Paul Rouse begins a series of profiles on naturist photographers with some wider thoughts on the subject.
People have been photographing the naked body since photography began - which means as an art form, it has coming up to 200 years of history behind it.
During that period, the topic has fuelled endless debates. What is deemed art? And what is pornography? How do you differentiate between nude, glamour and pornographic photography? Where does the line start to become blurred between what is artistic and what is erotic? Between appreciation and titillation? Between good clean fun, commerce and exploitation?
And that’s without getting into the question of what is the difference between nude, naked and naturist, if indeed there is one.
Whole books have been, and will doubtless continue to be, written on the subject of nude photography, so within the space of a single feature, it would be impossible for me to come up with all the answers.
More to the point, even if I could, they would only be based on my personal opinions. Which in a way is what I getting at: when you look at a photograph, you see what you want to see, and interpret it in exactly the way you want to. Whilst in any civilised society, of course, there have to be laws to protect the innocent and the vulnerable, it could be argued that beyond that, one man’s art could indeed be another man’s pornography. And should ‘society’ be the moral or artistic arbiter of what is deemed ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Most artists, certainly, would answer with a resounding ‘no.’
As for what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ photography, there’s probably more of a consensus of opinion on that. Digital photography has encouraged more people to take up the pastime, but with mixed results, proving that just because you have a fairly sophisticated piece of equipment, you still need to learn how to use it. A lot of beach or garden snaps will remain just that: out-of-focus, badly composed, or just plain dull.
You can learn however from the professionals – and if not, at least appreciate their work in photographing the naked form, and in the accompanying series to this article, I will be profiling several leading photographers who are not only talented artists, but also happily embrace the naturist lifestyle themselves.
One is Laurie Jeffery, who is based in Manchester but very wisely spends as much time as he can in Portugal, Spain and France. Lowry might have found Salford inspiring, but Laurie prefers the sunshine of southern Europe, with its dramatic beach and mountain backdrops, to showcase his naturist portraits, which complement his work as a versatile commercial photographer.
Describing his working methods, Laurie explains that “the models are as natural as possible, with no body decorations or ornaments, no tanning lines, and no visible signs of the modern world. The emphasis is on natural and not fake beauty, and the landscapes are often hostile, remote and bleak, with the models sometimes challenging the viewer or being very secondary in the frame.”
Barnaby Hall is based in New York, but has a holiday home in the Alentejo in southern Portugal. The fact that his work has appeared in Penthouse and Esquire might seem to put him firmly in the ‘glamour’ camp, but his CV also includes titles like Newsweek, Sunday Telegraph and New Scientist, as well as book covers for a wide range of international publishing houses.
He has also lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro, and has captured some memorable images on the beaches of Brazil, whilst his photos of naturist beaches on the west coast of Portugal have appeared in numerous publications, including The World’s Best Nude Beaches and Resorts.
It probably won’t have escaped your notice that both photographers are men, and that the majority of their subjects are invariably women, both of which seem to be an industry standard. So does that mean that all photography of this nature has a sexual element to it? Not necessarily. It could simply be argued that women tend to make better models for artistic nude photography because they are, on the whole, more appealing to look at than men. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and even most women will admit that, on the whole, men’s naked bodies aren’t particularly attractive. And when they are, the subjects are more often than not gay, which is another genre of photography altogether.
Whilst each photographers has his different styles and working methods, they share several things in common: a respect not only for their models but also for the elements of nature that help them create their work, from the nuances of changing light to dramatic weather patterns, and from striking natural features to the effect that man has had on the landscape.
All of which, as I hope you will come to see over this series of features, that there is far more to naturist photography than simply pointing a camera at a pretty girl.