NATURIST PHOTOGRAPHY: LAURIE JEFFERY
A highly-talented naturist photographer who practices what he preaches.
A month’s locum last summer in charge of Quinta da Horta in the Algarve, whilst managers Ted and Val had to go to the UK, gave Laurie Jeffery and family the chance to find out what running a naturist resort is all about.
“A lot of hard work!” is Laurie’s verdict. “Of course it was also great fun, meeting new friends as all of the guests seemed to become, catching up with some of the resort’s regulars, and being able to spend almost all day, every day, without having to think about putting any clothes on. But I’m full of admiration for Ted and Val, and anyone who runs an operation like this. It’s virtually non-stop, and any thoughts I might have had about picking up a camera in earnest were soon scotched.”
Not that he really needed to stock up his library with more photos of the Quinta: when Ted and Val took over the management contract for the resort at the beginning of 2011, and set about giving it a new look, they called on old friend Laurie to come over from the UK to shoot a series of images for the website and other promotional material. The result was a very special collection encompassing the rooms, gardens, pool and fine detail of the accommodation and its surroundings.
That assignment was undoubtedly a labour of love. A big fan of Portugal, Laurie, together with his artist wife Vicky and young daughter Perran, are regular visitors to the country. Vicky ran a life painting and drawing class at the Quinta last summer (where better to find willing nude models than in a naturist setting?), when Vicky also painted a new mural around the swimming pool, adding a second during their most recent stay. “We love it here,” says Laurie, “and don’t really need much of an excuse to jump on a plane to spend some time in the sun. If I can manage to take some photographs when I’m here, for pleasure or profit, even better.”
Which brings us neatly back to Laurie’s day job – as a very successful commercial photographer, specialising in the world of fashion, beauty and luxury products. As adept at moving images as he is with still photography, his work includes TV commercials, videos, brochures, advertisements, magazines, point-of-sale material and calendars, with a client list ranging from World Duty Free and Estée Lauder to Vogue and JCT Electronics.
Born in London and now living near Manchester, Laurie studied photography and multimedia at college before embarking on a career as a professional photographer in the UK and USA. A keen traveller, he spends as much time as he can, both on business and for pleasure, in sunnier climes, and as well as Portugal his favourite locations include Cornwall (even naming his daughter after Perranporth), Mallorca and Montalivet, a naturist resort near Bordeaux where “at some stage soon” the family plan to buy a holiday property.
They will certainly feel at home there. Laurie’s attitude towards nudity is one of the most relaxed I have ever come across. Most people can usually remember their first experience of naturism – an impromptu skinny-dip in a local lake perhaps, coming across a naturist beach on a foreign holiday, or meeting a new partner who introduces them to the naked lifestyle.
In Laurie’s case, he just thought “everybody did it” until he discovered otherwise. “To me, it’s always been totally natural, in every sense of the word, for as long as I can remember. Why on earth would anybody want to sit on a beach, sunbathe or swim with clothes on? Being a photographer, especially in the areas I’ve worked in, means you are used to being around naked bodies, and as Vicky is a painter and former model, she too is totally comfortable with the human form in all its glory. We’ve brought Perran up with the same approach, and even though she’s now just about to hit her teens, she’s still far happier without clothes than with them.”
Always searching for new challenges and inspiration in both his career and his hobby - of which photography is both - Laurie began a project several years ago which he has entitled BodyScape: a portfolio of photographs of the nude in the natural landscape.
“Through the 1980s and the early 90s,” he explains, “almost all of my commissioned work was of a commercial nature, and the industry that I was working in often over-relied on a sensationalised presentation of the subject matter, particularly the human body. I’ve always been interested in the artistic and aesthetic application of images, and the nude, principally the female nude, is without doubt one of the most challenging and respected of all subjects for the artist. Add this to my love of the wilder side of nature, and the concept for BodyScape was born.
“Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find truly natural landscapes in the UK - there is so little of it left. Housing estates, supermarkets and industrial parks are shooting up everywhere; roads cut through the countryside; open moor lands and ancient forests are being destroyed; and the seas are being polluted. Part of what I am doing is to document what there is left, before it’s gone forever.”
In France, Spain and Portugal however, Laurie believes it is easier to find what he’s looking for. “All of my landscapes are as natural as is possible, with no roads or onlookers: a world without walls or boundaries and few if any signs of human intervention.
“As for the models, there’s no skimpy or see-through clothing to obscure the body, and no pouting glamour girls. I think most fine art photographers who shoot nudes, myself included, are so concerned that their work should not be confused with pornography that they go to great lengths to keep out any sexual overtones. That’s not to say of course that a photo of a naked women is a completely non-sexual image, but there is comparatively little photographic material around that attempts to show women for their beauty. I am hopefully trying to redress the balance.”
But can ‘art’ and ‘naturism’ happily co-exist? Laurie certainly believes so. “A number of the women in the photographs are not professional models, simply friends who enjoy the freedom of the project and the silence of the wilderness, where they can express themselves without the intrusion of the modern world.
And many have said that the discovery of modelling nude in a beautiful and natural landscape was more about making a personal affirmation of self-esteem than becoming a sexual object for male fantasies.”
Laurie’s workload at the Quinta prevented him from putting one of his other plans into operation last summer: a photography workshop in the Algarve. But he’s hoping it will be up and running soon, and will be on the lookout both for photographers and models. Anybody looking to express themselves in some of the more unspoiled corners of southern Portugal now knows where to apply.