Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Models and non-models: art nude photography

Recently I was approached by Kate Battersby, a journalist who writes for The Daily Mail. She left a message on my voicemail saying she was writing a piece about women willing to pose nude for a photographic portrait. She got on to me through a roundabout route. A journalist friend had remembered that about two years ago I was in the process of setting up a business venture, which I had named FineArtNude Photography, whose aim was to provide precisely that service to women. I meant to work with a number of photographers I had met through modelling for them. I would find the ladies through social networking, advise them, help them do their best in front of the camera, find the right photographer whose style in my reckoning would match their needs, get them photographed (negotiable fees, depending on the package selected). I had been inspired to start this after listening to Jane Lancashire on BBC Woman's hour. Jane runs a successful venture called Liberty. She is a photographer and she often takes portraits of women in the nude. Yes, I thought, this is truly empowering. I am a mature model, I have had a lot of experience in front of the camera, I can truly make something of it by sharing it. I was really all fired up. At the time my local paper even featured me, with a photo taken by Schwanberg. I had a website in no time, cards, and a number of photographers were interested in participating ("if you get me the clients, I am on it"they all said).

Photographer: Schwanberg
But...running a business is not easy. The photographers I approached after a while lost interest, I lost interest too, caught up as I was in other things, including my own modelling.
But now Kate Battersby wanted to interview me! I was doing a shoot with George Swift when I got the message and kept on boring him while rehearsing what I was going to say to Kate - sorry George! I could not tell her my business had never taken off the ground, could I? I was trying to find an "angle".
I eventually spoke with her. The moment I said I was a model she shrieked she did not want to speak to "a model"(slightly disparaging tone). She wanted to speak to a photographer who would be interested in taking pictures of her - "I have just posed for a painter, it was wonderful". I was put out by her rudeness and unwillingness to even hear me out, so I wished her luck and ended the call. Later, I read the  piece and I gathered she did not actually get a photographer, she believed that the images would be used over the internet without her consent.
Photographer: Jan Murphy
Well, Kate, had you done your research you would have found Jane. You are trying to discover your beauty after shedding off two stones. Jane could have helped you. Or Wolf Kettler. Or Neil Huxtable who is wonderful with newbies...or Jan Murphy who, having gone herself through a process of reshaping her body, would have perfectly understood your concerns. I have such a long list of photographers I could have introduced to you.
Never mind. Thinking back on the whole episode some interesting questions arise. When I did my shoots with Wolf and Neil I had not had any experience of posing nude in front of the camera. I liked it so much that I went on to model - and when I started as a photographic model I was quite old, to put it bluntly. I could have stopped soon after my fiftieth birthday, but I did not because the camera fascinates me and because I am a performer at heart.
Whereas there are some styles of fine art nude that require a knowledge of conventional posing and require that the model should know such conventions and go beyond them i.e standing on tiptoes to gain length and height, point one's feet, curve and bend,  there are also styles of art nude which are based on the way the light bounces off the model's body or on capturing a spontaneous expression. For these styles all you need is a relationship of trust between model and photographer and being able to overcome the fear of being looked at i.e. the fear of the camera. A relationship in other words which any woman, any subject, can have with their photographer and their cameras.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable "Talkingdrum"Reprocessed by me
For example, I am very fond of the portraits Neil Huxtable took of me, regardless of how well/less well crafted they are, because they are often akin to snapshots, only a lot more sophisticated, technically - I can see "myself" in them and they reveal an empathic relationship with the subject which is typical of his work. This is why I was always loath to part with them, edited or not. Similarly, I love the portraits Wolf Kettler took,  again they reveal an empathic relationship with the subject, the hallmark of a good portratist
Was I a "model"then? am I a "model" now?  I dont even think the question is relevant.
So Kate, I guess you missed your chance...

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The paranoia of being stalked...

...does exist.
I am not denying there are real stalkers out there and that being stalked is not traumatic, this is not the point I am making in this post. I take stalking very seriously and I do think it is something that needs to be tackled responsibly. It's just that I am getting a little tired of hearing the constant whining of attention seeking people claiming they are being stalked online, when in fact all that is happening is that they put up some pictures on a site like deviantArt, someone comes along to look at the pictures, does not like them, leaves an unflattering comment, the 'artist' replies, the person comes back and leaves one or two more unflattering comments and that's it, from that point onwards the 'artist' claims to be stalked. The best thing to do in such cases is simply to ignore the 'critic', rather than getting all worked up , write post upon post about it, indulge in blocking and even start polls asking about the best way to tighten blocking measures.
Facebook is responsible for encouraging the 'being stalked' syndrome. When you get a friend request you are asked whether you know the person. If you reply that you don't, the person who sent the request is blocked, which means they cannot ever see you or contact you on Facebook. That is definitely rather extreme. I get all the time friendship requests from people I have never met and probably will never meet and who are simply friends of friends of friends. It does not mean I block them, nor do I feel stalked! If I am unsure I do not confirm the friendship but I do not report them to Facebook to block them as 'unknown'.

 I am a very pragmatic person. The point of having a Facebook account is for me to plug myself as a model, so the more friends I have the better.When I finally reach a good number of friends to warrant it I will shut down the account and open a Page - I have no family following on Facebook, it is strictly for me as a model. The point of having a deviantArt account is to have enough space to put up my work as a model, especially the images I cannot add to my actual portfolio for one reason or another,  for people to see - and let's face it, compared to other portfolio hosting sites deviantArt is quite generous in terms of space allocation and reasonably affordable. I never really cared much about 'being an artist' and 'being with like minded people' only. As someone  reminded me of recently I belong to an 'archaic generation', which means that my modelling days are numbered.  The young person who said this  - not so young, mind you - seems to be forgetting that she is not exempt from the ravages of time and there is no guarantee she will look as good at my age to be able to continue pin up modelling then. But that is another story. The point is I would not have these accounts if I did not want my modelling work to be seen.
 There is a correlation between being paranoid and believing to be stalked. In fact paranoia begins with the recurring thoughts that someone is out there to get you, someone is constantly talking about you. What brings about paranoia? Oh a number of causes, including excessive weed smoking, says the Urban Dictionary - love the entries, they are quite hilarious.   Definitely material for another post.

(All photos modelled by Alex B and taken by David Holmes)

Monday, 22 August 2011

The myth of the soul mate

Photographer: Alan Bassett Postprocessing by Jade
 Alternatives  has been  active since 1982 and regularly hosts interesting talks in a historic place, the St James Church in Piccadilly. The speakers are drawn from people who have made a name for themselves in the Mind Body and Spirit world.  All spiritual traditions are honoured, from all cultures. In other words, Alternatives is a focal point for holistic learning. I remember Alternatives from way back, I used to be a member then I moved away but more recently I rejoined, after stumbling upon their rich storehouse of podcasts, freely downloadable - all you need to do is join as a member and there is no fee for this. Luckily for me the talks at St James Church are also within easy reach, you can bet I shall go to a few - I am particularly keen to hear in person Summer McStravik, the creator of Flowdreaming (see my earlier post).
Photographer: Alan Bassett. Postprocessing by Jade
The list of podcasts found on the Alternatives site is impressive. An interesting talk is by Vena Ramphal, whom I have actually met, way back when she was still engaged in pursuing a career in dance - at some point we even shared a dance teacher in India but that is another story. She is now a passion coach - I mentioned her in passing in a previous blog post. It's amazing that sometimes we keep on bumping into the same people again and again in our lives, people that we seem to have left behind and then reappear and we also find that we have been moving along parallel paths, developing overlapping interests...
Where was I? Oh yes.  A passion coach is not a relationship coach - Vena works with people individually rather than with couples seeking ways to save or develop their existing relationship and her goal is to get people to come to terms with matters of the heart, what we call 'romance', and help them to grow and learn to love themselves first, to connect with themselves. She deals with the whole range of intersecting issues: passion, romantic relationships, sexuality.  These are often problematic in our society, we are not normally trained to manage them smoothly, we kind of go into romance and sex quite blindly yet there are skills that can be learnt to help us through. It can be devastating when romantic relationships/attachments  do not work. Often people keep on making the same mistakes all over and much baggage is accumulated which we inevitably carry with us into every new relationship.

Photographer: Xanadu Images
There is much that Vena talks about that really needs to be taken in and reflected upon. I was however particularly struck by her take on the soul mate idea, I felt it resonated with my own views. In a nutshell, there is no such a thing as a soul mate, it is a great misconception, this idea that there is only one person that is the perfect match for us is an oversimplification. What Vena suggests, drawing on the teachings of her yoga master and her study of the Indian erotic tradition (Vena has a PhD in Indian religions) is that we should instead think of soul love. When you are in soul love almost any person you meet you have a great connection with. "For me soul love is beyond duality, it is not about right and wrong and not about good and bad, win and lose". This means that truly a soul mate is made, rather than given, anyone can be transformed into a soul mate, this way you give yourself access to more possibilities. Whereas the idea that a soul mate is someone that is born as a perfect complement to you (and you may or may not find him/her) is pretty disempowering, the idea of soul love opens you up to connecting deeply and meaningfully to anyone. I do remember someone telling me once that we were not compatible, our characters and personalities were too different. I did say that compatibility is achieved, rather than being there from the start, provided both parties want to achieve it.  Most of all love starts when you can accept yourself and love yourself as you are. 

Easier said than done.
If you wish to listen to Dr Vena Ramphal's podcast please go here . You may have to become a member to access it but as I said it costs nothing.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A video clip

Photographer: Alan Bassett Model: myself
I don't have much time to write posts these days. I seem to be rushing around like a headless chicken. I am behind with a lot of blog work, features for UdA, not to mention meeting deadlines for other work. And shoots, lots of them.
I was catching up on my housework today, as I am leaving for Newcastle tomorrow to shoot with George Swift and I happened to be listening to Amy Winehouse on my iPod. So many have said it before me, I can only repeat what is now common knowledge. What talent, what a voice and what a waste. Her deep and rich contralto tones are overlain with such emotion, when she sings she reminds me of great jazz vocalists like Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday.
Her fight with addiction was so public and so real. She fought her demons and eventually she succumbed to them. She sang about heart break and she was herself  heart broken, her singing comes from that place of extreme emotional pain, a darkness that cannot be lifted. I cried when I heard 'Wake up alone'.
I was introduced to  'Back to Black'in 2007. I never appreciated the gift until now...

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Grey haired or blonde

I was away in Italy for a week. I went to see my mother who is getting more and more forgetful as  Alzheimer tightens its grip on her, so much so that it took her two whole days to really remember who I was. Ever so polite, she greeted me and pretended to know me, only to ask my sister repeatedly whose daughter I was when she thought I was not close enough to hear. It was so bizarre I could not help laughing.

Photographer: Alan Bassett Postprocessing by Jade
But I am not writing this post to discuss the joys and sorrows of Alzheimer. I loved being with my "Deedee" - we call her that, I can no longer remember why - and that's all there is to say. While I was in Italy I went shopping with my sister and my niece and to my great surprise everyone I met seemed to believe my hair was platinum blonde. Somehow it is unusual to see long grey hair these days and the fact I went round with an unkempt mane - my hair is very thick and to my waist and I often wear it loose - meant that it could not be grey or I would have hidden it, not worn it with such nonchalance for all to see. Lady Gaga has dyed her hair white, so presumably it is a fashionable colour. Therefore anyone sporting silver/white hair must have artificially obtained the colour, so the reasoning goes.

Even more amusing was for me to find myself among the models featured on deviantArt yesterday by the group DAFemmeFatale. It is a wonderful group and I am truly honoured to have been included in the feature.  I particularly love the picture selected by the curator as it is one of my first self portraits.  But the point remains I am not a blonde, I am grey haired (and by the way, it is not so rare for Italian women to be naturally blonde, Lucrezia Borgia was not exceptional, but that's another story).
I belong to the FB group "Gray and Proud" (gray =American spelling; grey=British spelling). Sometimes I think it is a bit silly to have to make a big deal out of the fact some of us do not not dye their hair. Grey is just a colour, I'd say...but apparently, no, it is not. It is the colour of old age. Who wants it?
The funniest thing of all was when my mother, who is nearly ninety and sports one of the whitest hair I have ever seen - short, of course - said to me " Oh yes, it is you! But why have you dyed your hair blonde?" I honestly did not know what to reply. All right, long grey hair is just like blonde.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Teaching to be greedy

After a fourth night of rioting in the country, we are waiting to see what is going to happen tonight. I am actually going away for a week, so the feeling of "it's like watching something happening in another country" as my hairstylist put it to me this morning, when I bumped into him at the local supermarket, will be real.
I was not in London the whole day yesterday as I was shooting a commercial in Hatfield, in Hertfordshire. We were in a shopping centre, with about  fifty extras and a famous actress who had the leading part, doing an ad for a catalogue, contrasting the convenient and pleasurable way of shopping online with the mad rush of shopping at the height of the Christmas season. I was one of the bored, unhelpful shop assistants. At some point the director shouted 'Now go for it, as if you were looting the shop'. Somehow it produced the desired effect.

We were all cut off  the internet, for some reason the connection did not work so we were very worried about coming back home. When I got back my local shops were all closed and it was only about 7 pm. I managed to get some Chinese take away - the only shop open - and watched the news about Manchester and Birmingham.
It's a beautiful sunny day today and again my local shops had notices about closing early. I went out early to get some groceries.

Then I read the update on the Guardian website about the first batch of people being tried at the local court. I was stunned when I found out that Alexis Bailey, a primary school teacher, was " charged with burglary with intent to steal after allegedly entering Richer Sounds in Southend Road, Croydon, in the early hours of Tuesday. He pleaded guilty and was committed for sentencing to Wood Green crown court, and was released on bail". In an earlier report Bailey had been referred to as "she".

So here is someone who after learning about the events in Croydon travelled from Islington, where he lives, to Croydon because he wanted to get "things for free". Stealing in other words. He is 31, not a teenager, and teaches young children - not anymore, obviously, his career has ended.

All right, he has not killed anyone. But he was motivated by greed and it will take him a long time to find again someone that trusts him to be in a position of authority.

Photographer: Schwanberg

Model ERosanne wrote on FB that she is "tired of people trying to come up with profound explanations for the underlying reasons behind the riots. No. For the vast majority of rioters, there IS no reason! They are just opportunistic, greedy, selfish thugs who saw an opportunity for thieving - and getting away with it - and took it. They are not thinking about their 'cause;' ask them why they're doing it and they won't have an answer, other than 'I want, I take.' There are no excuses, and there is no justification".

It is sad and very, very worrying to know that a teacher can also be found among such people.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Monday, 8 August 2011

The London riots...

Photo by Edward Fitzpatrick, modelled by me

... are still in full swing. This is the third night running. Everything is being affected, transport disrupted, buildings and vehicles on fires, violence and general unrest. Blackberries are being used to coordinate the young rioters' actions and a LOT of looting is going on. Rioting is exciting, it gives young people with time on their hands something to do!

The best comment I have read so far is on Twitter by LuluRose:

"The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms.The Youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42" Plasma TV"

Yep, that's the current state of affairs.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Introducing my new love

I had heard about the pole, who has not, it really became big in the past ten years or so changing its image from that of a sexy club dance part of strip tease and lap dancing routines to that of a demanding acrobatic sport. I  had seen pictures and even video-clips of women wrapping themselves around the pole, performing snake like moves, inversions and backbends with  elegance, confidence and sensuality.
I kept on dismissing it as not the thing for me, making all possible excuses - too old, too unfit, too this, too that.  I was at peak fitness two years ago, soon after completing the Bikram yoga 30 day challenge, but then I let my practice slip up a bit and after fracturing my wrist in December it took a while to get back to serious exercising. I managed a bit of swimming, irregular Ashtanga classes, the odd Five Rhythm 'sweat', enough to look fit but I know that I have to reacquire my flexibility and core strength. I made no secret in earlier blog posts of my having had a very difficult time emotionally, fighting off a depression that had me on my knees and constantly weeping. There were days when I hated myself so much that the idea of dragging myself to a class, any class, was most unappealing.

Photographer: Jan Murphy
But  on my way back from Inverness I picked a health magazine with an article about the pole and an excerpt from the book by Samantha Holland about how empowering it is. Women of all ages have found the pole really gives them an opportunity to rediscover themselves as women. They bond through it and support each other. That did it for me. I booked a taster at the Pole Dancing School in Hoxton.
There were only four of us, one for each pole in the studio. Our teacher was seriously fit, the result of  years of continuous practice. "Pole dancing will give you a strong upper body" she said.  I really admired her musculature, she seemed to have been sculpted.  I was the oldest in the group and had some trouble with my hair as the hairclip I had brought kept on getting unfastened. It made me feel very self conscious, with my hair constantly in the way. We began with a warm up then we were told to wear our heels and shorts. I wore fishnets too though advanced pole dancers wear as little as possible on their legs as the grip comes from the inner thigh muscles. But as a beginner I could get away and the fishnets helped me to slide more easily around the metal bar - the others groaned that it really hurt.

Photographer: Jan Murphy
From the moment we began to walk around the pole I knew I'd found my love. There is something about pole that is extremely liberating. It is hard work, you sweat, you get bruised, the spins nearly killed me. But there is something magic about it and when I managed a simple routine, pulling myself up the pole and then sliding down with my legs lifted at the back in a 'v' shape, landing on my knees, bending backwards and then returning to the pole with the front of my body, curling and uncurling the back, I knew I'd sign up for the level 1 course, which I did about two hours ago online, only two places left.
I doubt it pole dancing will change my body shape, but it will definitely stretch me and rebuild my core. And, according to Sam Holland, it will give me a sense of being in control, empowered and more aware of my sensuality. I welcome that.

This is Jac. She is 51 and absolutely inspirational

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)