Friday, 31 December 2010

Intent, context, ethics

Eyeballman aka Ron, founder of the deviantArt group Fine Art Photography, of which I am co-founder, sent me a note this morning,  in reply to another one of mine in which I had been trying to argue that intent and context are the yardstick to determine whether an art work,  a photograph in this instance, is art or porn.

It is not an idle discussion. Everyday we receive submissions, some of which  in the art nude genre, and the question continues to be asked.

Ron ultimately believes that whether something is art or porn is all to do with the viewer. Neither author nor gallerist has much control over what  viewers think (or the "messages" they perceive). He prefers to stick with the three criteria of  technique, craftsmanship and  aesthetic impact - not necessarily in that order, he says, to evaluate a photograph. Maybe. But a gallerist can do much to give the work a context and that context can have an impact on how the artwork is perceived by the viewers.

I am familiar with theories of meaning as being contextually and subjectively assigned. I would like to agree with Ron but his glossing of aesthetics  does not help me.  What is that aesthetic impact? Does it involve the intellectual and the emotional?

Can we really disregard any intentionality in the work of art? After all much conservation work is founded on the idea of recovering an artistic intention. If I were to restore Da Vinci's Mona Lisa I could not add beard and moustache  à la Duchamp, who in doing that created a completely different art work (and he did not do it on Da Vinci's original Mona Lisa)

In photography people often talk, after Barthes,  of the interplay of punctum and studium. Recognising the  studium is an encounter with  the photographer's intentions, the punctum is an unexpected discovery in our encounter with the studium.

Says Kathrina Mitcheson in her paper on intentionality and realism in photography  "The photographer can intentionally allow the accidental, leaving room for the audience to encounter a punctum, and  the control manifested in the photographer's work can serve to heighten the experience of the penetration of the studium by the punctum when it occurs".

So denying the existence of an intention or regarding it as totally secondary does not sound too convincing.

This brings me to my favourite question. Does artistic value  have anything to do with ethics? Oscar Wilde famously said " there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all". Much as I admire Oscar Wilde's wit I do not necessarily agree with him (in fact having read Orwell's essay on Kipling in which he discusses both Kipling and Wilde, the latter in less than flattering terms, my admiration for Wilde has been recontextualised).

One can dissociate an aesthetic value from an ethical one. Philosopher Jeffrey Dean makes the point that works of art have multiple dimensions of value. "A work of art" he says "that is aesthetically excellent, historically significant, and morally profound is a better work of art, overall, than one which is only some or none of these things often finds that disputants are talking past each other: one is touting the excellence of a work while the other is decrying is triviality, but it will often turn out that the former, say, is focused on the work’s historical significance and moral fortitude, while the latter is considering only a specific set of aesthetic values relevant to the genre"

Food for thought.

Happy 2011 everyone

All photos by Christèle Jacquermin and modelled by Alex B.
Clothes designer & Wardrobe stylist: JDYS (José David Plaza) Makeup: Verónica Bernal Hair: Xavi Paya Post-production: Jorge Fernández

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Honi soit qui mal y pense

 Photographer: Mark Varley

I first encountered Sally Mann's photography  following her controversial solo exhibition Immediate Family in Philadelphia in 1992. It was impossible at the time, whether one was or not into photography, not to be aware of the furore her pictures had unleashed. Her detractors thought that putting her own naked children on display was tantamount to pornography. Earlier this year  a retrospective of Mann's photography was on show in London  and this provided  an opportunity to re-examine her work and the hysterical opposition it  provoked.

In a recent interview, one of her children, Jessie, now 23, says that collaborating with her mother had made her understand  the power of art and how those photographs in particular make one ask questions about reality and fantasy. Where  does one end and the other commence? Photography can often blur that boundary. Such is its power.

Sexualisation of naked children is one of the greatest anxieties of our time.  As curator Pauline Hadaway told  Tiffany Jenkins for The Independent a' propos Sally Mann's photographs, "we live in an age when the child-protection regulations instruct us to put ourselves into the place of the paedophile when we look at images today. Thus we are no longer assessing the piece, or the subject, but instead how it could be interpreted."  Once we begin to think 'like a paedophile' our children's innocence is forever lost.

Pictures of my naked child playing in the sand, if put on show, could get me arrested.  My child is now an adult but images of him taken when he was little while playing wearing no clothes  on a Mediterranean beach could still get me into serious trouble if I were to upload them on the internet.  I, you, most of us, would see them as beautiful childhood moments. A small minority of adults would see them differently, investing them with an eroticism that my maternal eye is unable and unwilling to see.

Photographer: Marc Wainwright

Reclaiming that childhood innocence is not made any easier when  photography sexualises children, portraying adolescent/pre-pubescent eroticism by using older models camouflaged as much younger girls. Use of lighting, posing and expression can blend into creating the right kind of effect, something advertising has fully exploited.  Calvin Klein consistently used the child like Kate Moss from when she was still only 14, well into her twenties,  as well as other models, often as young as 15, sometimes older but  looking like pubescent girls,  showing them  in provocative poses in controversial ads.  From time to time  they had to be withdrawn for the outrage they sparked - viewers were troubled by the sexualisation and commercialisation of children which such ads seemed to be endorsing.

Whereas pictures of nude children in suggestively erotic poses are illegal and immediately classed as pornography, pictures of child like nude models in eroticised child like poses and expressions are not. I have seen pictures on  public sites including  deviantArt of child like girls in a state of half undress, portrayed as awkwardly and tantalisingly erotic young things.  A recent one is by an accomplished photographer who claims to have been inspired by Sally Mann in his portrait work. It shows a child like girl who appears to be feeling awkward, almost reluctant to pose without her top and yet complying, looking like a real pubescent girl would  if she were before a much older man and this man insisted she should undress for him.

It is all make believe, the model is acting like a  teenager, her hair is styled simply pinned to one side with a plain girlie slide, and she totally looks the part, so much so that some viewers have articulated their discomfort in tactful comments. One of them says  "It's technically a good photograph. There was no suggestion from me that the model was underage, merely that she appeared to be so. As a result of this, and her very youthful look, there was something inside me that told me that I should not be looking. To be honest, I'd be more concerned if I didn't have that reaction. Certainly thought provoking! " That is a very English  understatement.

I am not a prude and I know that teens do explore their sexuality and sensuality. But it is one thing to see them do it with each other, another thing to photograph them doing it and yet another thing to get a child like girl to interpret a bashful and confused teenager about to disrobe for a much older man. "

 These images can be freely downloaded.  Because of the context in which they are found  these nude portraits of an imagined highly eroticised teenage subject are distributed for public consumption. Their viewers are mostly adults. It makes me wonder.

 Photographer: Owen Gruyfedd

This is and will remain a controversial topic and here I can only sketch out my argument. I am neither condemning nor praising. I am asking questions.  Are  photographers who circumvent  the legal problems they would encounter if they were to use real underage models to be viewed as courageously pushing artistic boundaries? Are they  reclaiming 'adolescent eroticism' as a fit subject for art nude, and in doing so attempting to extricate it from its commercialisation?  Or, by eroticising young nudity and ensuring it is done within legality, are they making it impossible for photographs of nude children to be viewed as charming and emotive childhood memories, something that could be argued Sally Mann or Bill Henson were actually attempting to do?

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

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Merry Christmas

 Photographer: Terry Slater

It comes once a year and it never loses its magic, not for me anyway. Nothing to do with presents under the tree, it's the atmosphere, the Spirit of Christmas.
I  wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Christmas

Alex x

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The female nude and Camille Paglia

 Photographer: Gregory Brown

My injury is slowly healing - oh, we do need both our hands, there is no doubt! I find it hard not to use my left hand at all.  I am housebound. Fortunately, Christmas is coming up and having finally given up on the idea of travelling - too complicated with a plaster, and airlines insist on it being cut, which defeats the purpose of wearing it,  I am not wasting away precious time.  I can be at home, relax and plan for future work.

The enforced rest has been useful, I have done more online curatorial work for the deviantArt groups I am involved with and am planning my DMP essay whose deadline is early February, as well as my next term teaching. A lot of reading these days can be done online, through ebraries. When I was a postgraduate student back in the early 1990s I used to live in libraries. Now the whole pattern of studies has changed, if you know what you are looking for, you can access it easily on the internet. Even then, nothing beats the pleasure of finding books on an open shelf library and skim read them  while crouching next to a whole line of shelves, so as soon as it is feasible I will go and visit one of the big libraries in town.

Yesterday I put together a gallery show with the help of a guest curator for the wonderful Art Express group. It was about the body as art, in the figurative arts and in photography. The images selected by Elly are stunning. I wrote a short introduction to the show and I immediately started asking myself questions on the classical view of the body in art, especially the female nude. I decided I'd write a blog post about it and revisited classic texts such as Kenneth Clark's The Nude and Lynda Nead's The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality - the two have to be read in conjunction, at least that was the way I read them when I first encountered them in 1992.

Photographer: Suki Wilde

It took me all back. Clark's study of the nude in the Western tradition is well known. He distinguishes between the naked and the nude body and sets the parameters for the  investigation of the nude.  The post 1960s feminist scholarship of Nead, Nochlin  and Mulvey challenged the neutrality and the aesthetic innocence of Clark's nude, introducing the notion of a male gaze (which later Mulvey revised, paying more attention to the female gaze). And then there was Camille Paglia.

A maverick, as she has often been described, she went against the excesses of the feminist movement, and often made statements against its leaders, writing

"Students who read Clark will be safely inoculated against the worst excesses of feminist theory, with its prattle about objectification and the male gaze—terms cooked up by ideologues with glaringly little knowledge of or feeling for art."

Strong views indeed, which have infuriated critics and delighted admirers. Paglia celebrated the Dionysian, the wilder and darker side of human sexuality, and its expression in art.  For all her 'neo-conservatism', hers is actually a reclamation of what was historically intended for men - the display of eroticism and an explicit sexuality.

Photographer: David Nuttall

So my original reflections on the nude have led me again to Sexual Personae , Paglia's first book!

Paglia is still very active, and recently published a book about poetry,  Break, Blow, Burn.  But this is indeed a topic for another post.

Meanwhile, you can have a glimpse of the great lady in the video-clip below , while I immerse myself in Sexual Personae.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

My feature in Anne of Carversville

 Photographer: Suki Wilde

 My feature in Anne of Carversville as part of  AGELESS FABULOSITY continues. I share this week long exposure with my great friend  Carla Johnson.

The feature began on 6th December with my interview of Carla, followed on 7th December by her interview of me. The feature continued on 9th December with beautiful pictures of Carla and Elijah taken by A.J.Kahn.

Today other photos of me taken by David Gibson, Marcello Pozzetti, Michael Culhane, George Swift, Pascal Renoux, Terri Lee Shields, Paddy Johnston, Neil Huxtable, Victor Schwanberg and PWP Images appear in the SENSUALITY NEWS section.

Other images by Suki Wilde, Bob Adams, Erwan, David Nuttall, Darren Brade, Vijay Jethwa and Elisabeth Jakobsen are in the LAYERS OF ALEX B SPIRITED LIFE section also published today.

 Photographer: Elisabeth Jakobsen

More to follow next week, when Carla and myself will appear side by side with Monica Bellucci, now 46,  in a column on ageing.

I am very grateful to Anne Enke, Editor in chief of Anne of Carversville for this amazing opportunity I have been given to reach  thousands of readers worldwide and be part of a wonderful, unique  E-zine aimed at discerning women, globally.  It truly is a great honour for me.

I am also, it goes without saying, most grateful to all the photographers I have modelled for and for their support of me.  By choosing to work with a mature model they have made a statement and I am honoured to be part of that statement.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Fashion is endemically racist

 Photographer: Martin Robinson

Fashion is racist. It is supermodel Naomi Campbell who says so  and she certainly knows a thing or two about the fashion world. According to Miss Campbell, we are seeing fewer and fewer models of colour in shows and editorial work.  Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, echoes Naomi when she admits that "classically pretty, white girls" are favoured on the catwalk.

I have always found that whenever fashion opens its door to a black or Asian model it is to emphasise her exoticism. Even in the case of Naomi Campbell, her strongest selling point was her exotic mix -  she typified the wild, dark beauty. Temper tantrums? they were  a correlative of her blackness.

Naomi belongs to a tradition of black beauties accepted by the mainstream entertainment industry - of which  fashion is part - from, at the very least,  the days of Josephine Baker. The Black Venus, as she was known, Baker essentialised the black primitive in 1920s Paris.   Primitivism was one of the early modernist artistic trends in the early part of the 20th century and one of its fascinations was the  supposed overt sexuality of non-Europeans, the assumption  that "non-Western" cultures have a greater appreciation of sexuality or sensuality than Europeans. The primitive African - Africa being the dark continent - was viewed as overly sexed.

It is that same primitivism that led to an acceptance of the non-white female model in fashion, an acceptance based on stereotyping blackness, rather than equality. A black woman is never "classically beautiful" simply because the idea of the classical is such as to exclude  non-Europeans. We talk of "other classicisms" but the "other" here is emphasised -  not quite the same as European classicism, the one that goes all the way back to ancient Greece, by definition the cradle of European civilization.  

A black woman cannot be classically beautiful. That is a contradiction in terms. A black woman is beautiful but only as an exotic, primitive other. At least, that is the stereotype. The inherent racism of this proposition, when put this way, is easy to spot.

The day we see women as women rather than as ethnically defined will mark a change in fashion. Until then it will continue to be a barometer of society, reflecting its prejudices and stereotypes.

Photographer: Antonio Genco
(All photos modelled by Alex B.)
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Friday, 10 December 2010

Parliament Square 9/12/10

Here Come the StudentsImage by lewishamdreamer via Flickr

Today the news are all about how students yesterday behaved like yobs, attacked the car with Prince Charles and his wife Camilla on board, which happened to be on the protest route,  and generally caused London to come to a standstill and businesses to lose trade. Ah those dreadful students!

The coalition passed the tuition fee bill and now universities can charge up to £ 9,000 per year for a degree. The cuts have also gone through so inevitably some departments and the poorer colleges will close down, only certain subjects are being supported. People make light of it. "In America people pay over £20,000  for their university education. Why should students here not pay?"

Right, before I explode in a rage, let me start with yesterday's events. I was there. I saw it. We began - there were thousands and thousands of us - at 1 pm. The police led the protesters astray using plain clothes officers to make the protesters go  into areas from which they could not exit.  It is easy to lead a crowd. I saw one of these plain clothes policemen  talking over his radio and telling his colleagues he had got us to go to a particular place.  The police stepped in and  used kettling techniques. Kettling should be outlawed because it serves the purpose of dividing a crowd, dispersing it,  and keeping smaller groups prisoner in an area whose exit points are guarded by police.

DemonstrationImage by lewishamdreamer via Flickr

Some of us realised we were about to be  kettled and even before reaching Parliament Square! We had just gone past Trafalgar Square, past the ICA. So in small groups and even individually we moved away before the police began sealing the exits. We cut through the park, went through alleyways and reached Westminster Abbey. By then I was on my own and wanted to get to Parliament Square but the police had already cordoned it off. I could see people running in all directions and towards Victoria Street.

I took a short cut and went from the back of Westminster School - I was in touch through my mobile with my son, who was also at the protest but with another group. He knows the area well having been a student at the Great School. "Go down Great College Street" he said "you will find yourself at the other end of the House Of Parliament".  I did and found myself in an area completely covered in police vans.  And saw them. They were in full riot gear and had horses, getting ready to charge. It made me feel like throwing up. I looked like an ordinary  tourist, they politely asked me to leave and I ran back to Westminster School.

I walked towards  the Abbey. Some protesters were also there, about fifteen. They were talking to policemen and insisted they had the right to be in the Square. I joined them. One policeman tried to stop me, not grasping I was a protester myself. "I am with them" I said. He pushed me lightly, I joined the group  and we got into the Square. They told us we could not get out once in. On the other side of the Square I could see people being beaten up by those officers I had seen earlier on horseback. I did not go near.

We were kettled in Parliament Square. The plan had been for all the protesters to be there, a candle vigil was going to take place. Some of my colleagues who were teaching yesterday had emailed saying they'd come after 4 pm. Now we were considerably fewer than when we started and it was about 3 pm. Police stopped allowing people in and the exits were guarded by two rows of policemen all in full riot gear.
Alex B. Photographer: KnightPix

I met lots of press people while in the Square and even met one of the photographers I have worked with. Yesterday he was working as a photojournalist.  We lit a few fires, it was bitterly cold. Yes, there were a few people there that were climbing on statues, but they were a minority. Most of us were bewildered we had got separated from the others and did not have a clue about what was going on. My son was still on the other side, by Victoria Street. He called me at some point and advised me to plead with an officer to let me out. "There is going to be trouble, I can see they are getting ready". I was not up to fighting, my left wrist is fractured. So I asked an officer to escort me out. He looked at me, at first feeling uncertain, but then he let me go. I rejoined my son at St James' Park  and we walked back towards the Abbey. By then the vote had been cast. The protesters went wild. And the police hit hard. If people went wild  that was also and especially because they had been kettled! and the police would not let them out! Please read the Guardian latest blog on this.  Murdoch's press is going on about the horrible protesters, but what about the police?

So even before we get to the main issue, of what the cuts and the raising of the fees is going to do (easy to guess, it will kill off education in this country), let me ask: how can a democratic country employ such extreme police tactics to stop people from voicing their dissent? Next it will be all right for police officers to open fire on a group of protesters "in the interest of the public". Really?

As for the tuition fees, I have posted on this already. Just because American students pay through their noses it does not mean it is a fair system and it should be adopted. Education in this country needs an overhaul and its problems cannot be solved by denying access to higher education to those who cannot afford it.

Alex B in Parliament Square. Photographer: Vijay Jethwa

Mr Clegg has given a new meaning to the word pledge. He pledged before the election that he would not support the cuts and raising tuition fees.  In his vocabulary 'pledge' means something quite different from what his voters understood it to mean. When I voted for him I did not know he was Cameron in disguise!

One of the banners held by the protesters yesterday showed a grave with the words "R.I.P. Education".  Indeed. We will sorely miss you from our lives.

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Thursday, 9 December 2010

A resounding NO

 Photographer: Terri Lee-Shields
Today is the big day. The vote on the cuts in higher education is taking place in the afternoon of today, 9th December 2010. Students will be leading a massive demonstration that is expected to see at the very least 20,000 people.

College occupations and student demonstrations have been in full swing for the past month or so. Yesterday, many universities  had a walkout by students and lecturing staff.   Today my classes are cancelled and I will be there, demonstrating in Westminster, wearing my plaster - as it turns out I have fractured my left wrist, rather than just sprained it, so now it is in a plaster and I am wearing a sling. Damn nuisance!

Student occupations in the 21st century are a different affair from their 1968 counterpart.  The theme is not REVOLUTION but EDUCATION FOR ALL. So students have been surprising Londoners with a series of Teach -outs.  They gather in some well known square or station or public venue and deliver lectures. Faculty members join them.  Today, for example, a number of mini lectures took place on  tube trains from 3 till 5 pm.

This is a week when so many good things are happening to me, in my personal and professional life. I am grateful for this abundance of gifts, it goes without saying. But the best of all, yet to come, would be to know that we have defeated this insane government and its absurd policies. That's why today I will be demonstrating, plaster or not.

I posted about the cuts a few days ago. If they go ahead it will be the end of education in the UK. If they dont, it will be the end of the current government. Much is at stake.

Hetty Bowen, a Londoner who is 105 years old and who marched on the anti-Iraq war protests, has sent this solidarity message to the protesters:

"Education is the basis of civilised society. It is of primary importance for the future peace of the nations of the world".

That's why we are saying NO to the cuts.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Ageless Fabulosity

 Photographer: Talkingdrum

It is with immense pleasure that I can announce a week long feature of myself and Carla Johnson in the E-zine Anne of Carversville by Anne Enke

In Anne's words:

"Our Ageless Fabulosity celebration of timeless beauty and sensuality is officially in liftoff mode. Enjoy honest straight talk and inspiring words, combined with provocative, deeply-sensual images of two highly-credentialed, real-world women who are nude models, as well as established career women.

Meet Sensual and Superyoung women ‘of a certain age’ Dr. Carla Johnson and Dr. Alex B.

The clues to Dr. Carla Johnson’s real age, emerge in her interview by Alex B. We will post Carla’s interview of Alex B on Tuesday, December 7, 2010.

These interviews initially had nothing to do with me. After reading Anne of Carversville, Alex B and Carla asked me if I might be interested in publishing their private online dialogues and sensual, sometimes nude, art and fashion photography. Within two seconds, I said “Yes, let’s do it! I’m in.”

Ageless Fabulosity is focused holistically on mind, spirit and body. We will be talking to — and looking at — real women of a certain age — but always over 50 — who celebrate their sensuality and physicality as key to their self-identity, good health and positive well being.

I’m so excited by the confidence and positive attitudes of these two women about their bodies and sensual beauty, that I want to know them inside and out.

Behind every Sensual and Superyoung woman is a sense of control about the decisions she makes for herself. How have these women learned to love their bodies, celebrating them with confidence and a love of the woman in the mirror? Don’t answer “It’s easy with their genes and beauty.” I know that these women have challenges like we all experience.

Please add your questions of Carla and Alex B in the comments section after their interviews. Links to nude and sensual images of both Carla and Alex B will appear all week long at Anne of Carversville and Sensuality News"

Many of you have known Carla under a different name, I will not spoil your surprise. As for me, I continue to be Alex B to keep my 'other life' private, though Anne could not resist using my academic title. All right, at some point in my life I acquired a PhD...

Monday, 29 November 2010

Fashion, nudity and art

 Tearsheet from Jade, photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

Sometimes there is a real synergy among bloggers: a topic is picked up by one and then another responds with a parallel post, amplifying the concerns of the one who initiated the discussion. This is what I love most about blogging, the network of connections and links and the 'dialogic imagination' of the authors. 

My friend Unbearable Lightness has just posted on her blog What We Saw Today about fashion photography, its renewed attention to the human form and  its reclamation of nudity.

I noticed this trend last year when photographer Harley Weir asked me to pose nude among agency fashion models in a shoot for The Flux magazine, in which the fashion models were scantily dressed and I stood among them, completely naked. The inspiration for the shoot was Italian Renaissance and we all wore our hair in  braids.
 Tearsheet from Jade, photographers: Pascal Renoux, Schwanberg, Stuart Bentley, Frank Reinhold

Anna Enke, quoted by Unbearable Lightness, has remarked on the current interest shown by fashion photography in the female form, unclothed. Almost a contradiction in terms.  Unbearable Lightness has referred to the work by Newton and Avedon, both of whom celebrated the female form 'unclothed'. Newton's famous  "Sie Kommen" published in French Vogue in 1981 and picturing four supermodels dressed and naked 

"marked a turning point - and it was, of course, intended to be erotic metaphor for the changing image of woman". 

 Fashion photography  is fine art when at its best. And as fine art photography it embraces the human form and the naked body. It all bodes well for those of us who model nude... 

 Reconstruction of Helmut Newton's Sie Kommen by Stuart Bentley

 (All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A dire future

 Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

I have been home the whole day nursing a head cold and marking the first batch of assignments. It is that time of the year.

As I progressed in my task, I could not help feeling angry, not at my students, but at the terrible situation they find themselves in. Some of my students are really making an effort to be at college, they are the first generation in their family to be educated to degree level  but rather than being able to celebrate such an achievement and look forward to a bright future  they face uncertainty.

Suddenly education from being a right has almost overnight been turned into a privilege of the wealthy.  At the demonstrations that took place the other day all over the country  there were schoolchildren as well, marching with the consent of their parents, because they are the ones who will not be able to go to college once they leave school.  What is being adopted for Higher Education over here is loosely based on  the American model,  but unlike the US, Britain does not offer students any scholarship nor can it really be  expected that  these young people should work while studying, there are simply not enough jobs. And there are not enough jobs for all those who  have already graduated.

The cuts in Higher Education are a profoundly unjust, pseudo-solution to heal the economy, adopted by a myopic government that has been in office for just over six months and which began its systematic work of destruction the moment the PM moved into 10 Downing Street.

The mood is very somber amongst teaching staff too. We all know our jobs can go any time. For those of us who are involved with 'soft subjects' (dance and drama are definitely among them) the future is dire. Gone are the days when we could think of doing creative research.   At the start of the academic year we were more or less told, in not too many words, that research funding would now go only to those employed by "research intensive"  universities, a handful at the very top.

Why is research so important?  Without research  teaching becomes stale and  the development of knowledge and understanding within a discipline cannot be ensured. Research and creativity go hand in hand.  But this is not something the present government seems to appreciate.  It says yes to  science subjects and the analytical skills they help to develop,  but the critical thinking that the humanities foster is regarded as unnecessary.

The dance department where I still teach  is  one of the very best in the country but it happens to be at a university that is not deemed to be among the top five or six "research intensive" establishments, which are traditional old universities. All the humanities subjects are going to have their teaching grants withdrawn, according to government plans, and universities specialising in arts and humanities disciplines will be forced to increase fees dramatically to survive. This is bound to have the  knock-on effect of creating a ‘mono-culture’, within the arts, of graduates almost exclusively from well-off backgrounds.  The ground covered over the last decades in increasing diversity will be lost.

 Photographer: PWPimages
What is the solution? Take to the streets and demonstrate. Students are doing it everywhere in England.  The behaviour of the police has been horrendous. At the London demonstration on wednesday students were kettled.  Elsewhere, they have been beaten up and subjected to aggression and brutality. But more demonstrations are planned.  It is time to join in, that's for sure, to say no to a government that puts a price on everything and values absolutely nothing.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I am in in Carrie Leigh's NUDE

I am in Carrie Leigh's NUDE, in the Summer/Fall 2010 issue, out in about two weeks. I am more than thrilled, I could cartwheel around the world in less than 80 days.

Try and understand. I am a mature model. In the commercial world a model my age can expect to be sent to castings for youngish grandmas, but grandmas nevertheless, neatly dressed in a tweed skirt, a cashmere twinset and maybe a thread of pearls round my neck.  I went to quite a few of such castings since I joined a model agency in 2005 and was  told to keep my hair in a neat bob, modern grandmas do not have long tresses. I complied, then after a couple of years I refused to conform. My hair, which fortunately grows fast,  is now waist length and naturally white.
Photographer: Nic Donovan
But ...hold on. I do nude modelling and have done so for the past two and half years. What, nude AT YOUR AGE?

Actually, no one has ever said that to me, not this rudely, apart from my 24 year old son, who thinks I am the oldest woman on the planet. He was bemused that I should pose nude in front of the camera and thought I was rather eccentric, to put it mildly.

 Being a nude model, having passed the 50 threshold is not  'normal'.  I still remember the unflattering comments left by photographers on my Purestorm thread - for those who dont know, Purestorm is a model/photographer site, like Model Mayhem - when I asked for a portfolio review. Someone suggested I should drastically change my hairstyle and get some colouring done.

Thus being featured in Carrie Leigh's NUDE  is a tremendous achievement for me.  I could give up modelling tomorrow and I would have something to show for it. Carrie Leigh's NUDE is THE fine art quarterly for nude photography. It stands for quality and it commands respect. I am featured there because London based Italian photographer Marcello Pozzetti submitted one of the pictures he took of me for the annual international art nude competition. That was last December. Marcello's photo was among the finalists, it received a Honourable Mention  and  was selected  for publication in NUDE.  But I am the model!  An over-age model, at that.  NUDE's editor realised how unusual this was  and I was given a write up of my own in the 'Nudes around the World' section.

And as if being in NUDE was not enough, I was, more or less simultaneously, featured in JADE, the magazine of the Guild of Erotic Artists, in their November 2010 issue, with a ten page spread with photos of me by Marcello Pozzetti, Vernon Trent, Darran Porter, Paddy Johnston, Ray Spence, Korrigan (Erwan), David Nuttall, George Swift, Hervé Baudat, Stuart Bentley, Pascal Renoux, Victor Schwanberg and Frank Reinhold.

So how does it feel to be feted as a mature model? In truth, my age is not something I think about all the time. I often forget about it, I am sure most people do not think about their age until their birthday comes and I am no different from anyone else. I just love modelling and I do it whenever I get an opportunity. I am resilient.

Actually,  I find that many people, of all ages, react very positively to my modelling work. On deviantArt I received more than 150,000 page views in just over two years and the flattering comments come in by the dozens every day. Age is after all a number and we all have a different way of aging. My mother is 89 years old now and a complete wreck, physically and mentally. My therapist on the other hand is 88, a vegan, still in great demand for conferences and workshops and continues to run classes in authentic movement, a technique used in dance therapy. I believe that if you live your life in an unhealthy way sooner or later your body and  mind will show it. I take good care of myself and I would even if I did not model.

 I would like to thank the whole team at NUDE, especially its indefatigable editor in chief, Carrie Leigh and its Managing Editor, Carla Johnson,  for the attention they have given me. I would also like to thank Unbearable Lightness and her inspirational blog, What We Saw Today, for her friendship and for being her, one of the best 'over-age' models around.

I really can't wait to get my copy of NUDE. Christmas has come early for me this year...

 (All photos modelled by Alex B. except for  Carrie Leigh's NUDE cover. The photo by Pozzetti is not the one in NUDE)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Is blogging a form of vanity?

 Photographer: Suki-Wilde
 My dear friend Unbearable-Lightness wrote in a recent post that a female fellow blogger decreed that all bloggers are vain, this is why they write blogs.  My oh my! I wonder why one would write a blog post about the vanity of blogging, it totally beats me.
I left a comment on UL's post. Then I began to reflect on this as I too have been told not only that I am a narcissist willing to put myself on display in any possible way but also that I write drivel. Does anyone read your garbage? did my admirer ask. There are forty-six people listed among my followers, so presumably yes, they read my garbage.
To a number of people writing a blog is apparently a big no no. A resistance to writing in general do you think? A resistance to the idea of writing something that can be - but actually is not - somewhat too personal?
Do I believe blogging is all down to vanity? Let's see. There are two things to consider here: 1.  the relationship of blogging to writing a journal and 2. writing online. I will speak entirely from a personal angle.

 Photographer: Martin Robinson
A blog (weblog) is a diary of sort, a journal shared with followers, usually family and friends but truly many more people, especially if it can be found by search engines.  There are thousands and thousands  of blogs on the internet, some to be accessed by invitation only. They can be as general or as specialised as one wants them to be.  They all share some commonalities  in that bloggers can publish their work online as and when they wish and can expand and/or delete posts at will. Blogging makes full use of hypertext - I use Zemanta occasionally to link up with other websites or I insert manually my chosen  links in the body of the post. Also blogging is not quite a formal piece of writing nor an entirely informal one. Posts are rarely overlong and even if they are somewhat academic in tone, as some indeed are, because of the subject matter, they do not follow the conventions of  referencing. That is left to scholarly journals alone - there are some which are published online rather than in print but it is very clear to readers that they are academic, peer-reviewed journals, usually accessible by subscription or through the library website of one's university, using a password.
The blog evolved out of the personal journal with the idea that someone else would read your writing, in other words a blog presupposes a readership, whereas a personal journal can be entirely your own and record your most intimate observations for your eye alone.
At various stages in my life I wrote personal journals. For me writing a journal always involved writing to someone, even though it might have been an imaginary interlocutor. In other words I have always needed a reader as I understood the process of writing as a dialogic one. I used to be a keen letter writer and later, email writer. I have often written missives which were in fact a way for me to clarify my own thoughts and should have been addressed to myself. A couple of close relationships have floundered because of my prolific and at time prolix letter writing - I used to find it inconceivable that others would have a block about writing and could not cope with my probing epistles. I have always loved novels which used the device of letter writing to present the point of view of different characters - I wrote a post some months ago about Les Liaisons Dangereuses which to me is one of the very best novels ever conceived and which remains the epistolary novel par excellence.
 I have always been fascinated by online writing. My first involvement as an online writer was  back in 2002 as an academic. I was invited to join the Stanford University Humanities Lab/Metamedia collaboratory and I did, using it as a platform to present my research and involve  readers  in conversation, through the use of comments. It was so new at the time! I later even published an online monograph, also through the Stanford collaboratory, I was excited that writing online allowed me to explore hypertext, insert photographs and QuickTime video-clips and my writing could be accessed by anyone anywhere in the world.
 When I began to model I became an assiduous reader of What We Saw Today and last year I  began to contribute to it. Then I felt the need to branch out on my own and write this blog.  Using my nude model persona for blogging matters to me because modelling is an important part of my life and one which for a number of reasons I need to keep separate from my other activities. Yet I am a model as well as a therapist as well as a dancer as well as a college lecturer as well as a mother and so and so forth.
I am currently training in a profession where writing journals is constantly encouraged. I am  told all the time to keep a journal for my creative dance experience, a journal for my clinical practice etc. Recording my thoughts and reactions seems to be central to my understanding of my own location as a therapist. These journals are not just for me.  They are not assessed by my tutors, but the practice of exchanging journals and reading aloud from each other's is well established in the classroom, as a learning tool. From the personal journal to the blog the step is a logical one. There are certain conventions which need to be observed when writing a blog but there are many similarities between a blog and a journal. A dance therapist whom I recently met maintains a blog about her own experiences as a therapist, suitably anonymizing her clients and always starting from her own subjectivity. She is a phenomenologist in her approach and her practice, including her writings, embraces this perspective.
Writing a blog is not at all to do with vanity. Of course, if you are vain your blog will reflect that, just as so many other things you do or say will. But a blog per se is not to do with vanity at all. For me it remains a personal journal modified  for online publication, but ultimately it is a journal and as such it encourages reflexivity.  And because it can be shared with others it encourages a dialogue and an exchange and thus one's  growth as a person and as a human being. Vive le blogging!

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Creativity and love or what keeps you young

Photographer: Mari-Andre
Recently  I reconnected with a yoga teacher of mine. We first met in 2002 at an ashtanga yoga workshop. The workshop tutor at some point suggested that I should start learning from this woman, Linda  (not her real name), who had just started teaching. She thought our energies were compatible. Linda was over the moon about having a student picked by her teacher. We clicked and she helped me to really stretch and learn the finest details of ashtanga, drawing from her own experience and teaching me how to listen to my body.

Ashtanga yoga vinyasa  is a physically demanding form of yoga and if it is not taught properly you can easily injure yourself. Among other things it builds up the upper arm muscles because of the vinyasas, which are inserted between the series of poses,  and which help you to  breathe deeply from the abdomen. To do a vinyasa you lift yourself from a seated cross legged position putting all your weight in your arms then with a deep exhalation you extend your legs backwards lowering yourself to the floor into a "plank" position, then perform "upward dog" and "downward dog" poses.This is done every time you come out of  a pose from the primary series before you get started on the next one in the sequence.

I was in complete awe of this woman, whom I met in class regularly every week and who seemed to be so flexible and strong. In ashtanga you go to taught classes but you also do a guided self practice , which is what really makes you progress.  This teacher was always there for self practice sessions, ready to correct you and guide you through the sequences. I did not know how old she was, she just looked young, she seemed to be in complete control of her body.  I went on a short yoga holiday taught by her and one morning over breakfast after practice  she revealed to all of us - there was a group of six who went on that holiday - how she came to be a yoga teacher.

She had had a fairly normal upbringing during which yoga had been  very far removed from her experience. She left  school after her A levels, subsequently doing some secretarial training. Throughout her teens and into early adulthood she had been  severely overweight and  in bad health.  She smoked heavily as well, a habit she picked up soon after she turned fifteen. She showed us some photos of her when she was a size 18 - she is about 5'6" - , she always carries one to remind herself of the way she used to be. We could not believe it was her but the face was the same, we definitely recognised her. We struggled to associate the lithe woman we knew with the one that stared at us in that picture.

She worked  for a while for her local council and at some point there was a major debacle at her work place and she was suspended, and eventually she lost her job. This stressed her and she went into a state of severe depression. She stopped eating and her weight began to drop dramatically. While she was waiting for the investigation to take place - she gave no details about what happened - she saw a doctor.  Rather than giving her medication he recommended she should start an healthy diet regimen, cut down on smoking and do some exercise.  She joined a local gym where they offered, among the various activities, some yoga classes. She went to one and that class completely changed her life. She decided she'd continue her yoga practise even though she found it extremely difficult.  She had met with a real challenge.

She practised regularly, quit smoking, went on advanced retreats, went to Mysore in India to learn at Pattabhi Jois ashram, the guru of ashtanga. Then she came back, joined other yoga classes in the UK and finally began to teach yoga, after completing her own teacher training. I attended her classes for nearly five years and then switched to Bikram. But recently, as I said in an earlier post, I started feeling restless and wanted a break from hot yoga. So after doing some trial sessions at another yoga studio, I decided to go back to Linda's classes.  I had not seen her in three years and I walked in without prior warning.  She was very happy to see me  again and I have now signed up for more sessions, though I will also continue to visit the Bikram studio.

I dont know how old Linda is, she looks as if she were in her late twenties/early thirties but I know she must be a lot older than that,  because of her life experience. She is beautiful but it is more than just looks. She has tremendous compassion for others and is a dedicated teacher. She absolutely loves what she does and it shows. She has come a long way from the awkward, unhealthily overweight young woman she used to be. As a yoga teacher she travels a lot, organising retreats in various countries - she and her partner are doing one in Sri Lanka in April, I wish I could go!

 Photographer: George Imber

The other day Unbearable Lightness posted about youthfulness and ageing gracefully. I am catching up with all the blogs I follow rather slowly, I was away for a few days and then I was immediately thrown into a lot of work for my DMP course and all the other bits I do, including life modelling.

I meant to comment extensively on that post, which really spoke to me. But I thought that rather than cluttering UL's blog with a long comment I could write here.  Says Unbearable Lightness:
"Sophia Loren, who now has the credentials to tell us longevity's secret, says your mind, creativity, and talents take you far.  Others tell me it's fitness, butter and cake, passion, romance, and the ability to appreciate the simple and the beautiful in life. I think the secret encompasses all of the above.  But the greatest of these is Love."
I could not agree more.  Love for others and for yourself, acknowledging that you yourself are beautiful and a gift of love. If you truly love, appreciate your own talent and  respect yourself, you truly love and respect others and there will be an aura of eternal youthfulness around you. It is a very simple truth and yet one so hard to grasp. I am not talking about selfish love or an egotistical attitude.  I am talking about something else. A love for yourself which is so great and unselfish that it encompasses everything and everyone. To me Linda seems to exemplify this, in her life and in her practice.  A truly inspirational teacher.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

My Project Educate interview with Quietchildae

I have been away for a few days, enjoying the sunshine in Spain and modelling for Martin Robinson's art classes. I also did a fashion/editorial shoot in Murcia. I got back this afternoon.
While I was away Project Educate on deviantArt published my interview with Quietchildae,  Art Nude and Fetish Photography Gallery Moderator.
ProjectEducate "is a project to promote and support artistic growth and knowledge throughout the community. The project includes contests, interviews, and various other events for artistic and community involvement".
From 7th to 13th November it was Art Nude week, with lots of interviews and a discussion on dA  mature content policy which is of great importance as people never know what is acceptable as mature content and what is deemed to be pornographic. For all of us involved in art nude photography these are important questions.

I am reposting here my interview, accompanied by the thumbnails of  the works chosen from my dA gallery by Quietchildae.  It was a great honour to be involved this way in Project Educate and I hope that some of the issues raised will stimulate further thinking.

How did you get into modeling in general, and art nude modeling specifically?

I began life modeling when I was a dance student. I did it for some time but only because I needed the extra cash, I was not interested in pursuing life modeling as a career. Then after a long gap I started doing it again in my forties and really enjoyed it. Simultaneously I began doing commercial modeling, signing up with an agency. From life modeling the transition to art nude photographic modeling was easy and I set myself up as an independent art nude model i.e. my agency is not involved in getting me work as a nude model. This is my third year as a photographic nude model.

Photographers: Marcello Pozzetti, Terri Slater, George Swift

What was your favorite shoot?

The one I did recently in Dublin with model Michael Cooney for Solus-Photography (Michael Culhane). I really enjoyed working with him and the pictures are breathtaking.

What would you say was the strangest thing you've done for a shoot?

I have not done anything that strikes me as being strange.

What do you look for in a photographer? What makes you want, or not want to work with someone?

I always check their portfolio. I look for imaginative shots and the ability to bring out the inner world of the model.

Photographers: Michael Culhane, John Setsaa, Elisabeth Jakobsen

What are some positive and negative gains and experiences you've had as a model?

As a model I have learned to trust myself. So far modeling has been a positive experience for me, I cannot think of anything negative.

Do you tell people about being a model? How do the people in your life deal with it, if they know?

I don’t usually tell people, unless they are into photography. But I am not paranoid about being found out. It is one of the things I do and I am proud of my work.

Do you consider yourself a confident person?

I guess so, though we all have our moments of doubt

Photographers: Antonio Genco, Gina King, Ray Spence

What would you say to people who insist that art nude photography is "just porn" or has no artistic value?

I have given up on trying to make them see things differently. You can’t argue with fools. I just keep away from them.

What role do you play in creating the final image? That is to say, is it a collaborative process with the photographer to execute a concept? How so?

It is a collaborative process but I tend to be the kind of model who tunes into the photographer’s ideas and feelings and then I try to deliver making the whole thing my own. On paid shoots I do as the photographer asks and I may not bother with the images at all especially if the photographer is not good enough by my standards. On commercial shoots I just do what the client asks for – clients can be a real pain. The best shoots, in collaborative terms, are tfp. But there are some photographers who try and dominate the shoot . When they do that on a tfp shoot I never go back to them. I sometimes refuse paid jobs if I feel that the photographer is not right for me. I recently worked with someone who paid me generously and insisted on booking me for a second shoot without letting me see what he had done – it was his second nude shoot. I told him politely that before committing myself I’d have to see what the images were like. He took it badly. I will not be working again with him even if he throws money at me. I don’t depend on modeling for a living and I am at that stage in my modeling career where the quality of the images I appear in is paramount.

Photographers: George Swift, Martin Robinson, Jan Murphy

How do you feel about working with other models?

Oh I love it. I have worked twice already with Mike Cooney and would love to do some other work with him in future.

Who do you find inspirational?

Oh this is such a difficult question. But amongst art models I definitely find Unbearable-Lightness inspirational, she has shown that beauty has no age and that intelligence more than looks is what gives you the best results in making a good picture. Amongst the supermodels I love Vera Lehndorff who used to model as Veruschka in the 1960s (Richard Avedon adored her and regarded her as his muse) and then turned her back on fashion to become a body artist. And currently I adore Kristen McMenamy’s long white hair, it is even longer than mine. Her Vogue Italia shoot with Steven Meisel was phenomenal, inspired by the Gulf of Mexico ecological disaster. She looked like a wounded bird, all covered in oil on the beach. She truly could deliver, I cannot imagine any other model doing it. 

What is your dream shoot that you've always wanted to do, but for whatever reasons, haven't done yet?

I would love to do conceptual/high fashion work, like Kristen McMenamy. I do have a very distinctive look and I believe I could pull it off. I need to find the right photographer. 

Photographers: Ray Spence, Joanna Novek, Toby Slater

What advice would you give to new models in the field?

Trust yourself. Know your limitations and work around them. Establish firm boundaries. Keep your wits about you but do not get paranoid. Most photographers are nice people, though some, as in all walks of life and professions, are not very intelligent. You need to realize that paid work is not necessarily the work that will give you the best images so plan for portfolio shoots accordingly. And do not be afraid of experimenting. 
(here I would add: do not be afraid of turning photographers down if shooting with them does not feel right)

If someone wanted to book you, where else could they find you, and what's the best way to get in contact you?

Through a note on deviantArt or by visiting my website 

Thanks again, Quietchildae!

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Monday, 8 November 2010

Questions, questions, questions

Photographer: Stuart Bentley, after Helmut Newton
Lacanian psychoanalyst and poststructuralist literary critic Julia Kristeva coined the term intertextuality or "the shaping of meaning of a text through other texts". For Kristeva intertextuality conceptually married Ferdinand de Saussure semiotics with Bakhtin's heteroglossia or the multiple meanings in each text.
Since then intertextuality has assumed a host of other meanings and it is not only a well established literary device, which pre-existed Kristeva's formulation, but also a critic's tool in his/her theoretical armoury. And of course it is not only applicable to literature. Any art work is participant in a network of dialogues, allusions, citations and  parodies, whether it be a piece of music, a dance, a painting, a sculpture, a photograph and so on.
One of the greatest contributions of postmodernism at its best has been the irreverent attitude of art makers - I use the term purposefully, as the artist, especially Artist with a capital A is a modernist construct  heavily critiqued  by the postmodern - and the elevation of the pastiche to artistic status. Postmodern  intertextuality has often been taken to such an extreme as to subvert notions of plagiarism and copyright, also firmly embedded in modernist thinking.
 Here I can't help thinking of the wonderful Yvonne Rainer who re-choreographed The Rite of Spring in 2007 gently poking fun at herself  and being extremely irreverent in her attitude to 'sacred monsters' such as Stravinski and Nijinski,  using bits of the original musical score but also the soundtrack of the 2003 BBC film on Nijinski, with voices of people in the audience shouting when all hell broke loose on the night of The Rite premiere.The web of references and allusions in this piece by Rainer is rich  and not necessarily evident on first viewing.

Not all postmodern pastiches succeed in maintaining  a satirical strand which is what constitutes the strength of pastiche as a device.  Frederic Jameson has been particularly critical of the blandness of much postmodern work, which in his view decontextualises parody, robbing it of its effectiveness. This has been countered by Linda Hutcheon's emphasis on "postmodernism's willingness to question all ideological positions, all claims to ultimate truth".
An interesting development  was in the 1980s the so called 'appropriation art', where the actual appropriation (or citation) was an artistic theme. Photographer Sherrie Levine for example quoted photographer Walker Evans by photographing his work in her own photographs.  Appropriation was not necessarily a new idea - Picasso too used appropriation as a commentary and the Dadaists came definitely very close to it with their idea of the 'ready-made' - but ideas of power, gender and consumerism were more clearly articulated, to stay with the example, in Sherrie Levine's work than in earlier attempts and that was the strength of appropriation as such.
 We are somewhat past postmodernism, at this point in time, and  are in the process of reassessing it. The context has changed and somehow postmodernism no longer seems to be a sufficiently valid framework to understand today's world and its artistic production. But certain things have come to stay and  the notion of a more political pastiche is to be welcomed.
 Photographer: Terri Lee-Shields
Where am I going with all this? I have been thinking about my own work as a model and what I would like to develop in collaboration with photographers. I have also been thinking about my own writing and where I would like to take it. My dance work too is in the making, even though at the moment it is the therapeutic aspect which I am developing.
It is that time of the year, when the season stimulates stock taking. I am mulling over a few ideas, that's all. If anyone has a suggestion to make I am all ears.
(All photos modelled by Alex B)
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