiences.  When I took a drawing class at Arrowmont 10 years ago, the model there read a poem she had written about her experience as a nude model.  She felt she was giving us a gift by allowing herself to be seen naked, by being vulnerable in front of her.  I agree with that.  It's a beautiful way to perceive it.

I think it's all a matter of perception, in fact.  If we perceive the human body as perverse and dirty, then it is.  If we see it as sacred and beautiful, a manifestation of our souls, then it is.

I'd love some feedback on this.  I know I am blind to how most of the world perceives this issue, and I'd love to know.  Anyone??

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