NATURIST PHOTOGRAPHY: BARNABY HALL
Beaches, Brazil and putting the fun back into naturism.
Light and shade are not only fundamental to the art of photography: they’re an essential part of life too.
Barnaby Hall certainly understands that, both in his work and in his outlook to life and living in general. A photographer of international fame, he has worked for publications such as Esquire, Newsweek and Penthouse, commercial clients from Waitrose to the Wellcome Foundation, and shot publishers’ book covers for authors as diverse as Vladimir Nabokov, Charles Webb and Raymond Chandler.
Working and living between New York and Portugal, Barnaby also lectures at the New York International Centre of Photography and the School of Visual Arts, has his images in the portfolios of leading international photography agencies such as Getty, Monsoon and Alamy, and has collected a string of awards to his name.
He’s naturally therefore very serious about what he does. “But photography is also about fun,” he maintains, “and I hope some of my photographs of beach life, in particular, illustrate that. I’ve always loved shooting nudes, and started at 16 with my first girlfriend. I think it’s impossible to draw a strict line between nude, naturist and glamour photography - or even pornography for that matter. The extremes of any one of them are obviously very different, but at a certain point the lines cross.”
As an example, Barnaby cites a period of his life when he lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro - with his Brazilian-born partner and their two children - and “spent three years in an apartment overlooking Copacabana beach. As a photographer and an admirer of the female form, I readily admit that part of the initial lure was the seductive display of dark, sway-backed, near naked women for which Rio is so deservedly famed.
“I have absolutely no problem with nudity - mine or anyone else’s. Which is why I find the naturist ‘philosophy,’ at times, rather silly. There is often an aggressive, almost puritanical denial of the sexuality of the human body, and an assumption that anyone with a camera, clothed or unclothed, is simply a voyeur. Certainly I am a voyeur. It’s an inherent characteristic of any photographer. However, although as a red-blooded male I’m prone to the occasional lascivious thought, generally speaking my intentions are honourable!”
Although he has embraced the digital age like any modern-day photographer, Barnaby explains that in common with many of his generation, he was first drawn to photography through what he calls “the mysterious world of the darkroom,” adding that “the alchemy, craft and pleasure of printing remain an important part of my professional life.”
Working in a variety of styles, and always happy to experiment, his photographs and prints have been exhibited in museums and art galleries on both sides of the Atlantic, and when asked to list his favourite photographers and main influences, he cites “William Klein, Guy Bordin, Irving Penn, Bill Brandt, Simon Norfolk, Sebastiao Salgado, Cecil Beaton, Andre Kertesz, Richard Avedon, Cindy Sherman, Elliott Erwitt, Cartier Bresson, Loretta Lux - almost too many to mention.”
Earlier influences meanwhile were “the sumptuous illustrations in the books I read as a child, which instilled in me a desire to make pictures. It seemed logical to create images inspired by the written word.”
Whether it be fashion, photojournalism, still life or landscape, Barnaby believes that “an undying curiosity and an educated eye are vital. This is the key to the photographer’s ability to capture and print his or her vision with uninhibited passion and integrity.”
Born in Bristol and educated at the London College of Printing, Barnaby is now as international as any photographer could be. He speaks fluent Spanish, French and Portuguese, and spent 25 years in New York before relocating his main home to Lisbon in 2006. He admits that he likes to get out of cities whenever he gets the chance though, especially to visit his sister and her husband who live near Odemira in the Alentejo, mid-way between Lisbon and the Algarve.
“The region has a wonderful ‘wild west’ feel to it, and of course the climate is superb. As a photographer, the beaches and caves of the Costa Vicentina are irresistible, and ideal locations for shooting nudes. Of late, I’ve also become interested in gaining approved access to naturist resorts, in an attempt to photograph naturism in a sympathetic yet documentary manner - with a humorous and matter-of-fact eye. This can sometimes be tricky however, because in my experience some die-hard naturists tend to be rather too serious and paranoid about their lifestyle.
“I enjoy taking photos on nude beaches, or the more remote areas of a beach where it’s possible to be naked, for several reasons - not only is the human body much more interesting to the photographer’s eye when it’s naked rather than encased in a swimming costume, but the subjects are more natural and relaxed, and I’m normally after capturing images that are pure, documentary and unselfconscious.
“Individuals I meet are more often than not fine about nudity. Unfortunately, I find that it’s the naturist industry that remains hopelessly uptight, and trapped in an unending childish discussion about what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s time for some perspective. Scenes of extreme violence and human horridness abound in the world we now live in, with little censorship, yet a joyful appreciation of one of life’s principal motivators - sex and the beauty of our bodies, young or old - remains taboo.”
Time to add some more light to the shade, perhaps?