Saturday, 27 June 2015

Nude and naked: David Bailey's photos

(When I began this blog I intended to display my art nude work, hence the 'adult content' warning. I then moved on to other modelling work . However, this post has nude images,  so stop here if nudity offends you).

Liz Lea
Still  in my decluttering mode,  I came across a sealed box, with thick tape running all around it. I was intrigued, what on earth was in there?  I could not remember. I got a pair of scissors and began to remove the tape. I have to make a confession here: in the past whenever I did not know what to do with particular paperwork I would 'bury' it, carefully putting the papers in a box and sealing it and then placing the box on some shelf, to be opened again some years later. Bizarre, I know.
This box had tons of very uninteresting stuff: meeting agendas, reports, old lecture notes, some offprints, copies of unsuccessful fellowship applications - I still remember the hurt of not getting the grants I had applied for and how I would keep the forms and the feedback so that I could study them and do better at the next round.  All absolutely irrelevant now.
But among the trash I found some interesting things: a programme brochure of a performance by the beautiful Liz Lea, an Australian dancer and choreographer who used to live in London and whom I knew quite well. Only a few days ago her name came up with an acquaintance, how weird! Liz Lea's brochure had a most beautiful photograph of her dancing in the nude, only the figures are so small you can hardly see anything! A celebration of the dancing body, the picture is also on the website of Liz Lea's dance company in Canberra.  The brochure I have found is dated 2005.
I also found a copy of The Guardian Weekend magazine of 17.09.05 with a preview of David Bailey's photos of naked people, including his stunning  model wife Catherine, who graces the cover in a 'raw' nude, yoga inspired pose (she is a yoga devotee)  - shadows under her eyes, her armpits unshaven.  She must have been pushing forty when the picture was taken and she is absolutely ravishing.
I don't want to get into a copyright wrangle by using Bailey's photos without permission , so you can see below an image of the Guardian of 17.09.05 and a link to David Bailey's photos of the naked is given  here. Do look, they are great images and you will recognise among the people photographed several actors and even Damien Hirst.

The press release emphasises that no digital manipulation was applied to any of the photographs.
Seeing these pictures reminded me of my art nude modelling. I was very active as an art nude model  around 2008 and 2009, then I sort of slowed down, but my deviantArt gallery carries all my art nude pictures.
I think I posted about the difference between nudity and nakedness before, so I will not repeat myself. I am just glad to find out that the criterion applied by David Bailey matches my understanding of art nude and art nakedness: art nude is somewhat contrived, art nakedness is raw with minimal or no retouching.
Some of the most beautiful pictures taken of me were those by Neil Huxtable aka Talkingdrum. He shot nudes but his art nudes were closer to the naked, on a scale of one to ten, with nude as ten and naked as one (no value judgment here, just a way of quantifying the difference between contrived and less contrived, following Bailey's definition) - I remember how Talkingdrum hated make up and 'poses'.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable Model: me

I am very proud that my agency Grey Model Agency has included on my page pictures of me in the nude (implied). This is a very forward move, as most model agencies are somewhat prudish about nudes, at least they used to be a few years ago.
I recently did a shoot with Isabella Bambagioni for Danielle Fowler's project at LCF. I was modelling lingerie but Isabella did not retouch any of the images. She later asked me to pose nude for her - it will happen in August.

Photographer: Isabella Bambagioni

I also have a shoot with Justyna Neryng next week and am really looking forward to it. It's been a while since I did art nude and this is a great opportunity, working with two different female photographers, which I really enjoy doing.
I have no hang ups about my body. I know I am an older woman but I do not feel I have to hide anything. I am so grateful that I still have a body that works and serves me well. Is it beautiful? Bodies ARE beautiful machines, complex and truly marvellous. End of.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Domestic goddess

Image reblogged form Get Organised Wizard

I am not a domestic goddess, let me clarify it at once. I score extremely low on the cooking side, despite my Italian background (one of the most difficult questions for me to answer, whenever I visit my relatives in Italy,  is 'what do you cook?' - not 'what do you eat', please note the difference).
But it seems I also score badly on the domestic cleansing department, as a recent, very tactless, visitor remarked. I was really stung by his words, I am a super clean person, I shower twice a day and constantly have my washing machine on. But dusting and wiping? No, I do not do much of that, I have to admit it. Nor will I have a cleaner. No one but me can touch my stuff.
Well, no more dirt. I have gone into a cleaning and decluttering mode in full gear. I took a good look at my home and realised that the kitchen was my number one priority as well as the bathroom. I declared war on  the mould that gathers on sealants and decided to scrub the back of my cooker and the sides of the cupboards. I  began daily trips to my local hardware store to stock up on heavy duty HG cleaners and rubber gloves. I had very interesting conversations with the shop owner, for example, I asked for a good duster and he told me it was a waste of money, it's more hygienic to vacuum. Please note that the guy sells dusters!
I must have breathed fumes  because for the whole of last week I coughed and spat (into the loo) whilst I sprayed the unsightly mould, at least a dozen times, all my windows open  - and it has finally gone, with a lot of elbow grease, even though HG claims that the mould goes effortlessly.

I even set my alarm clock for six everyday to begin cleaning in earnest, taking suitable breaks to sleek - more about sleeking in another post , but let it be noted that I am a devotee.
Then I began clearing cupboards, officially shifting into decluttering mode. Over the past week I must have filled dozens of heavy duty bin bags, making regular trips to my local recycling centre (and Marie Curie shop for clothes)  - I had a lot of  broken small household electrical equipment, I just could not believe it, basically one cupboard was full of broken stuff and I do not know why I kept it! But it is not over , oh no. There are three filing cabinets to clear, several book shelves (I will not part with books, but there are things I can chuck into the bin , like magazines and old conference papers, I mean, whoever reads them after the conference is over? I have things from the 1990s) and my video collection.
Yes, I still have videos, even though I forked out nearly a hundred quid for a video capture programme - the problem is, when will I ever have the time to go through the recordings  and actually capture the stuff? I have to choose the ones I really want to keep and transfer  and chuck the rest out.
I have just got rid of my entire audiocassette collection - I do not even have a machine to play the darned things on, not anymore! So why keep them?

Alex B. Photo: C. Barrey
People say that decluttering is very liberating.  Don't know about that yet but it is definitely educational. Whilst cleaning and decluttering I have listened to audiobooks and entire operas - I have truly enjoyed  Carmen by Bizet , several versions, with Callas' rendition still my favourite.  As I was scrubbing my kitchen floor I discovered the glorious music of Cilea, through his Adriana Lecouvreur. I enjoyed the latter so much, I will be getting a DVD of the Royal Opera House production  in 2010 just to see it in its full glory.
I am now taking a couple of days break from decluttering but I aim to start again by Friday. My last task will be professional carpet cleaning - by mid July. Someone will do it for me!
Somehow I feel that  decluttering  gives you tremendous energy and joie de vivre and I am curious to see how this release of energy is going to affect other areas of my life, if at all . And if the alleged emotional and spiritual benefits of decluttering are a mere trick concocted to get people to clean more,  I have to admit that  my living environment and my person cannot but benefit from this scrubbing. That will be enough of an achievement.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Grey Power

Model : me. Sylist :Danielle Fowler. MUA:Francesca Thornton. Photographer: Isabella Bambagioni

On my way to a modelling gig for Samson Keller, a designer who is graduating from London College of Fashion, whose work was being shown as part of the annual show in Shoreditch last night, as I entered the tube station, I found that oyster cards and tickets were being checked. I got my oyster out and the nice young man who was scanning them asked me if I had a freedom pass. Not yet, I replied truthfully (I wish I did, it would save me so much on transportation costs which in London are prohibitive compared to other European cities! unfortunately I do not yet qualify for it age wise). He was most apologetic, it was my grey braid that had apparently confused him (I have now started braiding my hair to keep it out of the way). I told him I was not in the least offended.  Why should I?
Later at the venue, as I was getting ready to model for Samson, my hair all down, wearing a black silk- like cloth, red lipstick and red nails and lying inside a cage, while four other models would walk around me, I could not help thinking back of the oyster card incident. To the young man at the station I was a frail old lady, to the young crowd at the Nicholls and Clarke Building I was an older model helping the designer to make a fashion statement. 
(As it happens I was featured, as a model, in the work of several graduating LCF students this year, from Danielle Fowler's editorial with me modelling lingerie, with totally unretouched photos, to Kirstie Forbes' Project Silver). 

Model : me. Sylist :Danielle Fowler. MUA:Francesca Thornton. Photographer: Isabella Bambagioni

Being 'grey' is acquiring a completely different meaning. On one hand there is the stereotypical view of older people as being past everything, something that is often reiterated in advertising, with commercial models mostly being there to play variations on Zimmer frame pushing grandmas or grandpas. On the other, there are newer perceptions of age and ageing, and older people are becoming more visible in fashion, where older models have begun to be featured, representing glamorous and elegant older women and men, beyond the tokenism of editorials which show how clothing can be 'adapted' to suit your age - whenever I come across articles written by well meaning stylists on how to wear this or that when you are over fifty or sixty I honestly feel like screaming. If anything, after all these years I have learnt a thing or two about what suits me and how to wear it and I do not  need stylists to tell me that "after fifty you should hide your upper arms". Should I?  
A new model agency, Grey Model Agency, by which I am delighted to be represented, has just launched precisely to fill this huge gap in the market and to supply older male and female models who counter stereotypical notions of ageing - of being grey. 
Headed by Sara Stockbridge, known for being Vivienne Westwood's muse, and owned by Rebecca Valentine, who has represented  masters of photography, Grey Model Agency is unique in that it represents the diversity of ageing, through its models or 'ambassadors',  rather than having stereotypical 'classic' models:  Grey Model Agency's ambassadors are "beautifully ageing, elegantly eccentric 35+ models."  

In the agency's press release, Rebecca Valentine says the following:
"The decision to call the agency Grey was not without a touch of irony as our models are anything but! ...I want to change the perception of what it is to be Grey, or older, by confronting the prejudice head-on...I want to lead this agency from a client’s perspective and, with our own in-house campaigns, help position our models with brands traditionally targeting the young like Playstation, Nike, Lynx, Evian and even Audi!" reminding us that those who buy these products are over forty.

We are definitely ready for this change.

Grey Model Agency 
07968 190 411

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A great dancer's goodbye

My own programme brochure autographed by Sylvie Guillem

I was really fortunate to get someone else's ticket for Sylvie Guillem's performance at Sadler's Wells on Saturday 30th May (I am so grateful to my friend C. for passing it on to me). I had been unable to secure a booking when the performances were announced last november, tickets were sold out within days, some say hours. Last week's performances at Sadler's were part of Guillem's final world tour before she quits dancing for good. The tour will end in Japan in December 2015 and I am sure that on the very last night there will be some very emotional scenes, as Sylvie Guillem's fans are very devoted to her. Quitting dance sounds so drastic a decision!
The atmosphere was highly charged on Saturday.
Sylvie Guillem is unique, as everyone knows, even people who are not into dance. She does not just have a most fantastic flexibility and mastery of technique, she is also a very intelligent and sensitive interpreter of dance. Her commitment to dance - first to classical ballet, then to contemporary - has been phenomenal. Her determination and strength of character have contributed to making her who she is. Perhaps we will have to wait for another hundred years before we get a dancer of her calibre.
I began to feel butterflies in my stomach from the moment I stepped into Sadler's Wells - I was super early because I was afraid I might be late and at the last minute I was overcome by great anxiety, suddenly convinced for no reason that I had gone to the wrong venue. Is it here or is it at the Coliseum, I asked a young woman selling programmes. Here, she said, somewhat bemused. I immediately grabbed a programme and texted my friend to let her know I was already at the theatre. We are on our way, she texted back. I still could not relax, despite all these reassurances.
I could not wait to get into the auditorium. When the show began and SHE appeared on stage I felt such great excitement, I was shaking. This was going to be a very special evening, I could feel it in my bones.

Bye Images by Sadler's Wells Theatre (reblogged from Arts Desk)
Sylvie Guillem had chosen new choreography to mark her retirement. Techné choreographed by Akram Khan was a very elegant solo for the perfect Guillem, so were the other pieces, Here and After choreographed by Russell Maliphant and Duo by William Forsythe, one danced by Guillem with the lovely Emanuela Montanari, soloist at the Scala, the other exquisitely danced by Brigel Djoka and Riley Watts.
But the one that really moved me was Bye, which Guillem danced in the second half. It was very intense. Mats Ek is one of my favourite choreographers and he really created something that was absolutely right for Guillem, a piece that reminded the audience how incredibly strong, pliable and technically faultless she is and yet she has a fragility about her that makes her very human and approachable. It was a piece that encapsulated Guillem's farewell, with beauty and dignity.
Guillem is a dance goddess but she does not come across as a diva, either on or off stage. She fully inhabits the choreographies she dances, she has subtlety and is able to make the audience experience in full the beauty and emotion of a carefully trained moving body. Everything about her dancing spells perfection, awkwardness is an impossibility for Guillem and it has probably been so from the time she began.
I like what Sylvie Guillem says about dance,  that it 'found' her - it is something that echoes what another dancer I greatly admire, Alessandra Ferri, also says about herself and her relationship to dance - they are contemporaries and it is interesting that whereas Guillem is retiring, Ferri has returned to dance, after a long break. That dance 'found' her does not mean it did not require discipline and rigour. For Guillem - so she says -  it was the thought of her audience, the expectations of those who go and see her that have kept her motivated to try out new things till the end.
She is quitting dance now when she is still so phenomenally good at doing what she does because she feels, quite simply, that it is the right time for her to do so - and who is to question that? These are very personal decisions, never taken lightly: by committing herself  to one last world tour, Guillem is sharing this turning point in her life with her large and very devoted global audience.
I am not usually one to be found queuing up at stage doors after a performance to catch a glimpse of the artists, to get an autograph and possibly, the now de rigueur selfie. But on Saturday night I could not tear myself away, I had to go and see this wonderful woman.

Taking selfies with Sylvie Guillem. Photo by a friend
I felt like an awkward teenager when she came out, with her flaming red hair, and all smiles. I addressed her as Madame and she was kind and friendly, signed my programme and even suggested a better angle for the selfie - there was such a strong glaring light, it ruined my picture, she saw that and graciously posed for a second one. She was affable to everyone and spoke several languages at once - English, French, Italian. Guillem's fans love her and she genuinely loves them back. She knows they all want to take home a piece of her, with the selfies, the autograph, the handshake and ever the consummate professional, she does not hold herself back. There was a mutually respectful attitude in this post performance encounter between Sylvie Guillem and her audience and it was a real joy to watch her being so at ease. There was none of the preciousness that other great artists sometimes display.
I now have a programme brochure I will treasure in the years to come and probably show to my grandchildren if I ever have any. I have been reading it from cover to cover several times and love looking at Guillem's flowery signature and the picture of herself as a pretty little girl, sitting beautifully straight and looking somewhat quizzically into camera, with a hint of a smile, a picture which she chose to have on the brochure's cover. If I close my eyes,  the memory of her on stage is still very vivid.

Selfie with Sylvie Guillem
Sylvie Guillem: Life in Progress. That was the title chosen for the world tour. A reminder that life goes on, doors close but new ones also open, even though we may not yet know about them. A reminder, also, that everything ends and that sometimes it is better to take control and decide when to end, rather than letting it passively happen or worse, trying to stop the inevitable.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Women artists at Tate Britain

Tate Britain. Photo by me

After my last blog post about Artemisia Gentileschi, I was itching to see the work of more women artists and so I dashed to Tate Britain, where I knew I would find a few, having read an article about the women artists represented at the Tate published on their website a while ago. I went on an impulse, it was already 4.30 pm by the time I got there and the gallery closes at 6 pm on a weekday. I had with me a list of the paintings I wanted to see and  had been able to note down the gallery number, so I walked in resolutely, determined to take my own pictures of the artworks on my list. There was a time  I used to do this kind of thing constantly, when I was a research student  and would make it a point to go and photograph every artefact, every art work relevant to my dissertation's topic. There is a routine one embodies: scanning the room  at a glance to locate immediately the work of one's interest, ignoring everything else and negotiating crowds (there is also the thing about getting into the habit of going early or at times when the gallery might be less crowded, but that depends on luck), the catalogue number having been memorised as well as having an idea of the object's position in the gallery from viewing published photographs taken by others - the point of taking your own photograph is usually to focus on some specific aspect of the work, a detail you intend to discuss in your dissertation.
 But art works are in  the 'habit' of travelling from their permanent home to some other gallery or museum that borrows them for a temporary exhibition or they are, from time to time, whisked away from display for some conservation work. A friend of mine keeps on being frustrated in his desire to view Canova's Three Graces permanently housed at the V&A, but constantly on the move, it seems. He told me that on all his recent visits to London he went to the museum and was told the work was not available.
I am currently not writing a dissertation, so yesterday I was a little more casual in my approach to the paintings, in the sense that I did not do all the necessary preparatory work, I just went and hoped to find them, though I had a list.

Mary Beale's Sketch  of the artist's son Own photo
Needless to say a couple of them had been moved. The very polite warden sitting in one corner of the room told me that The Deluge (1920) by Winifred Knights had just been taken away. I was obviously disappointed. But the others were all there and were so pretty. No photograph can ever do justice to the real thing. It seems such an obvious thing to say, but we are getting so used to seeing art works in reproductions. The original colours cannot be faithfully duplicated, no matter how good the camera and the photographer are. There is also something else to take into account: the way the light falls on the painting and the way it is displayed. Of course sometimes the only way to acquaint oneself properly with a painting is only by looking at reproduction: the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is surrounded by glass and there are throngs of people around it. The painting is actually quite small so when you finally get there, after elbowing and pushing, amidst a cacophony of clicks, you often end up seeing your own reflection in the glass and very little of the Mona Lisa itself.

Gwen John's Self portrait Own photo
But yesterday Tate Britain was quite empty.  The paintings I saw which represent women artists - still far too few - are as you may have guessed from the photos and their captions.: Mary Beale's Sketch of the Artist's son (1660 - a contemporary of Artemisia Gentileschi, the first female professional painter in Britain, her husband was her assistant; Gwen John's Self portrait (1902) - she trained at the Slade School of Art but predictably had to face discrimination throughout her career; Dora Carrington's Farm at Watendlath (1921) - the article published by the Tate focuses on her sexuality and sexual behaviour and I find that somewhat unnecessary; Winifred Nicholson's Sandpipers, Alnmouth (1933).

Christina Mackie's The filters Own photo
Then there is of course the installation by Christina Mackie The filters (2015) that is being  shown until October in the Duveen Galleries. Mackie is a British artist currently living in Canada.
I did expect to find a number of artists active in the 20th century but I am aghast at the lack of representation of female artists from the 18th and 19th century. Two entire centuries! I will look at other galleries and see what I find.
Certainly, it seems that the 17th century was a real turning point and marked the rise of the professional female painter in Europe. That is in itself most encouraging and we should salute these pioneers.

(The above photos were taken by me. I am an amateur photographer and only take snaps primarily to illustrate my blog. When not snapping away I am a professional model. For my modelling work please see here)

Photo of me by Aleksandra Kingo

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


Photographer: Ian Mcilgorm. Model: me

A friend I met soon after returning from Florence asked me whether I had seen Artemisia Gentileschi's paintings at the Uffizi. I am really interested in her, my friend said. I replied that yes, I had seen Artemisia's work but had not given it sufficient attention.  I said that I did remember her from the days when I began to discover women artists but I had never really engaged with her work - I had not looked - and  in my mind I kind of conflated her with Madame Le Brun, who lived a century later in France and was patronised by Marie-Antoinette. I felt quite ashamed at my ignorance. My friend suggested I should read Gentileschi's biography by Anna Banti, with a foreword by Susan Sontag. I ordered the book but I could not wait to get started, my curiosity having been piqued, and over the long weekend I dipped into Susan Vreeland's fictionalised biography, which I could download immediately,  just to appreciate Artemisia a little better. Even though Vreeland injected her Artemisia with very contemporary thinking, I  began to realise how wonderful she was, as a woman and as an artist. I also watched A woman like that by Ellen Weissbrod, a documentary about Artemisia lovingly pieced together, underpinned by much serious research into Gentileschi's artistic worldview.

I may be a latecomer to Artemisia Gentileschi's fan club and apologise to those readers that already know about her. I just think that for a woman who did not come from an aristocratic family to decide to earn a living from her art in the 17th century was an extraordinary feat. Artemisia's early life was marked by a very public trial following her rape and dishonouring - in 17th century Rome it was not so much the rape but the dishonouring that warranted legal action - by her father Orazio's friend and collaborator Agostino Tassi, also a painter. He had been hired to teach young Artemisia, whose talent was very obvious, the art of perspective. Tassi was acquitted but Orazio was compensated (for it was Orazio who had started legal proceedings, it would not have been possible for Artemisia to do so as she was a woman) and following the trial, Artemisia was hurriedly married off to a painter from Florence and moved away from Rome. A film that came out in 1997 by Agnès Merlet recounted her trial and the torture of the thumb screws she had to undergo to prove her innocence.
Artemisia insisted on carrying on painting, making her way to success in a totally male dominated world that viewed her with antagonism and occasionally, scorn, for being female.
Hers had been a marriage of convenience. She pursued patronage and was able to travel. She even came to London at the invitation of Charles I and Henrietta Maria to paint together with her father, with whom she continued to have a difficult relationship throughout her life, the ceiling of Central Hall, Queen's House, Greenwich (now Malborough House).

Artemisia Gentileschi: self-portrait. Royal Collection. Photo by Larry Brash

Schooled in the realism of Caravaggio, Artemisia's uniqueness was in the way she painted the female nude, injecting her figures with a sensitivity that male painters struggled to achieve. Female painters of her day were primarily hobbyists and never did any more than pretty landscapes. Artemisia's excellence at figurative painting was all the more startling.
Artemisia is truly an inspiration for women, even today. Her doggedly determination to paint, her unwillingness to be defeated, are a great example to follow, even in these postfeminist times.
After her death,  she suffered the ignominy of having her work attributed to her father or other male painters and she slipped into oblivion.  It took a long time for her to be reinstated as one of the most remarkable modern painters of Europe.
Her Susanna and the Elders remains my favourite, painted when she was only 17. In it she captured the anguish of a young woman harassed by the lecherous elderly men.

Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi. Photo: Larry Brash

The website set up by Larry Brash is entirely devoted to Artemisia Gentileschi and is being constantly updated and I suggest you visit it and also, if at all possible, try to get a glimpse of Artemisia Gentileschi's paintings by going on a 'grand tour'.

Friday, 22 May 2015


Photo by Kati Turkina Model: me

I have always been fascinated by the notion of serendipity. Often conflated with chance and fortune and carrying with it a sense of magical occurrence,  in my view serendipity is much more complex in that it taps on one's creativity and inventiveness, as a number of writers have noted. Serendipitous discoveries in science were often due to the scientists's openness and readiness to see opportunities. I am convinced that openness and readiness are the key to serendipity, as also the ability to make links and connections, often without thinking them through logically.
I am fascinated by  the tale that gave the name to serendipity, the story of the three Princes of Serendip. I am using here as a source the book by Robert Merton and Elinor Barber The travels and adventures of serendipity: a study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science (2004).
It was Horace Walpole that coined the word serendipity  in 1754, in a letter to Horace Mann in which he refers to a Persian tale translated into French and then into English about the Princes of Sarendip or Serendib which was the name for ancient Ceylon. The Princes  had been wrongly accused of stealing a camel because when a camel driver who had lost one his camels had asked them whether they had seen it, the Princes had been able to describe the camel in great detail on the basis of clues they had found on the road which led the camel driver to believe they had stolen it. Walpole used the story of the Princes and their great sagacity to explain  his own fortuitous finding of information about the Capello arms. Since then serendipity has become part of the English language, even though as Merton and Barber note, Walpole somewhat manipulated the story to fit his own discovery.

Photo by Kati Turkina. Model: me

Be that as it may, serendipity is a word with great charge and I believe it could be used to describe almost everything that happens in one's life. Every encounter can be serendipitous. Some New Age writers and thinkers would associate serendipity with flow and being in alignment. I do understand what they are saying but I prefer to think of serendipity as serendipity. The thing is that serendipity is linked with sagacity. And what is  sagacity? According to the OED sagacity is:
wisdom, (deep) insight, intelligence, understanding, judgement, acuity,astuteness, insight, sense, canniness, sharpness, depth, profundity,profoundness, perceptiveness, penetration, perception, percipience,perspicuity, discernment, erudition, learning, knowledgeability,thoughtfulness; rare sapience
So serendipity is about astuteness and awareness of opportunities, among other things. I am happy with this gloss.