Thursday, 22 July 2010

The story of Nandanar or overcoming limitations

I was going through my books this morning and found the notebook from my bharata natyam dance classes in India back in the early 1990s. From 1993 to 1994 I lived in Madras (now called Chennai) and had the opportunity to study dance with a well known master. I went to dance classes everyday - it was affordable to do so. My dance teacher practised a softer style of bharata natyam, full of beautiful movements reconstructed from temple sculptures, very elegant and sensuous. The choreography  was superb.

Photographer: Nick Savy

When I was not dancing myself I used to watch the seniors in their  class, learning an abhinaya piece. Abhinaya  pieces are based on  a combination of dance movements with no narrative and dance movements with a denotative meaning, utilised to tell a story through gestures.

There are several such compositions. The one that was being taught during the time of my visit was the story of Nanadanar. I started learning some sections but never completed it. It is such a moving piece, reading the lyrics brought tears to my eyes.

Photographer: Paul Viant

Nandanar was an untouchable by birth and as such he was not allowed to worship in a Hindu temple, which is only open to caste Hindus.  He was a devotee of the god Shiva and wanted to have a glimpse of the Lord in the beautiful temple of Chidambaram where the Lord is enshrined in his form as the Lord of the cosmic dance (Nataraja).  Nandanar  greatly feared that the Brahmin priests in charge of the temple  would prevent him from entering, but his devotion overcame this obstacle, he stood outside the temple and the Lord granted his wish, revealing himself to him. Nandanar became physically merged with Siva in a blaze of light.

I have seen beautiful renditions of this story and one of its best interpreters is the amazing Dominique Delorme a French dancer who has been practising bharata natyam for decades and is one of the best dancers of the genre - this surely proves that bharata natyam is an international and  cosmopolitan dance genre, no longer limited to Indian practitioners and to India alone.

Photographer: David J. Green

 The story  never fails to have an impact on me. It still has relevance in contemporary India where caste prejudice, especially in rural areas, has not been overcome. It is also relevant as a metaphor in relation to one's own life. Perseverance, the power and strength of one's convictions, overcoming prejudice and pettiness: all this can be read into the story, as well as the notion that beauty, truth and light will reveal themselves to those who seek it.

Photographer: Gina King

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Monday, 19 July 2010

Older and classier

(I posted this originally on my deviantArt journal last October. I am reproducing it here with some  edits.)

Younger models please forgive me, but today I would like to write something in defense of and in praise of older models, the 40+ gang.

 Photographer: David Nuttall

 I did not do art nude until I met Wolfgang Kettler  in March 2008 and did a shoot for his website which involved nudity. Wolf found me through a life modelling website, he prefers to work with life models and I fitted the bill (I have been a life model for years). Since then I have done a lot of photographic nude, I would say that  90% of my work is art nude.

When I joined deviantArt my age immediately drew attention. Sometimes people can be very rude about it but usually they are very complimentary. I obviously like the compliments, they make me feel good, though I know one should take them with a pinch of salt. The point is, however, that my modelling is always assessed in relation to my age. Physically I am very fit, very flexible, I know my yoga practice gives me a healthy and toned body. But my age seems to define me, there is no getting away from it. I am never a model, only ever an older model.

Photographer: George Swift

It is difficult to be accepted as a model, if you are older. When I submit my portfolios to photographers for art nude or life style, a good percentage of them writes back saying that my look is strong and they would be happy to work with me, for their own portfolios/personal explorations. But when I go for a commercial casting it can get ugly, like when my agency sent me to a casting for a particular hair show and one of the women on the selection panel said, as soon as I entered the room, after a moment of embarrassed silence,‘To be honest we don’t want SOMEONE LIKE YOU’ I was so stunned, I just walked out saying nothing, not even handing in my form and card, I wanted to cry but I did not, not until I was out. Luckily it was a rainy day so tears could mingle with raindrops. When I am angry, I either cry or turn very sarcastic.

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

Of course! My hair is not coloured, hence the reaction. Bookers often tell me that they cannot really put me forward for much commercial work with hair like mine. The good thing is that whereas commercial work is getting scarcer, as I refuse to colour my hair or cut it in a bob, art nude remains something that the model arranges for herself, agencies do not do bookings for art nude, by and large, and I have found that, ironically, I am getting more work as an art nude model than as a commercial one.

 An older model is too much of a challenge, not only photographically, but also in terms of personal interaction. Older women seem to know what they want and will say it. It can be difficult to be challenged and questioned all the time. For a photographer, to trust an older model does not come easy. I often see it in the look on photographers’ faces when they first meet me, with my clothes on – can she really deliver? When I strip and begin to move and pose, things change. I can confidently say I know what I am doing and I do it, but before we get to that stage my portfolio is crucial for a photographer to make the decision to work with me.

Photographer: Ashley Cameron

I suspect that in the case of younger models there is the possibility they may be looked at in terms of potential, whereas for someone like me potential is not an option, my modelling ability has to be demonstrated fully in the work I submit at selection stage. And even then, people may have misgivings. A photographer who wanted to switch genres, and take up nude, recently contacted me and we were in the process of finalising the booking when he suddenly told me he had decided to use a YOUNGER model, no need for me to turn up, thank you very much. I was stunned he had to make it a point to tell me he was now using someone younger. But I have learnt to develop a very thick skin.

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

Having said this, I have had the opportunity to work with photographers who were happy to take me as I am, who really liked my look, believed in my ability and wanted to do something with me. They also taught me much and I appreciate the fact they were willing to share. I have also been very fortunate to connect  with the wonderful Unbearable Lightness who at 65, is a presence to reckon with in art nude. UL’s friendship has been invaluable to me and one of the reasons why when I turned 50, I did not decide that my foray into art nude modelling was over, on the contrary , I would definitely stay.

Photographer: Darren Brade

I totally believe that modelling is a skill and that youth and conventional good looks are not a prerequisite. Obviously there are types of modelling I cannot and wish not do. I am happy to look my age,I don’t want to be made to look younger, I do not want my bodily imperfections to be airbrushed. I look forward to the day when we can see models of all ages, all ethnicities, all body shapes and think of them as models and evaluate their performance as models on the way they pose and interact with the camera rather than on the loveliness of their eyes, breasts, buttocks, complexions and youthful appearance. But then I have always been a dreamer.

(All photographs modelled by AlexB)

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Insulting by way of a gift

The importance of knowing about the significance of gift giving is essential in cross cultural interactions - there was a bit of gossip when the Obamas met the Browns a year or so ago  and 'wrong' gifts were exchanged.  Anyone who has business dealings in the Middle East, for example,  is usually primed on  the gift etiquette of the Arab speaking people in order to avoid giving offense. This is often crucial and a prerequisite to conducting business.

 Photographer: David J.Green

I come from a relatively extended family with a complex etiquette of gift giving.  It is so convoluted that faux pas are made all the time and on my last visit I apparently managed to behave in a way that some relatives of mine have found bordering on rudeness and showing an uncaring attitude.

A gift is not simply a nice gesture and a token of love and affection, even though that is the main idea behind it - and I swear that to me this is what it is.  No, a gift is a lot more than that.  A gift can be given to smooth out an awkward social situation. It can be given as a bribe. Or it can be given as a way to insult someone without ever uttering an improper word.

The gift as an insult is something that needs some mastering. It requires:
1. a highly suspicious mind on the part of the giftee who must be easily prone to taking offense and be  a bit of a puffed up ball
2. a wry sense of humour on the part of the giver and ideally
3.  an ongoing feud.

I have happily received gifts which were meant as an insult but I never suspected it, and even when I did,  it did not bother me so I enjoyed the gift and left the giver to brood and consider why they had not managed to upset me at all.  But then I do not take offense easily and I am not a puffed up ball.

If  an ongoing feud is not available, the next ingredient is a relationship that is difficult and  full of pitfalls and definitely not one in which the misunderstandings can be easily undone, without causing problems all round e.g. think of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, who positively dislike each other and who, for as long as the marriage to the son lasts will have to interact on certain occasions and exchange gifts perforce. Or siblings who resent each other, especially if one of their parents is not the same - different mother and/or different father. Or ex partners. These are not the only scenarios. Just imagine any situation with the potential for conflict and you are in business.

The gift as an insult maybe anything, from an item of clothing deliberately chosen in the wrong size, to make the point that the recipient is too fat or too thin or too short or whatever other shortcoming  you may want to emphasize, knowing that the recipient will mind, to a gift item which the giver knows is going to be much disliked, or something that can be taken as a criticism - have you ever agonised over the hidden meaning of a deodorant given to you as a gift? 

The gift as an insult is also given in situations where the giftee has been  guilty of very rude behaviour towards the giver. When I say "gift as an insult" let me clarify that I am not including in this category an uncouth  message full of four letter words sent on someone's birthday, for example, as a birthday present. That belongs to the gutter and hardly ever has any lasting  impact. No, I am talking about really nice presents, given to make a point.

"Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" said Laocoon in the Aeneid à propos the Greeks' famous horse.  "Whatever that is, I fear the Greeks when they bear presents" Imagine the situation: the person who has been guilty of bad behaviour or with whom you have had a fight  receives a gift from you,  the person they have upset (and who would be entitled to an apology). This is done  at the earliest opportunity, a birthday or some such. Ostensibly, it is a peace making gift, a lovely gesture whose message would be 'Let bygones be bygones, all is forgiven', just as the Greeks did to the Trojans. But, without necessarily being in a Trojan war scenario, at the very least the giver does not give a damn about the recipient, s/he is simply making a statement about their own superiority in manners, upbringing and, possibly, class (if you live in the UK, class distinction and awareness of class distinction is something you can never ever forget, it is a defining trait of  English culture).

The recipient here has a few options: s/he can return the gift, but that would be seen as uncouth by everyone so the gift giver would still be superior (besides the gift could be reused, so the giver is definitely not going to lose out). He could throw the gift away - but usually the giver will choose something that cannot be thrown away so easily, a gift subscription to a magazine for example , or a year gym membership (double insult), or something along those lines. Besides what is the point of throwing a gift away if the giver cannot see this is what is being done to the gift?

If that is the chosen course of action, the giver will still be able to demonstrate their superiority because this is in the act of giving, with all the fanfare that accompanies the gift, what happens to it afterwards is of no consequence - and someone who is giving for the purpose of insulting will make sure that several others will know about the gift.

The recipient could pretend the gift was never given and never thank the giver, thus proving their complete lack of social graces, a point that the giver was bent on making and will make sure the rest of the world (well, immediate community) knows about.  Or they could bide their time and retaliate and it would be up to them to find  suitable means to do so, usually through a gift of their own.

 Photographer: Michael Culhane

Or, in a very laid back manner,  they could quietly accept the gift, even thank the giver and get on with their lives, something I personally would choose to do.

What was my faux pas? When I met my brother's grandchildren I gave them presents bought in Italy rather than England. That was construed as me not caring much about the children and buying my presents at the last minute and as an afterthought. However, the children liked them - my reason for acting like I did was that I did not know them well and needed to spend a couple of days with them to see what they really liked, which I did. So now I am known as a delightful great-aunt - yes, I am a great-aunt, is that not wonderful?
My view is that a gift is a gift and I will always accept it, even if given with the intention of insulting me. It is a state of mind, I choose not see the insult and choose to appreciate the gesture of giving. I have learnt a very important lesson: if you see others always in a negative light, this is how you will be perceived. Why get caught up in an endless paranoia?

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Being an artist's model

Some time ago model Brooke Lynne posted on her blog about being a life model as well as a photographic model. I followed it up with a post of my own on What We Saw Today, whose text I am pasting below - it was one of the posts that had to be taken down because of the mix up with photographs.

Alex by John Skelcher

Today a comment on Brooke's blog  made it more relevant than ever, particularly since I have just returned from a short spell of modelling for artist John Skelcher at his Le Marche retreat, in central Italy. There for three and a half days I posed morning and afternoon for a group of accomplished artists, some of whom quite well known in their respective countries, whom John taught a refresher course in life drawing and which led to them getting started on a painting, using either oil or acrylic.

Below is the text I first posted on WWST:

Alex  modelling for artist  Martin Robinson in Rojales

"It is an uncanny coincidence that art nude model Brooke Lynne should have posted about her experience of being a life model in her blog. I was about to write about my own experiences as a life model just before I read it - UL sent me the link. I did not know Brooke also did life modeling, it seems to be something that several art models do. In England, art model Erin does both photographic and life.

I began life modeling when I was in my early twenties. At the time I was an impoverished student and with my dance background, life modeling seemed an easy option. Not that the cash was ever sufficient, it just helped a little, that's all.

My first class was at an Adult Education Institute and I had to hold a pose, which seemed to be quite simple, for the whole 2 hour class, with breaks. Ouch, it was a standing pose, with me leaning on a chair which sustained  part of my weight. I was psychologically unprepared for the discomfort, which was considerable. My limbs went numb and time seemed to have come to a standstill. I felt a little uncomfortable about my nudity at first but soon enough I forgot about it. My main problem was to resist the urge to move. Then, like Brooke says, I discovered the tiny imperceptible shifts one can make while holding the pose, the adjustments to the spine and ribcage while breathing and concentrated on that. You do move while posing, only your movements are barely noticeable.

Alex at Body Worlds Life Drawing class,  May 2009, photographer: John Meade

I found my first session went well, so I began posing more regularly. I found it challenging and it complemented my dance. I worked for artists doing one to one sessions, I did portrait sittings and various group classes. I then stopped, life modeling was not my chosen career, even though by the time I stopped I had become quite experienced. I was a good enough life model but my heart was not in it.

Then after a very long break, I went back to life modeling some five years ago. And it was a completely different experience. I fell back into it easily and really enjoyed doing it. Soon after I began doing photographic modeling. I always feel that my life modeling has given me the stamina for photographic modeling. Again, as Brooke says, yoga has helped. But life modeling by itself gives you such an incredible awareness of your body, it does not have to be sustained by any yoga practice.

You learn about poses, about how long you can hold them, about stretching yourself and also about your own limitations. When I do life I often adapt poses I use for photographic modeling by making them more sustainable over a longer period of time and vice versa. My body has become so attuned that I can easily tell when 10 minutes are over or 20 or 40. I have learnt to listen to my body.

But the most enjoyable thing is the time you have to really focus on something, to think, and I have created stories, analysed situations, planned projects while sitting for a life drawing class. Life modeling gives you a license to day dream. Conversely, you can use that time to really feel and experience yourself in the present, to learn about breathing.

When I work for some artists they often don't talk but put music on or sometimes they work in silence and all I hear is the pencil or charcoal on the paper. Some other artists love talking and engage you in conversation. I find this a little more tiring as it does not allow me to go deep inside myself.

Alex  by  artist Alex Rennie

If I am posing for a class, I often listen to the comments of the tutor. I have learnt so much about the visual arts just through sitting for a life drawing class, about different techniques or even about artists, as tutors will sometimes discuss the work of the greats, be they Renaissance masters or more contemporary artists such as Bacon and  Freud.

I do believe that any art nude photographic model should try at some point to sit for an artist. It is definitely enriching to do so. You also learn a very important art: that of patience"

Alex by artist Hadassah Berry
This was my earlier post. All I can add to it is that the more art modelling I do, the better photographic model I become and the more I enjoy it.

(Life modelling by Alex B.)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The gaze, visuality and Les Liaisons

On a hot summer afternoon  in the hills of Le Marche, in Central Italy, where I have been spending the last couple of days modelling for some artists I have recently become acquainted with, I have just finished re-reading (for the third time!) the 18th century novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) by Pierre Chordelos de Laclos. I rediscovered this book in the English translation by Douglas Parmée last April and posted about  it on What We Saw Today.
 Photographer: Frank Reinhold

I was not meaning to post on this blog at all until back in London tomorrow and certainly not again on Les Liaisons but my hosts are out and I have access to a computer, kindly left for my use. So I went online to read some of my favourite blogs and found two very stimulating posts in WWST and in Photo Fermata about the gaze and, in particular, the male gaze.  Laura Mulvey theorised the male gaze and scopophilia in relation to films a couple of decades ago. I will not repeat her arguments, the two posts by Karl and Unbearable Lightness give enough details. Mulvey's theory has been very influential in media and  cultural studies since inception. Some important criticisms aimed at Mulvey were to do with how women look - is there a female gaze? how do women look at other women? Mulvey focused entirely on the male gaze and left such questions unanswered.

 Photographer: Ann Holian
And here is the link with the Liaisons and its cinematic translation. To begin with Les Liaisons was written by a man, even though he lends a voice to several female characters - the novel is in the epistolary form and the main characters are two libertines, Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, whose favourite pursuit  is to seduce. Seduction is a dangerous game indeed and here  there are no real winners. The novel ends with innocent and guilty equally suffering from the consequences of their actions. It is possibly Laclos' condemnation of pre-revolutionary French aristocracy and its perceived  lax morality and excesses that leads to such a downfall which, like the  revolution, cannot and will not spare anyone.

 Photographer: Ann Holian

The cinematic translation of the Liaisons by Sthephen Frears (1988) with Glenn Close as the Marquise and John Malkovitch as the Vicomte, was my first introduction to the novel. Its ending was substantially changed, eliminating the ambiguity of the novel's conclusion, which is, effectively its strongest point and the reason why it remains so contemporary, despite its venerable age. In the film the Marquise is motivated in her actions by unreciprocated  love for the Vicomte, something which does not transpire from a reading of the novel. Glenn Close seems to be transferring into her interpretation of the Marquise a subtext  taken from  her role of "self-destructive bitch extraordinaire Alex Forrest" in Fatal Attraction, which turns the Marquise into an impossible and unlikely role model for women, whereas Madame de Meurteuil in the original speaks in accents which today's women can understand.  Indeed when the film came out  unwarranted parallels between Alex and the Marquise were drawn.

 Photographer: Ann Holian

In her online essay Dangerous Liaisons Dangereuses Michelle Erica Green points out that whereas in the novel the characters write themselves into existence, in the film they are written upon.

"During the opening credits, Merteuil and Valmont are offered up for audience consumption as the mannequins who will wear the film's superbly designed costumes as the camera follows their dressing rituals.
Frears pays special homage to Merteuil's breasts, signifier of her feminine body, and Valmont's head, repository of his masculine brain. Breasts and heads are predominant images of gender in the film...The female viewer of Dangerous Liaisons is faced with an interesting dilemma. She can identify with the male gaze of the camera, sharing its interest in Merteuil's breasts and body, or she can identify with the transgressive object of that gaze, the marquise herself"  

 Photographer: Terri Lee-Shields

Yet this identification is made complex by the underlying association of the Marquise with Alex Forrest.
Another important external discourse runs through the character of the Marquise in Frear's film and this is, says Michelle Erica Green, the Marquise's fashion, linked to the successful fashion documentary  by "style arbiters" Diana Vreeland and 1970s supermodel Marisa Berenson  on the 18th century woman. The fashion documentary  celebrated in 1980s terms , the "feminism, hedonism and Old Regime aristocracy" - note the  use of the word feminism with reference to l'ancien regime . By this the Marquise is made more desirable and attractive to women viewers but, as Green says: 

"she cannot create herself through reading and writing... the mass media has limited her role within the constraints of commodity culture"

 Photographer: Jan Murphy

What am I trying to say here? Simply that whereas the book lends itself to a reading which can inscribe Madame de Meurteuil into a contemporary feminist discourse, even though she remains primarily a figment of the imagination of an 18th century French man, Frears film locks Madame in a 1980s bourgeois logic,mentality and vision, unsympathetic to women, through an astute deployment of  visual language. Having read Madame's story through my own 21st century female sensibility, I would now  love to view Madame through a female gaze in the mode of the 2009 Cheim & Read exhibition...

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The photograph as art

A series of events, not necessarily connected, has led me to reconsider what we mean by fine art photography.

Photographer: Marc Wainwright

I am a member of deviantArt, where I have a virtual gallery showcasing my modelling work. On deviantArt I am co-founder of Fineart-photography, a group which earlier had club status and which in actuality, if not in principle, operates on the basis of a fairly broad understanding of what 'fine art photography' might be, particularly in the context of an online community. I got involved with the club as admin last summer, doing a couple of interviews, and then when groups started in January on deviantArt I was asked by the founder whether I wanted to come on board as co-founder.

There is another group on deviantArt with more or less the same name, the difference is where the hyphen falls. This second group, named Fine-art-photography was founded four months ago, and I am an ordinary member of it. This other group aims more specfically at showcasing the "very best" of fine art photography on deviantArt. And undoubtedly, even though their names may not include the words "fine art photography", there are many more groups on dA which aim to represent the best artistic photography made by the 'deviant' community.

 Photographer: Marc Wainwright

It is highly desirable that there should be so many different groups with similar and/or overlapping aims, deviantArt is a  global online community and if there was only one group it would be a sycophantic one and it could not cope with the sheer number of submissions.

The views I am expressing here are entirely my own, I am not representing any deviantArt group, I really want to make this clear. I am just intrigued by the definition of "fine art photography", there seems to be several interpretations of its meaning - and that's the way it should be, for ultimately it is a fluid term. Fine art photography is a slippery label that encompasses artistic nude, which is what I do as a model - again there are as many definitions of artistic nude to match the diversity of its photographic rendition.

Photographer: David J. Green

Fine art photography is, in my view, a loose term, which comes with a historical baggage, and which we need not reject. But inevitably we need to realize that what is fine art photography today is not what it was yesterday. It simply cannot be. We also need to be wary of any attempt at giving it finality, without recognizing it as a construct. In other words, we need to accept that terms and frames of reference are changeable and have to change to match their context.

In her critical introduction to photography Liz Wells contextualizes and historicizes the largely artificial divide between photography as a means of visual communication, which would encompass commercial photography, and photography whose aims are "aesthetic". The keyword here is art and she reminds us of the whole set of art practices relating to the arts establishment (galleries, museums, public and private sponsorship, publication) which constitute art, against a more common understanding of photography as 'art' equating the latter solely with 'expressive skill' informed by an aesthetic vision.

Photographer: David John Green

Indeed when we mention art, it truly begs the question of what art is. Photography has been involved in debates about its status as art from inception - the first time photography was described as fine art was at a Camera Club exhibition in Vienna in 1881. Yet many photographers have tended to eschew the artist label for themselves, feeling more comfortable with the notion of photography as craft.

Already in 1930, Walter Benjamin stressed the "anti-elitist potential of photography" when he wrote about the withering "aura' of a fine art work i.e a painting, in the time of "mass reproduction".
Photographer: Carl Williams

Writing in 1982, Peter Wollen notes:

For photography to be an art involves reformulating notions of art, rejecting both material and formal purism and the separation of art from commerce as distinct semiotic practices that never interlock.

More could and should be said about fine art photography today and what we want it to be - in other words set its parameters in a context sensitive manner. Conversely, we should also think of what we don't want it to be e.g. the danger of turning fine art codes, ultimately, into mechanisms of social differentiation.

This discussion cannot be exhausted in this short post and will have to be picked up again. As always commments are most welcome.

Photographer: Martin Robinson

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Friday, 2 July 2010

So much to write about and so little time...

Where do I start? I am about to leave for Italy to spend some time with my mother who is a lot better - what a scare she gave us! She is 88 years old and it is absolutely remarkable how she manages to hang on to life, as if she is feeling that she has to finish something before letting go. Although she has reverted to a baby like state she has moments of lucidity and physically she is coping. I am relieved as this was really weighing so much on my mind, I could not think of anything else. So this means that this new blog will have to stop for a little while I am away but I am not going until Tuesday so that's all right.
Photographer: David J. Green

I am also in the middle of a major office move, following some re-allocation of rooms to new staff and old staff alike at the college where I teach and I find it most traumatic as I have stuff that goes back to the late 1990s and obviously needs to be sorted and chucked in the bin. In places such as this there is the issue of confidential waste i.e. students work and records that go back a few years which need to be shredded, so the move is a complete nightmare. I am going in tomorrow specially to pack , even though it is the weekend.
Photographer: David J. Green

Then there is my recent  modelling experience with a photographer who comes from fashion with whom I worked for several hours yesterday, first in a large park in his South London district and then at his studio.Vijay Jethwa pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me reconnect with my dancing self. He also shot a lot of me with clothes on which is absolutely exhilarating - much as I love doing nude shoots there is a special pleasure in doing lifestyle/fashion work and we are planning more shoots exploring edgy fashion.  But I will pick up this thread once I get the shots.
 Photographer: David J. Green
I  put up on deviantArt a series of  photographs which mark my foray into photography - I have a Bronica GS-1 and have this deal with photographer Marc Wainwright , that I model for him and in exchange for that he teaches me how to shoot.  The film with the self portraits done under his direction has been lost by the company I gave it to for developing it. Grrr, don't ask me about that, I can hardly believe they have not yet given me a refund of the money I  spent for the processing, apparently they are still looking, so this will go on for some more weeks.  But the ones taken by Marc with me going back and forth to see what setting he was using with my Bronica  and also how he would position me and compose the shot  are all fine. I have posted them already in a previous blog entry and I am so proud of them, I see myself being involved not only as model but also as assistant photographer, if you like,  and it is intoxicating.

 Photographer: Marc Wainwright

I also posted on deviantArt  the two  photographs taken at Fairlight Glen by Tomas Januska  and found myself bang in the middle of a controversy. I submitted them to a group which accepts large format, a contributing member of that group asked me to. One of the admins of the group left a comment  copying for me what he had said to his colleagues about the photograph of me wrapped in a shawl at the beach. He believes it is a very good picture but apparently within the group, apart from a member who systematically declines any work featuring me because of some personal history, there is a belief in eschewing technical perfection and on that basis Tomas Januska's photography would be regarded as anathema. The group admin who felt the need to write all this in a comment accessible to the general deviantArt membership who stumbles upon this particular photograph was clearly making the  point of dissenting publicly and in so doing made everyone aware of what is going on within the group. Whereas the nude was turned down because it did not speak to the admins who are entitled to vote, this particular one is still awaiting a decision. So I was about to start a post about the issue of technical perfection in photography - should one strive for it or not? but then something else happened.
Photographer: Tomas Januska

Unbearable Lightness posted a fantastic piece in her blog What We Saw Today, of which I remain a faithful follower. It is about crotch shots and I contributed a couple of comments as the discussion over there is so engaging, how can one ignore it? So I will end this post with another, longer comment which I think is necessary . In my other two comments I touched upon the need for a model not to feel constrained  to keep her legs glued together if the context of the shot requires and enhances a good hip turn out, which inevitably will put "everything" on show. I will not repeat the comments here, you can go and have a look at what has been said and the thoughtful answers given by Unbearable Lightness. What I want to add is that the  Trust and Respect which have been invoked by so many commentators are fundamental to the relationship between model and photographer. Apart from not showing crotch shots if the model asks the photographer not to - and sometimes they may occur because of the way one moves and because if you the model do a movement involving a turn out   inevitably your crotch will be exposed, the photographer should be respectful of the model as a person and know when to stop in his probing of the model's emotions.  And yes I say 'he' because , I am sorry, but female photographers always show such a remarkable sensitivity, so it is an issue informed by gender difference, don't you think?

 Photographer: David Nuttall
Even a model is entitled to privacy and there are intensely personal  moments which she will not be willing to share. If she asks you, the photographer , to stop, you should. Let me give you a hypothetical example. You have a model working in your studio. Suddenly she receives a call, she takes it and it is very bad news. She bursts into tears and you shoot away because the moment is so real, there is real emotion there and the shots are extremely poignant. She is not even aware of the fact you are shooting. Later she sees the pictures and she asks you not to show them because she does not want anyone to see her like that. Yet the pictures are SOOO good, they show a real person , real emotion...
Photographer: David J. Green

If you respect your model you will not use them unless and until  she agrees to it. Similarly, if a crotch shot happens accidentally  and the model is unhappy, you should not show it, even if for you that is a fantastic shot.

"Tears" Photographer: Neil Huxtable

(All photos modelled by Alex B. )

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Revisiting Fairlight Glen: more on digital and analogue

Fairlight Glen is a naturist beach near Hastings, in East Sussex.  It is a Nature Reserve . Access to the beach is by a steep walk down the cliffs, surrounded by vegetation which is indeed very old, such as ferns.  It is a very photogenic location, with great potential. On the way to the beach a spot is marked with flowers and offerings. This was where a little girl, about two years ago,  met with  her death  by falling down the cliff. Many visitors on their way to the beach often leave there soft toys to remember little Kylie.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable

I first went to Fairlight Glen on 29th June 2008. It was my very first outdoor nude shoot and I went there with photographer Neil Huxtable who was by then on his third or fourth nude shoot. We were both learning, in other words. We arrived there in the evening, as we spent the best part of the day shooting at a disused pizzeria which we accidentally found  en route to Fairlight.   I remember that it was  very cold and windy at the beach. Neil wanted me to get into the water  but I refused, feeling unable to withstand the cold. We talked about doing it on a different occasion but it never happened. I was very happy with the results of the shoot, done with a digital camera - several months later Neil started using film but I have never had an opportunity to model for him again after he got his Hasselblad.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable

It was by and large a shoot which was meant to celebrate the naturalness of the female form - or was it?  There were no set rules, Neil's main concern was with the light and how it fell on my body. I just enjoyed being there.

I got a chance to revisit Fairlight Glen on 24th June this year with photographer Tomas Januska and his assistant Edvardas Poska. Tomas shoots almost exclusively with large and medium format analogue cameras. I was really excited to be again at Fairlight Glen, I have a soft spot for the place and it was my suggestion we should shoot there. It was a warm day but as usual the beach was windy so there was again no chance of getting into the water, I did not feel comfortable (in fairness, Tomas did not even ask). We really had to work relatively fast because of the tide, which was at its lowest at 5 pm but then steadily began to rise.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable
Photo reprocessed by Digital Dao

I had never worked with Tomas before though we had met prior to shooting. He likes a fairly natural, unadorned look in his models, little make up, no 'posing' as such and so on.  As Enrnst Haas said in 1949 when he was invited to join Life :

There are two kinds of photographers: those who compose pictures and those who take them. The former work in studios. For the latter, the studio is the world.... For them, the ordinary doesn't exist: every thing in life is a source of nourishment.

Tomas is a great admirer of Haas, Sally Mann and Jock Sturges, so he urged me to look at their work before going to Hastings with him and Edvard, to get an idea of what he wanted to  do.

Photographer: Tomas Januska

Modelling  for a photographer who uses an analogue large and medium format camera  is completely different  from modelling for a photographer who uses digital. I said this already in a different post. This was the second time I did an outdoor shoot with a large format. I dont know how  other models manage this shift but in my case being a life model definitely helped because I had to hold the pose for a long time in between shots. The naturalness of the pose and to an extent the spontaneity that Tomas was after came at the actual moment of the shot: the basic pose was decided in advance and I held its outline  while he was getting ready but then he engaged me in talking and I would inevitably move slightly or take on a particular  expression and then he would say "now" and shoot.  The pace was very slow.

Tomas and Alex at work  Photographer: Edvardas Poska

He used a MPP Mark 8 and all the ten pictures came out well, though later Tomas chose only two out of the lot - more than I had been told as he insisted there would only be one. With the medium format Hasselblad we were unlucky, there was a problem with the film so nothing  has come out. This is one of the hazards of working with film, there is always an element of chance.

When I worked with Neil it was a sunny day and the beach had a golden colour at sunset. On the day I was with Tomas the sun was often covered by clouds and by the time we set up it disappeared behind a cliff, so we worked with a different kind of light which Tomas preferred as he was shooting B/W. Though Tomas had brought along his Nikon D700, after a couple of warming up shots he decided we should not "waste time" and unpacked his beloved MPP Mark 8.

Photographer: Tomas Januska

I started this discussion on film and digital simply to highlight the difference in working mode. I am not at all interested in saying that one is superior to the other, I honestly dont believe that is the case. As a model I am interested in expanding my range and I welcome every opportunity to do so. Today, for example,  I met for a drink in town another photographer with whom I will be shooting in about four hours - I am going away next week and am honouring some commitments. Vijay Jethwa contacted me ages ago but we never managed to have our pre-shoot meeting until today. Vijay has done primarily fashion and celebs photography but is also involved in art nude. We sat at a bar in Covent Garden enjoying the evening breeze. He had his camera and was itching to use it, so after a while he asked me to go and pose by a vintage car parked nearby.

I was not prepared for a shoot but loved the idea of improvising, so there I was in crowded Covent Garden walking and being shot from all angles - with my clothes on, before you ask! it was all extremely fast. I could not possibly work at that pace with a photographer using a medium or large format. It's all about  coping with change, being versatile and ultimately loving the camera. Which I definitely do.

Photographer: David J. Green

(All photos modelled by Alex B. )