Earlier this month I did an artistic nude photo shoot with a male model. I count the experience on the same level as the first model shoot I did in 2008. It opens possibilities, especially aesthetic possibilities, while also perhaps complicating the moral landscape for viewers of my work.
Shooting that first model hit me like lightning on the way to Damascus. There’s some hyperbole here but not much. As I crouched on the floor or stood on a ladder to capture different perspectives of Kaleb I was at points close to tears. Up to that time I had no idea how powerful photography was to me as an aid to “seeing.”
Seeing has always been important to me. It means the physical modality of experience mediated by sight and comprising color, shape, texture, lines as well as visual content. Seeing also refers to what I comprehend about myself and my world, about the “nature” of experience and of what we call “life.”
Shooting Kaleb I discovered a new appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of human beings. I’d always been fascinated by the psychology of human activity, of human perception and of the meanings we impute to object and experience.
Photography of a live model increased my appreciation of humanity exponentially. I came to know how many expressions a human face can display in seconds; I came to appreciate the wonderful links there must be within thoughts and how our faces and bodies express these thoughts. I came to see more of the complexity in another human’s psyche, which for me is the raw material from that an artist must learn to activate and release for art to appear.
That first model shoot showed me the possibilities of expression in the human face. The more expressive a face can be the more the possibilities for artistic expression became – and the face is perhaps the most expressive or communicative part of a human.
But the body has an important role to play as well. While maybe more subtle than the face, the body—how it is posed vis-á-vis the earth and sky, the arrangement of its component parts vis-á-vis the whole body and other parts—multiplied the possibilities of creating something of beauty, something of meaning.
Being able to photograph the body without its covering of clothes allows a simpler and simultaneously more complex expression of being human. In the 21st century we use clothing no longer just for comfort and protection. Clothing (as in fashion) has become a potent (and to my mind, conveniently facile) way to express our individuality. Strip the body of clothing and its innate capacity to express human emotions and thought is altered to what I consider almost Zen-like.
Complexity comes, among other considerations, because the naked body, especially those parts of it we associate with procreation and the intense pleasures we often find so difficult to understand and manage, is viewed by many with cultural and societal biases. I can’t complain too much. Beauty itself is, so much of it, cultural, something Western hegemony appears to be reducing.
This discussion can extend even more broadly into an exploration of beauty and aesthetics, the purpose of art, the uses and abuses of cultural biases, the operation of mind and intellect, science and religious beliefs, topics that given time I want to write about in the future.
For now, I’ll have to be satisfied with a paean to this new stage in my adventure into photography. At its best, anything we do is an expression of who we are and who we can be. In this regard, taking risks is often the most effective way to broaden our horizons, to see if not objectively with a larger backdrop, a more catholic or universal subtext for our attempts at individuation, our attempts to fully actualize our unique, one-of-a-kind therefore precious potential.
With each step I take in my pursuit of image in photography I grow in my appreciation of life, this sweet, oh so brief moment in eternity when a human being like me can participate in what the ancients have called divine. And this too, yes, is hyperbole!