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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Friday, 5 November 2010

The roman à clef: is it libellous?

 An interesting book by Sean Latham, The art of scandal, 2009, traces the 20th century history of  the roman à clef, highlighting how writers such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, DH Lawrence, utilised elements of the roman  in their oeuvre. This even led to worries that fiction itself might be illegal, as British courts tackled complex scandals which  implicated the novels themselves.  From the roman à clef to libel law. This indeed seems to have been a  modern trajectory .
The roman à clef denotes a specific literary genre, a narrative in which the characters are only loosely turned into fictional ones by changing their names and a few events which might lead to identification - the point being however that identification on the part of the reader is left open even if categorically denied by the author. Thus The Devil wears Prada is effectively a novel about Vogue editor Anna Wintour, disguised as the impossible Miranda Priestley, though this has never been  officially admitted by the author of the book.  To some extent most modern and contemporary fiction is based on reality and is inspired by real characters, however,  the roman à clef is more than just inspired. Usually satirical, for many authors it is a good way of venting their dissent and countering certain allegations, by giving their own version of the facts.
A roman  is not necessarily a poor work of fiction. Proust, like the authors I have already mentioned, drew heavily on the conventions of the roman à clef and his works are regarded as masterpieces of modern French literature. Umberto Eco, in  his The Name of the Rose thinly disguises well known personalities from Italian politics. Of course the great Dante went further. He did not disguise anyone but made it a point of devising the most horrible punishments in his imagined hell for all those people that in real life crossed his path and gave him grief - and readers still enjoy reading his poetry, several centuries down the line.
Libel law has dealt with defamatory works of fiction. Occasionally some people claim damages quite successfully, but it is a very complex and lengthy affair, especially if the roman is satirical- and it usually is. If a statement has not been  heard by a third party it is not libellous and most romans à clef will work on this principle. Thus proving that the fictional character is modelled on someone the readers might recognise remains tricky.
Are you thinking of writing a roman à clef? I am not a lawyer so I cannot give any legal advice, please do consult a lawyer if in doubt, but basically dont get unduly anxious about it. 'Insider novels' are all the rage at the moment, as indeed have always been. Make sure you interlace quite a bit of fiction with reality, that you keep your writing humorous and you cannot go wrong. Often, certain details are only known to the person you are discussing and it would be counterproductive for that person to claim  that what they actually said  is being quoted, it may not put them in a good light.  Make sure you have a disclaimer. 

And finally, as a last resort, wait until the person you wish to write about is dead. A deceased person cannot sue for libel. It may take a while  but he who laughs last...And you can always hire a hit man to hasten their death. But beware: the latter action may land you into some different kind of lawsuit. Don't say you have not been warned.

(All photos modelled by Alex B. and taken by Ray Spence