Projet Sage Nu

While I wait excitedly for next week’s photo shoot with my first volunteer model, words that encapsulate this new project continue to formulate in my head:

THE NUDE has been admired, studied, and discussed for over two millennia, having made its noble debut in sculpture in Ancient Greece. During the Renaissance and later, painters took up the subject with fervour, but in 1838 the invention of photography enabled artistic explorations that had never before been possible.

In recent times, attitudes about the female body have been shaped by the overt sexualization [objectification] of women and girls in advertising, media, and the entertainment industry. Consequently, women have internalized unhealthy societal constructs regarding beauty and desirability, leaving no room for flaws, wrinkles, or aging.LaRiviere_Nude-11

The reality is that natural signs of aging have been consistently maligned [especially for women] since the advent of corporate advertising in the 1950s and 60s, with its endless brands of facial creams, hair dyes, and other age-defying products. Cosmetic surgery and photoshopped images in glossy magazines underscore our obsession with maintaining the outward appearance of youthful immortality. As a consequence, we are deeper in denial, more insecure, and more dysfunctional than ever as a society.

My intent with this project is to challenge contemporary notions of feminine beauty and the fallacy that it is the sole domain of the young and nubile. My subjects are mature women – mothers and grandmothers – with no experience in front of a camera. The poses are seated, and all compositions are from the neck down with special attention paid to the placement and character of the hands (which are closest to the camera’s lens). The body therefore becomes secondary, offering only partial views of itself with a softness resulting from the shallow depth of field. By not photographing their faces, the women are more relaxed and able to be themselves. Their humanity, strengths, and frailties are communicated through their hands.

In creating and editing my images, I explore shape, texture, and composition as a vehicle to a meaningful narrative. There is no shame in aging because the experience and wisdom that accompany it are truly wondrous and beautiful gifts. Besides, we are so much more than our outer shells.

In viewing the body at its barest and most honest, we are given a mirror with which to contemplate our own vulnerabilities, and ultimately the impermanence and mortality that we all share. My approach to the nude is considered and modest. It does not push the boundaries, nor does it demand to be “in your face.” It is quiet and meditative. It transcends the carnal and hints at deeper ponderings.

No Nipping, Tucking, or Airbrushing Here

As I delve deeper into the newly emerging and currently titled, Vintage Nude Project, I am confronted with many questions. Where is this project going? What is the project really about? Why am I doing it? Who is it for? 

On a most basic level, this evolving series of photographs reflects my longstanding interest in hands [as a subject] and merges it with a deliberately subtle approach to the female nude. It seemed a natural evolution – hands are part of our bodies after all. They are an extension of ourselves.

In creating and editing my images, I explore shape and composition while making no attempt to diminish or conceal signs of wear and tear on the aging body. In fact, evidence of age on the hands and skin is accentuated in some of the photos. My motives are clear.

The reality is that natural, physical characteristics such as wrinkles, age spots, veins, and silver hair have been consistently maligned [especially for women] since the advent of corporate advertising. Think Mad Men (Madison Avenue, NYC, 1950s and 1960s advertising) – targeting women with face creams, hair dyes, and other age-defying products. Mainstream popular culture, media, and the entertainment industry quickly followed, nipping, tucking, and airbrushing their way to the fountain of youth that is as elusive today as it ever was. Yet we are deeper in denial, more insecure, and more dysfunctional than ever as a society.

There is no shame in aging, nor in celebrating it, because the experience and wisdom that usually come along with age is a wondrous and beautiful thing. Beauty is not the exclusive domain of the young and outwardly flawless. Our cultural values have been skewed, and it’s high time that everyone stopped promoting and believing the lies. Besides, we are so much more than our outer shells. We are poetry in motion.

A Look Behind the Scenes:

As a reclusive “elder” and new grandmother, I am simply not ready to reject myself as a viable and suitable model for my own work. Au contraire! Aside from the fact that asking family or friends to pose stark naked for photos is rather daunting and awkward (although I’m still hoping for volunteers), I’m the perfect choice at this stage of the project. I am available 24/7, I’m of the requisite vintage, and I know exactly what the photographer is attempting to convey.

The “studio sessions” consist of a darkened bedroom, the SoftBox Pro app on the iPad as a single light source, an articulated LCD screen on the camera, a remote shutter release controller, bifocals, and a lot of stamina. (I initially experimented with SoftBox photographing a mini orchid in the dark several months ago. The results were quite impressive, but I’m done with flowers for now.) In any case, DYI methods can yield superior results with a little determination and perseverance. Stay tuned for updates on this project, and if you have any ideas for the perfect title, I’d love to hear it!

NOTE:  This post was written in September 2014. Click here to view the project in its current state.

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