Reactions of Jess
A few months ago I shoot Jess as the latest subject in my Neutral Nudes sequence. Jess came to the shoot with an interesting motivation, as she hoped to use the experience as part of her college work exploring her own identity and self image. This is something she has recorded on her blog, as she explained when reflecting on the shoot:
I was very excited to be a part of this as for me his nudes capture what real people with real bodies look like as opposed to an idealised and often sexualised version and I wanted to use the photos of myself to really see and understand myself.
As part of her work she has written up some really interesting and introspective thoughts on the shoot and the photographs on her blog, and derived her own images from the photographs too. Continuing her thoughts on the actual shoot brought up some very interesting analysis of her body confidence, an area I am generally very interested in:
The initial getting naked in front of another human being is always relatively terrifying, however I was excited for the results of the shoot, James made me feel very comfortable and I generally have the view that we all have bodies and we are all different shapes and sizes which is beautiful in itself - my body is nothing to be ashamed about. However it wasn't until we finished shooting and I got the train home (where I had too much time alone with my thoughts) that I began to worry about what the images may look like. I have an endless list of insecurities about the way I look ranging from too big to too small about every aspect of my body. The overall theme with these insecurities I have is 'not good enough'. In fact I often say that about myself regarding all of me. Not nice enough, not funny enough, not compassionate enough, not strong enough, not witty enough, not clever enough, not skinny enough, not curvy enough, not tall enough, not pretty enough, need I go on. This thought process left me feeling deflated, anxious and defeated the entire point of the day and what I had wanted to gain from it. My main goal was to have images that I can look at, really look at without shame, embarrassment or any negative thoughts. And instead all I could think about was if someone else did the photoshoot, they would look better than me. They would stand taller, their tummy wouldn't stick out as much as mine, their legs would be more toned, their curves would be perkier. Their natural beauty would immediately shine through and I haven't even seen the images yet! Unfortunately these thoughts have not quite left me and it saddens me that so many women I know feel this even just about a small aspect of their body. However I am going to have to learn to accept myself, and at least it will be interesting to see myself through someone else's eyes. After all if I changed myself, personality or the way I looked, I would not be myself anymore.
Such thoughts are not uncommon, something that really saddens me. It's something I hope the Neutral Nudes sequence itself explores a little, as I start to shoot more and more people; more body types. Although I've not really used it to make a direct commentary on the issues themselves, and that's something I would like to explore more with my work. Jess using this experience to really consider how she feels about her body is also very interesting, and makes me think maybe I should start interviewing as well as photographing my subjects.
Jess also made a very interesting comment on the series when pondering another aspect of her work:
As the collaborative work with James Grigg proved, when taking a full body nude photograph I am entirely exposed, however James' artistry and creative mind leaks into the photograph so much that I almost feel a part of a new identity; a neutral nude, as opposed to a naked version of myself. I think because that is purely physical, although you can sense my nervousness from the photographs, to really capture the essence of the self, those kinds of photographs have to be unknowing. However, to capture a portrayed image of the self they do not.
It's a very interesting point, and one that goes to the heart of this series. My aim is to portray the subjects in a neutral way, devoid not just of cultural cues from clothing and location, but quite unemotive as well. Stripped of all that, what is left at first seems quite focused on physical variations in my subjects, yet I think the images still manage to portray each persons individuality at a deeper level quite strongly; their character still manages to push through. Yet as Jess points out, that entire conceit also means that my own creative vision for the series is quite dominant in the images, my photographic style dictates much of what these images are, and that in itself changes who the people seem to be. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing!
Jess has also used the images as the basis for further artistic experimentation. I especially like this beautiful contour-like image she has drawn:
She has also more directly used the photographs to make a series of collages. In the context of her exploration of self I find these especially interesting, as she is quite literally deconstructing herself:
Jess has some interesting thoughts on this technique:
I decided to explore some surrealist techniques too, creating new images from the existing ones which would be distorting the body as opposed to enhancing it. Even so, it still becomes anatomy, almost noticing what areas you can see. When a baby looks at something, naturally they look for a recognisable face, two eyes, a nose and a mouth, this is in our genetics as a safety measure, we look for those similar to us. I feel like this is the effect with the surrealist experiments - although you cannot find see the normal, your eyes naturally try and seek it out.
I think it's interesting that this idea of seeing what you want to see also applies to the unaltered images, and how Jess feels about them. Self image is so much in the mind, and the routes of many people's bodily insecurities lie not in any actual fault in their bodies, but in what they perceive to be normal, or exceptional, or lacking - Often setting benchmarks for themselves that they would never place on others.
I'm really glad Jess has used our shoot as part of her work, as her analysis and exploration has really made me think about how I can further the series and maybe say a lot more than I am at present.
You can see more of Jess' work on her blog. And of course see all the photographs I took of her on her Neutral Nudes gallery page here.