Saturday, 21 March 2015

Male beauty and masculinity in classical Greece


Back in 1972, when I was barely a teenager, two bronze sculptures of male warriors dating back to the 5th century BC were accidentally discovered by a snorkeler at Riace, a coastal village not far from Reggio Calabria - I am from the south of Italy, this is my home ground. The bronzes, known as A and B,  were hailed as masterpieces of classical Greek art and underwent a decade of restoration and cleaning up. In 1981 they were exhibited in Florence and visitors (me included) swooned at their sight, admiring their beauty. For beautiful they are indeed: about  2 metres tall, the statues depict handsome, athletic men, totally naked, with nothing left to the imagination, standing in contrapposto poses, their musculature delineated in the minutest detail yet retaining a quality of softness, their proportions absolutely perfect. They have never been identified, we don't know which mythological hero they depict. I have often wondered whether they would be supermodels today, if they could magically come to life - those beards they wear and their ringlets are so fashionable too!

I am thinking of the Riace men - I do perceive them as human, though I know they were representations of either gods or heroes - because of a major exhibition  at the British Museum which is about the body in ancient Greek art - Defining Beauty. And though the exhibition is about both male and female body, there is no question that the naked male body remains a privileged subject, because this is what classical Greece celebrated. The handsome young naked athletes of Athens were sung in poetry and depicted in art and set a standard of male beauty, art made for men by men, with a strong homoerotic quality. The male body was idealised, it was beautiful and heroic, it was kalos k'agathos. As American classicist Glenn Most says:

 "this idealizing view persisted for many centuries. When it did decline, it was because of the decline of Greek culture itself...Yet this ideal was only submerged and not entirely effaced, and it went on to be rediscovered during the course of the 19th century and to provide both an important stimulus to the development of modern amateur athletics and a criterion of imagined perfection by which these could be measured and, of course, found wanting".

The Riace bronzes are also on my mind  not only because of my disappointment at discovering  they are not part of this major, enthralling exhibition -  even though they are included in the catalogue -, but also because I recently saw a video about men's standard of beauty around the world, and the fact that male body image is now also becoming a source of anxiety, as much as female body image.

Victorious athlete, Roman copy, British Museum, lost Greek original of 430 BC

Somehow this exhibition and the bronzes have found a way to remind me that 'myth' has shifted its meaning.  Not every male in ancient Greece looked like the Riace warriors, who were mythological figures, whose heroic beauty was to be imitated, something that could be aspired to, yet very distinct from real life and perceived as such. This is no longer the case in our contemporary society where, as Sophie Woodward elaborates in her essay The myth of street style, "the distance that exists between the hero and the icon and the ordinary person is erased ... it is the ordinary person that is the mythologized figure."

This is the main difference between then and now, between the classical myth  and the mythologising  of today, a question that Roland Barthes has also addressed. It may well have contributed to the rise of body image anxiety, as a consequence of the erasure of the distance between mythological iconicity and ordinariness of life.

It's a thought worth considering.

See below how Napoleon Bonaparte was mythologised by Antonio Canova  - and Bonaparte was apparently acutely embarrassed by this portrayal, which he regarded as "too athletic". However, Canova turned him into a Greek hero, with the classical symbolic physicality of a Greek hero, as a 19th century homage to the ideal of the classical. The statue is known as Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker  and is now in London.

Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, London, Apsley House

As to the exhibition, there is a lot more that could be said about it. Its timing is uncanny and its political nuances, at a time when Greece and the EU are not exactly on the best of terms, can hardly be missed. But this is a topic for another post. For one thing the exhibition has not opened yet, only the catalogue is available, so before commenting I would like to go and see it for myself.  It promises to be a very interesting exhibition indeed. 

Defining beauty . The body in ancient Greek art opens on March 26th 2015 at the British Museum.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Welcome to Selfridges: twenty first century department store/community centre

He, She, Me Photo by @DominatWipez

I am delighted that He She Me the fashion/music video commissioned by Selfridges to celebrate its new venture Agender has now been released.
The short film has an exclusive sound track by Devonté Hynes and Neneh Cherry, a cast led by actor and model Hari Nef, and a performance choreographed by artist Ryan Heffington, and it is directed by Selfridges' Resident Film Director Kathryn Ferguson and Alex Turvey. As the dedicated website tells us the film is a "visual response to the idea of Agender".
I was among the model/ dancers performing around Hari Nef and it was, for me, a great experience. I believe I was the oldest among the performers, so this makes me doubly proud. I am intrigued by  the concept of a department store where clothing is sold without giving it a gender label and I definitely admire the forward thinking attitude of Selfridges.  We keep on witnessing many interesting initiatives by this store, like the one in May 2014 which was a celebration of diverse beauty and also of age, with the participation of Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style. Then in January this year there was the Bright Old Things, which again celebrated the achievements of older men and women , with specially designed windows by the participants, among whom was Sue Kreitzman  of The Fabulous Fashionistas fame. 

Selfridges as a store has always had an ambitious brief. The very successful ITV drama Mr Selfridge now in its third run, with a fourth one planned for 2016,  tells us the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge the man behind Selfridges - the series is based on the book by Lindy Woodhead Shopping, seduction and Mr Selfridge, 2009.  Selfridges, as a department store,  from inception has always demonstrated an inclination for the avant garde and cosmopolitanism, it is part of its history - with lavish windows that were inspired by the Ballet Russes back in 1913 and various displays over the years that reflected its mission statement of providing shoppers with "a pleasure, a past time and a recreation". 
In Mr Selfridge Harry Selfridge says to his daughter: "Quite right Violet, Selfridges is much more than a store, it is a community centre". It seems that the store has fully embraced this identity, that of a public space.  Thus shopping experiences are enriched by talks and screenings and debates about the issues underpinning a specific commercial choice. 
The Agender project is an attempt at queering the shopping experience, with  the shopping element  at its core. On the site dedicated to the Agender experience a carefully placed comment, at the end of the write up, informs us that "the cast of dancers and performance artists are all styled in Agender brands available at Selfridges, including Nicopanda, V Files, Yang Li x Genesis P-Orridge, Bodymap and Rad Hourani". 
Agender raises the question of whether fashion can truly make a change in the way people think. As I was being made up for the film I asked the MUA what the film was about - I honestly knew little about it because I was sent to the casting at the very last minute on the Friday and the shoot was on the following Tuesday. She said that Selfridges was opening a pop up department for 'transgenders'. So this is how the 'Agender' is being interpreted. Fashion can effect a change  in perceptions but up to a point. After all the sale of green t-shirts has not stopped the exploitation of natural resources. 
So before we get carried away and declare the life-changing impact of an initiative such as Agender - very valuable and very important nevertheless - let's remember that it can only be a baby step, mired in the fabric of consumerism, and not a revolution.  It will take a lot more time and effort before our views of gender identity truly, truly shift. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

The "Ugly" Girl's Guide to Modelling

I have had the pleasure of working with Anita De Bauch a few times, in fashion films directed by the very talented Marie Schuller, known for her work with Show Studio.  I knew Anita as a model and had no idea she was also a writer and a witty one too!
The "Ugly "Girl's Guide to Modelling by Anita De Bauch,  New Haven Publishing, 2015, £ 12.99 paperback, £ 26.99 hardcover, is a most welcome addition to a number of other works also written by models championing the agency-free approach to modelling. Most of these works on the market  tend to be written by American models,  this is the only one that has clear references to the UK, but of course it contains sound advice that is useful in any country.
When I first began modelling I would have welcomed a book such as this and really this sums up my assessment of it.  I do remember, however,  coming across the very helpful advice compiled by photographer Wolfgang Kettler in his How to become a model (I later worked with Wolfgang Kettler).  I began as a very standard commercial agency model of the mature model variety then I turned independent but I am still represented by agencies.

Photographer: Wolf Kettler. Model: me

I found The "Ugly" Girl's refreshing and I love the advice the writer gives about 'living like a model' even if you are not one.  It basically boils down to treating yourself well and with respect and also retaining some mystery about your private life, which is always a good thing, in any kind of relationship, and definitely a must in professional relationships.
There have been lots of changes in the modelling world over the past ten years and what Anita says about the 'ugly girl' (very tongue in cheek, as she is definitely not ugly) not being agency material needs to be reviewed. Fashion models, catwalk models in particular,  are defined by height and youth - so 5'7 is regarded  on the short side and being over twenty years of age is 'old' - and they are the ones who tend to be agency models. I mean, after all, they are often children, as young as fourteen, so they would not have a clue about finding work for themselves and they are meant to be getting parental consent even while being on an agency's books! But the height thing is constantly being challenged, as Models of Diversity is doing now,  and  there are currently even agencies for petite models.
Ultimately, if a girl is very striking, and has USP (Unique Selling Point) she can be signed up by an agency. These girls are the Kate Moss or Devon Aoki or Cara Delevingne of the modelling world who  do shows and campaigns etcetera. Moss and Aoki (and more recently Delevingne) went about modelling never emphasising their "lack" of height but emphasising their unique look which ultimately made their being shorter than other girls quite irrelevant.
Agencies  have now expanded to include 'real people' so an 'ugly girl' can be signed up and put forward for commercials, for extra work in commercials and occasionally for fittings. If she has a very interesting look she might do some editorial work even if she is not six foot tall.
But it is also true that more and more opportunities can be found by setting oneself up as an independent model and here Anita's book is  helpful. Some jobs  can still only be obtained as an agency model ('real person' or 'model-model'). Thus I would personally advise being on an agency's books as well as freelancing - website, blog, twitter, facebook and instagram accounts definitely help to acquire visibility.
If you are after art nude or fetish work then being independent is the only option, as there are no agencies for this kind of work. Let's face it: the money is not so good compared to commercial work, so agencies will not waste their time over these jobs. There are no buyouts in art nude or fetish.
A newer development is that of some casting directors bypassing agencies and finding models for their clients amongst the independent ones, through strategically placed casting calls on known sites such as Casting Networks  or the ever growing Star Now or Total Talent.  When they do so the fee offered is often lower than that which can be negotiated by an agency and they often pay only for the shoot, without any buyout.
Modelling is a business and you need to learn how to run your business: you are selling your image. Anita De Bauch discusses this very clearly and very well. But there is more to be said. Ultimately to be a very famous and very well paid model you need to brand yourself. The majority of agency models will not become a brand nor will the majority of independent models. Only a few will stay and go on to acquire personal agents when the volume of work requires it or being managed by a special booker if they are still with an agency (by this stage an exclusive one) and if they have managed to reach such a high level through the 'independent model' approach they too might employ an agent or a personal assistant, like actors often do. But to get there one really has to work hard and be very determined. It should make you question constantly why you want to keep modelling and the answer is always very different and very personal.
Are there any shortcomings to The "Ugly" Girl's Guide? yes, one. I would have liked a fuller and better organised 'Further reading' section. But overall the book is good and good value for money too.

And by the way, I do get the feeling that Anita De Bauch is becoming a brand...

The "Ugly" Girl's Guide to modelling is available from Amazon. Click here

Sunday, 8 March 2015

I will not migrate to Wordpress

Photographer: Joe Giacomet for Professional Photographer. Model: me

Last week I received an update through BlogLovin re a blogger who was moving to Wordpress because Blogger would be making private all blogs with 'graphic nudity' and or 'sexually explicit' images. I was quite vexed by it, that particular blog is not a porn blog at all, but it did have some nudity. I thought I had to do the same but this week Blogger has published an update, stating that things will stay as they are and all blogs containing nudity will carry on as before but there is the compulsion of turning on the 'adult  content' setting. I have had that in place ever since I began this blog.
So all is well that ends well and I will not be migrating to Wordpress. Not yet.
But I would like to take the opportunity to discuss this issue of nudity as it comes up at regular intervals.
This blog contains no porn nor sexually explicit images. However, this blog contains images relating to my art nude photographic work, which can be seen in the posts of the first three years of this blog's life. As it happens, I no longer do art nude, not as much as I used to. I got tired of people wanting to do the same images again, sometimes even proposing concepts for photoshoots which I have already explored and which I see no point in repeating. I also got tired of the fact so much art nude photography is paid so little and models are often expected to give their time for free, as if it were an honour for them to be asked to model mostly by and for amateur photographers who wont even process the images!
However, this does not mean that I have disowned my previous work nor do I agree with the nudity=porn equation.

Fashion illustration drawing. Model: me

If the context of the photo requires it I have no problems with nudity. I am doing this week a fashion shoot that will involve one topless image and  am happy to do it, it makes sense to me in the flow of things as discussed by the photographer and please note that it is an agency job (!).
Model Society recently sent me an email to say they had included a photo of me taken by Pascal Renoux in 2009 in  their new video available on You Tube to promote the first issue of Model Society 's magazine.
I love David Bolt's work and his concept for Model Society and am happy to give him my support.
As for Pascal, when I first saw his work I was bowled over. The way he uses light, the way he composes the images...I had to go and find him in France and do a shoot with him and I am so glad it happened. I have to thank Neil Huxtable for introducing me to the beauty of Pascal Renoux's photography.
I am happy to continue to be here on Blogger but if I ever have to remove beautiful images such as the one by Renoux because some twat at Blogger thinks it is porn then sorry, goodbye Blogger, hello Wordpress.
I shall monitor the situation.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Our bodies, ourselves, our selves

Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA models. Model: myself 

Our bodies, ourselves was the title of a great book first published in the 1970s by the Boston Women's Health Collective which I remember reading avidly way back and referring to whenever I had a question, which grown ups would not answer, about my then pubescent body. The book is still available, updated for the 21st century and translated into 29 languages.  There is now a website and a series of global projects linked with the collective, now renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves. I absolutely love this book  and I would say that it shaped my attitude to my body in a big way. Learning to look at my (female) body and the way it functions instilled in me a sense of awe for this  most perfectly designed complex organism that is the human body. Like most other women (and men) I too have suffered and occasionally still suffer from body image anxiety, but I am able to shake it off by reminding myself of all the wonderful things my body does and can do. That's why I try to give it nourishing food and exercise it because my body thrives on it.
One of the very best life coaches I have ever met - witty, intelligent, empathic, well read and definitely  knowledgeable (and also author of a beautifully written blog) -  is Dr Vena Ramphal,  among the very few people I know who can talk about sexuality in a very open and frank way, teaching women and men to enjoy and understand their relationship with their bodies and themselves and approach their sexuality with joy and appreciation. She suggests a wonderful exercise that everyone, in my view, should do: when you are on your own, take all your clothes off and look at yourself in a full length mirror. Inevitably there will be the usual criticisms, the usual judgements we pass on ourselves, but, she says, let go of them,  let these thoughts arise and then breathe them out. After a while you will be able to look at yourself with appreciation of who you are.
After all, when we are in love with someone, we love them even if their bodies are imperfect, in fact we find their imperfections very endearing. So why should we be so hard on ourselves?
Our bodies are not just an outer shell, separate from who we are - hence the 'our selves' in this post's title. Our cells and our emotions are linked, we feel with our bodies and our emotions are stored in our bodies at a cellular level. And no, I am not going to invoke a quantum reality, as it has been the fashion for a while now - I even know of a Californian life coach that talks about the quantum universe that is our flow and how we should re-programme it by talking to it.
 (I recently did some research about this stuff and came across the ultimate Californian weirdness, the work by John Lily, a former doctor who styled himself a psychonaut and advocated rewiring the brain through dropping acid or being immersed in a sensory deprivation tank. It was at the height of the 1960s counterculture).
No, I am referring to the work by Dr Candace Pert on the opiate receptor , which later led her to embrace the notion of a unity of body and mind.

Photographer: Michael Clement. Model: myself

There is so much we don't yet know about our bodies and our minds. I do find the 'alternative' milieu somewhat difficult to navigate, with a lot of roguery and ill collected information. But one thing is certain: the old paradigm of a separate mind and body has been severally challenged. This for me has implications on the way we relate to, and can, our bodies and our selves.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A crush on Beethoven

Mirror. Photographer: Oliver Morris

The day after Valentine's Day... you probably feel quite overloaded if not exactly loved up,  you may have eaten or drunk too much too. Valentine's Day is the time of the year when love is 'celebrated' at its maximum commercial value. Retailers, especially florists, do well, next to restaurants. But there is a growing profession that capitalises on occasions such as Valentine's Day, this being the time when those who do not have a Significant Other  feel quite miserable (or are made to feel miserable) - what, no card, no flowers, no billet doux?! Does it mean that NOONE CARES ? (Mind you several happy couples actually opt not to surround themselves with all the paraphernalia of consumer love, not to mention that some people prefer to have a 'Distributed Significant Other' but that's another story).
The burgeoning profession I meant is that of  relationship coach. The job of the coach is to tell you how to find the love of your life and "here is my latest podcast,  my latest video, my latest book, subscribe, it will only be a few bucks and it will change your life" etc etc.
Of course it's not only the loveless that need coaching, there is money to be made out of various insecurities and anxieties, for example by advising those who are in a relationship on what works and what does not, what should be done, what should not be done about everything, from money to sex.
Life coaches, you either love them or you hate them. They seem to find everyday a new specialism and new ways to reach you via FB or other social networking sites.
And so it is that I ended up clicking on a link via Google  that took me to a series of articles on crushes, you know what I mean , those playful infatuations with the man (or woman) you see on the train to work every morning,  your  flirtatious personal trainer who gives you butterflies in your stomach every time you have a session, or the guy you partner at your tango class, about whom you know absolutely nothing (and you don't really want to know anything about).
Experts  are definitely not in agreement on this matter. Crushes are very good for you and your existing relationship, opines one coach, they are harmless and make you feel, well, alive. Not so good says another, crushes are there to show you what you need to work at in the context of your relationship. Oh dear, having crushes while in a committed relationship is inappropriate, then.
I am not a relationship coach so I am not going to advise anyone. But I enjoy crushes now and again, I love indulging in the feelings a crush evokes. I would never act on them, simply because I know that if I did, my love object would end up being most disappointing - oh no, he begins every single sentence with 'In my honest opinion', I preferred it when he did not speak.  And so on.

Model: me. Photographer: Michael Clement for BMA Models

Some of the best things that happened to me, were because of crushes - an infatuation with an art teacher, when I was in school,  got me into art in a big way. I adored him and wanted to be as cultured as he was - I probably have surpassed him, now, but there you are, he was a catalyst.
But  the object of my infatuation does not even have to be a real person or someone alive! Right now, I have a huge crush on Ludwig van Beethoven. I love his music so much, I listen to it day and night and I mean it, because when I know I am perfectly alone I go to sleep with an iPad next to me set on a looped Beethoven playlist, which begins with the Pathetique (I got so excited when I saw that the Royal Ballet class broadcast on World Ballet Day used the Pathetique for the barre exercises) and a few other sonatas and then continues with the symphonies. I have on occasion been woken up in the middle of the night by the fourth movement with its magical "Freude! Freude" feeling somewhat confused, only to go immediately back to sleep when I recognised my surroundings and the music.
This is a crush: Beethoven intrigues me, a man so profoundly deaf and yet capable of creating such amazing sounds. I hear the music and I do feel butterflies in my stomach. I long to play it myself, only I don't know how to, I never learnt to play the piano.

Beethoven's statue, Bonn

Some people would not call it a crush, but to me it is. I wonder about Beethoven the man and imagine what I would say to him if I could have a one to one with him. Other women might fantasize about their Costa barista, I do that about Beethoven, it is essentially the same thing.
In a few months time I will probably get a little tired of listening to Ludwig and will move on to some other composer or a different genre - last summer my crush was on  Jim Morrison. If you believe in astrology , there is a common thread, as they were both Sagittarians. But I don't believe in astrology, so this is just a piece of trivia.
In conclusion, crushes are definitely good, as far as I am concerned. And I would not take kindly to any real life partner that objected to my listening so intensely to Ludwig. Fortunately, I have a spare room.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Is age only a number? JD Williams new campaign

JD Williams new campaign. Models: myself, Nicola Griffin and Annabel Davis. Photographer: Mark Nash 

The other day JD Williams released the photos of its new campaign, Over 50 Shades of Grey lingerie. It featured three models - myself, Nicola Griffin and Annabel Davis - and also, shot separately was a former JD Williams house model, Jeannie Galston, who used to model for them in the 1960s and who was a Miss Universe twice runner up . The shot with Jeannie recreated the pose of an old ad, whereas the photos of us three were reminiscent of the Dove campaign images, with no retouching except the usual permissible adjusting of light, tone etc which one needs for digital photography. If photos were used straight out of the camera they would be snaps, right? Advertising campaigns need professional photography.
I am delighted to have been among the models selected for this job, it has brought us national exposure. Nicola and I are in our fifties, Annabel is over sixty.
I like JD Williams' attitude and I thought for example that their response #PerfectlyImperfect  to Victoria's Secret infelicitously named campaign The Perfect Body launched last year - and hastily renamed following thousands of complaints - was really good. Lingerie is for all women of all ages. Why not make lingerie pieces that suit different body types and different ages?

JD Williams #PerfectlyImperfect 2014 campaign

 I do not endorse 'agelessness' of the Hollywood variety.  I don't think that age is only ever just a number and that you are the age you feel.  I mean, age IS a number and we should not get so hung up about it. But at the same time that number indicates a reality, one which should be embraced. Would you really want to have the body and mental age of a baby throughout your life? No. So why become fixated with having the body and mental age of a sixteen year old or any other age you may choose, depending on your personal experience? I have said it a few times and will repeat it. Age is part of living. You can have a zest for life at any age. Or you may lose it at any age.
The release of the Hollywood film Fifty Shades of Gray has inspired quite a few spoofs and parodies, the key word being 'Gray'. I have just completed filming a commercial inspired by it which will be out soon and which was great fun for me to do (can't tell you more, I am afraid, all in good time).
Back to JD Williams, it has been great for me to be involved as I have been harping on about lingerie for older women for quite a while. I wrote about it for the Huffington Post and even participated in a radio broadcast for BBC Tees, giving my views.
It has all come full circle, but it is only just a beginning.