Cindy Crawford on posing nude;
“The only things I’ve ever regretted were when my inner voice, or whatever you want to call it, told me one thing and I let other people talk over that. I’ve done a lot of nude pictures that I haven’t regretted. The ones I have regretted were the ones I knew something didn’t feel right about the situation and I did it anyway. Only you know what’s right for you.”
Listen to your inner voice.
I doubt that there’s ever been a model, male or female, who hasn’t been asked by a photographer at some point in time in their careers if they shoot nudes. And in the age of the digital camera, smart phones and the selfie as self expression, the question of nude images is nearly ubiquitous in its applicability.
As a photographer who specializes in photographing nudes (among other genres, I might add), be it fine art, fashion, glamour, boudoir or erotica, I’ve worked with hundreds of models who are comfortable working au natural. And in the course of that work I’ve heard dozens of horror stories. I mean dozens. Far more than I ever expected. Far more than I’m comfortable with.
The first question you should consider and ask yourself is, why do I want to shoot nudes?
The Nude is quite possibly the oldest genre of art. The human form has filled us with awe since the dawn of civilization. Cave art features animals and then, representations of female forms. After we carved wood and bone and antlers into tools that made it easier to survive and thrive, the second thing we carved was the curves of the female body. We probably carved a phallus after that. Throughout art history the representation of the Nude has been both universal and an expression of the most fundamental, powerful and exalted elements of the human condition. The Nude is beautiful and glorious. Or can and should be.
Tattoo artists as a rule discourage clients from getting tattoos of the names of lovers. The reason being that love lasts forever, but a tattoo lasts six months longer. Or however long the laser removal treatments take. When it comes to nude photos, I suspect that the internet also lasts forever. Once you’ve posed nude it’s not really something you can take back.
One of the two great ontological questions of our lifetimes is, “Who am I?” Photography offers us the unique and rare ability to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes. In a nude photograph we are presented with an opportunity to be art, to be immortalized and in that moment, be frozen in time. A lot of my subjects think of their nude photos as a time capsule. Images that they will reference in a distant future. “That was me.”
I have heard from many of my subjects that their nude photos were an important statement that their bodies belonged to them, of self acceptance and self confidence and a profound refutation of the idea of shame surrounding nakedness that still exists within some corners of our culture. It’s a proclamation, “This is me. I love myself. I am beautiful. Take me as I am.” For them, nudity was and is an expression of empowerment. Of personal freedom and independence. For them, posing in the nude was a form of liberation. Often times their nude shoot was a pivotal step on a journey recovering from an illness or injury, moving past a relationship, celebrating a commitment to a healthy lifestyle or the start of a new chapter in their lives. The photo shoot was an important milestone, a marker on their life’s path.
For young models, or anyone else for that matter, pondering what effect nude photographs might have on their career, I think context is everything. Opinions may differ when it comes to what constitutes good or great art, but art is still art. The list of models and actors and historical figures and celebrities who have posed nude is a long and illustrious one. The supermodels and Oscar winners alone who have posed nude refutes the idea that such images have a deleterious or negative impact.
The only question that remains, is this something that feels right for you? Only you can truly know the answer to that.
Listen to your inner voice.
The second question is, who’s my photographer?
The Nude is one of the most difficult genres to photograph and certainly to master. To excel at nude photography requires technical mastery, a thorough grasp and understanding of art history and a photographer who has found their voice, meaning that they’re shooting in a recognizable personal style. Ralph Gibson famously declared, “If you can shoot the Nude and architecture, you can shoot anything.”
Many, if not most, of the greatest photographers in the history of photography have worked in the genre of the art Nude. Supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and many others have been willing to shoot nudes because they’re worked with extraordinarily talented photographers like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Albert Watson, Annie Leibowitz, and Herb Ritts, just to name a few. It’s no accident that many of these photographers also have backgrounds in art school and design. These models, working with these photographers, knew that there was every chance that they were creative collaborators on images that might become cultural icons.
I’ve found nearly all of the Nude models I’ve worked with through casting calls, work shops or other industry forums and social platforms. I spell out what I am looking for in the way of models, what I hope to shoot, provide references to examples of my work in the forms of images or Links, and what the model can expect in the way of remuneration or compensation. I’ve also shot many friends, friends of friends and other acquaintances because they are familiar with my work. But I’ve also approached models with whom I’m working with on other projects, and even complete strangers on the street, and asked them if they’d consider being part of an art project, one that requires nudity, and then handed them my business card and directed them to my website where they can see examples of my work. In every instance the model, or potential model knows exactly what I want and what my intent is and how the images will be used, be it for my portfolio, a gallery exhibit or book, or submission for publication.
You don’t want your first nude shoot – or ANY nude shoot for that matter – to be one where you feel forced or coerced.
Be wary of any photographer who wants to turn a fashion shoot, a glamour shoot, a swim wear shoot, a boudoir or lingerie shoot into an impromptu nude shoot. The question of nudity, implied or otherwise, should be addressed before any photo shoot begins.
As soon as you hear lines like, “Why don’t you try it with your top off?” or, “If you want to be a model you have to shoot nudes”, or, “Everybody does it.”, that should set off warning bells and raise a red flag.
Frankly, there are so many models willing to shoot nudes that I am deeply suspicious of those photographers who attempt to talk, coerce or badger hesitate or reluctant models into shooting nudes. Especially on the spot, while on location. Frankly, I think this kind of behavior is a form of sexual assault. It’s about power and coercion, attempting to extort and corrupt the dynamic that exists between a photographer and model and it’s creepy as Hell.
And if a photographer asks you to shoots nudes you should absolutely and unequivocally check out their portfolio and website. If they don’t have one, that should be an issue. Are they a professional photographer or an amateur? What are the images being used for? Where are the images going to be seen? What is the photographer’s intent? What is your compensation and remuneration? Where is the shoot going to take place? Who else will be there? Do you know this person? If not, do they have references? Will the photographer allow a chaperone? If not, why not? A model should absolutely vet and research every photographer they work with.
If you’re a model considering adding nudes to your portfolio, you should really work with an experienced photographer whose work you already admire. A nearly guaranteed recipe for disappointment is an inexperienced or new model doing a nude shoot with a new or inexperienced photographer. The chances of getting portfolio worthy images is almost non-existent.
New photographers wanting to try to shoot nudes should enroll in a workshop or seminar or at the very least hire and work with an experienced art model.
As a photographer, as a man, as a feminist, some of the stories I’ve heard about from models regarding their nude photo shoot experiences fill me with shock, dismay, sadness and no small amount of anger. Personally, I don’t want to be party to anyone’s regret.
In the words of Cindy Crawford, “Only you know what’s right for you.”
Listen to your inner voice.