Monday, 6 April 2015

Listening to the body

On a Spanish beach. Model: me. Photographer: Martin Robinson

Back from my visit to Defining Beauty, the exhibition about which I have written in a previous post and which I will discuss more fully in a forthcoming post, I chanced online on a series of interviews with Italian born, ballerina √©toile Alessandra Ferri. Trained at La Scala and the Royal Ballet School she rose quickly through the ranks and performed in Covent Garden and then went to New York to dance with Baryschnikov. With a small frame, lithe and petite (Wikipedia has her as 178 cm but surely that must be on pointe because she is smaller than Baryschnikov who is only 168 cm), she was perfect for the romantic roles at which she excelled. She was indeed a bright star in the dance firmament. Then at 44 she gave it all up to look after her two daughters and be with her husband, Fabrizio Ferri.
Following her marriage breakdown, Alessandra Ferri has come out of retirement at age 52 and has returned to the stage in Le jeune homme et la mort, the great ballet by Roland Petit. Performed in Florence last month with a last minute change of  male partner, it was received rather well. Ferri is still a wonderful dancer. I have not seen the ballet but have watched online some videos of rehearsal time for another work, Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj. But it was Ferri's interview that struck a chord with me ( in Italian, but you can see here a beautiful clip of Alessandra Ferri's dancing while Sting plays guitar. There is also this interview for the New York Times).

Coming at the time when  the great Sylvie Guillem has announced her retirement at 50, Ferri's return is  brave, showing once again that older dancers still have a lot of mileage - I am pleased to see, incidentally,  that The Elder's Project, a piece starring a host of 'old hands' of British dance will be performed again at the South Bank later this month. However, what Ferri talked about is not her feeling a lack of physical prowess, or feeling overwhelmed by the reality of an ageing body, on the contrary, but the fact that dance for her now is no longer a career but something she does because she feels passionate about it. Growing older and being away from the gruelling schedule of touring has allowed her to rediscover the immense joy that dancing gave her when she was a child and which sustained her throughout her training. She continues to be a first class performer and like other older dancers she talks about having finally acquired maturity of expression. Thus her role as Death in Petit's ballet (danced below by Zizi Jeanmaire and Rudolf Nureyev in 1966) was very well chosen, according to reviewers.

Moving beyond dance, what Ferri talks about  is very important. If we no longer feel passionate about  what we do,  perhaps it is time to consider having a break. This is true in every creative endeavour. I also applaud the fact that Ferri - inevitably so - is so embodied and when she had to confront the pain of separation, the rejection she felt as a result of her partner leaving her (as she discusses in this interview), she listened to her body and returned to do what she loves best, what gives her body pleasure. What I am trying to say is not that if you are going through a break up you should take up dancing. I am simply saying that listening to your body is what will help you to go through anything. Establish a good relationship with your body, listen to it and love it, and everything else will fall into place. Alessandra Ferri is first and foremost a dancer, so when she stopped and listened to her body she went back to dancing - at her level this meant performing because she had trained to such a high standard. For other women this may be something else, like joining a class to pursue a hobby, not necessarily a dance class. Or spending more time appreciating their body, pampering it with massages and good, nutritious food.
A good relationship with oneself, taking care of one's body is truly the key for smooth relationships with others.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Travelling in Spain: a lesson in style

Barcelona Sagrada Familia

I admit that travelling solo is my favourite way to travel - you are your own master and can decide to go at your own pace. It can be daunting sometimes,  but I know, having tried before, that no one is able to sustain my dedication, braving long queues for tickets to museums and galleries - which can never be bought online as there is always one problem or another. You also meet many interesting people as you are more open: local people for sure, but also other travellers with whom you can team up for some excursion. I did so last year, when I went to Andalusia.
Spain is one of my favourite destinations at present, this time I combined it with a little work, so I went to Barcelona to admire Antoni Gaudi's modernist architecture - an architect friend  strongly recommended Barcelona a while ago - and then went to Rojales to model for Martin Robinson's art workshop. Of course that was a bit of a holiday too, as I went to the beach and then round to see the preparations for Easter, which is a big deal in Spain.
Barcelona is a Gaudian city and the architecture is stunning. I was worried about not being able to get into the Sagrada Familia because as usual the website was out of order and tickets could only be bought at the Sagrada and queues are horrendous. But partly because of the bad weather, partly because we were off season and partly because I went at lunchtime when everyone is busy eating, I only waited five minutes and there I was, inside this amazing building. Gaudi was a genius and natural shapes were his inspirations but having been to Andalusia I could not help feeling that there were some  Moorish touches. I may be wrong,  but those curves seemed to suggest it. I was not able to have a view of the city from the towers, currently closed to the public as they are being renovated - the Sagrada is always a work in progress.

Sagrada: Interior

After several hours back and forth, visiting the museum on site and the special exhibition and back inside the cathedral to admire the way the light fell through the stained glass windows - it changes all the time - I decided I could leave and  immediately went to join the queues at La Pedrera, another Gaudian building, this time an apartment block in the city centre which is as spectacular as all Gaudi's buildings are. I like taking my time when visiting sights, so another two and a half hours went by - unusually I got hold of an audioguide, I don't like them much but I felt I needed some background.
I did not have that much time in Barcelona and left for Alicante and Rojales after a day. Modelling for Martin is always a pleasure, I have been going for some years now and I do recommend him to other models.

Photo: Martin Robinson. Model: me

What I really enjoyed was to witness the Palm Sunday procession in Elche: I love the way they create intricate shapes with the palms and the dexterity with which they do it - you can see people making them at the market. Then there was the mantilla procession which starts off Holy Week, women dressed in black and wearing those spectacular lace mantillas which drop to their ankles, draped over what traditionally is a tortoise shell comb, which adds height. I was pleasantly surprised at the very stylish way the women in Rojales dressed for the procession: they all wore short elegant figure hugging black dresses - the classic LBD - or even a two piece black suit, with black heels and black nylon tights. Their hair was pulled back and they all wore the traditional mantilla and they all had smoky eyes! it could have been a catwalk show!  The back of their mantilla was held together with a pearl studded brooch and they wore pearl earrings to match. Of course the whole ensemble was accompanied by beautiful white rosaries which they held while taking part in the procession behind a float of the Virgin Mary, also wearing a black, gold embroidered veil.

Stylish women of Rojales, by the church, after the mantilla procession

I would have loved to get hold of one of those mantillas, in the end I did not. Next time perhaps? I do have a black silk shawl however and I might find some interesting way to drape it...

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.