Nudes

The human body is a wonderful aesthetic adventure for the alternative photographer. There are two things to avoid, however. The first is treating the body as an object hit by light. This approach de-humanises the person, and is fundamentally used by those who do not wish to avow their interest in the body as an expression of human individuality, effectively cutting themselves off from the most interesting aspects of the subject. The second is treating the human body as a sex object. This approach also seeks to de-humanise the subject of the photo, appealing to lust in the viewer, and lust, like vanity, is hard and sterile.

On the left, strong compositional features dominate (almost) the undeniable attractions of the model. Two sharp diagonals on the left give the image a dynamic, while the horizontals and implied rectangle of the picture behind give stability. The fact that the model interrupts this rectangle throws her forward to meet us, of course. The implied ninety degree angles of the picture behind are repeated in the arms of the model, into which the luxurious curves of her breasts are fitted. Further diagonals of the clavicles repeat the diagonals already mentioned. The fixed regard implies a challenge, and gives a tension to the photo which would not otherwise be there. The simplification of the background also adds significantly to the impact of the photo. The same can be said of the next photo, 'she's leaving home', where the room has been stripped of almost all furniture and where diagonals predominate: the skirting board, the table, the window, the suitcase and the body of the model. It suggests impermanence, as does the title. The bars of the back of the chair, which cast shadows on the wall behind, suggest the bars of a prison. So perhaps she is escaping. Better not go out sans culottes however. Contax 645 with 35mm Zeiss Distagon lens, which explains the slightly surrealist distortion of the image. It should be mentioned also that the use of genuine items as props, viz the oak wooden table, wooden chair, old wooden floorboards and the leather suitcase, adds significantly to the visual interest. The correspondence between human skin and leather is also evocative.

There's something appealing about observing somebody engrossed in doing something. Here the figure is enhanced by the diagonal of the wooden chest behind which points at her. The profile of the face is nicely detailed against the blank wall behind, and the play of light falling on the many soft surfaces of the model's body is simply gorgeous. It is, of course, purely accidental, natural light. There is no lighting equipment which can equal the beautiful subtlety of this type of light. The agreeable bokeh which helps to give the model prominence is an aspect of the Contax 645 with an 80mm lens used for this photo.

On the right, the body of the model is contrasted with the pure white of the sheets and pillowcases. Again, most of the light is natural light coming from a window to the model's left. The hard diagonal and vertical of the beams act as a sort of punctuation. The horizontal of the white sheet behind is broken by the model's head, again acting to push her forward towards us, while the more diffuse lines of the pillowcases give an impression not unlike a slowly subsiding wave, perhaps inviting her to recline. She, however, is pensive, perhaps a little self-conscious of her nakedness in front of the camera.

On the left, out of focus horizontals and verticals (shelving and books in this case) allow the main subject to pop out of the photo. The bokeh is that of a Contax 645 with 80mm Zeiss lens, though too much can be made of this, because the same type of effect can be reproduced with any camera. Whether one bokeh is superior to another is debatable, but, apparently, no two lenses produce the same bokeh. I haven't tested out enough lenses to confirm this. Suffice it to say that isolating the subject by means of out of focus background is a good way to concentrate the attention of the viewer on the subject (though it can sometimes be used for the opposite effect).

The middle photo uses stong horizontals in a strong colour to isolate the subject. The subject is further made interesting by the dappled sunlight which falls more or less randomly on her body. The pose is awkward, and, for some reason, awkwardness is sexy. The image is cut top and bottom. This also is awkward, but is not sexy, which leads us to question what exactly it is about awkwardness that is sexy. Or not. It all depends on how far you are a thinking thing. Still, I can point to a principle of composition here that states that anything that is cut at the top should also be cut at the bottom. You will have to practice this to see how far it is true, but, like all rules, there are times when it is true and times when it is not. Breaking or bending the rules allows the photographer to express his individuality. The rules form a framework within which the photographer can interweave his own personality: creatively, humourously, deliberately, confusingly, astonishingly etc etc. The possibilities are legion. Compare this to the situation where there is a rule and it must not be broken. There is no room for the expression of personality here.

And so to the grapes. The use of props is significant here. There are compositional features in this photo as in the others, There is the horizontal of the dado rail behind, the easy diagonals of the cushions, the chair arm, the knee, and the powerful diagonal of the raised arm leading to the grapes and then down the other arm to the corner of the photo. Quite an adventure for the perceiving eye! But it is the prop which attracts most attention. Human beings have had relationships with grapes for thousands of years, and the grape holds myriad associations to events, stories, myths, history, society, drunkenness, happiness, trauma, you name it, the history of the grape is inextricably interwoven with the history of humanity. So a person holding up a bunch of grapes is also showing us a meaningful symbol which calls on that history. The beauty of a prop like this is that the model can express her personality in relation to this symbol. Expressing personality is much more difficult to do as simply a naked person in front of the camera. What's more, the simple prop evokes a response in the individual on a subconscious level, which means that the individual is not exercising conscious control, a profoundly good thing, since intellectually controlled expressions, body postures etc are always detectable and appear contrived. If we ask for anger, for example, what the model gives us is contrived anger, not real anger, which is very different, perceptibly different. If we ask for envy, we get contrived envy. Certainly, the person who is a gifted actor (liar) can present something which is at first sight convincing, but it is never the same as the real thing. So you see how a simple prop can open up a world of possibilities!

Props: country Chippendale chair in oak, oak table, rough plastered wall, vase of flowers. Why did the flowers wilt? Your guess is as good as mine. They were upright when I put them in the vase. But the suggestion, whether we like it or not, is that the model has made the flowers wilt. I will let your imagination wander over that countryside: vigour, impotence, sexuality, threat, castration, manliness and so on. The rough plastering offers an ideal background for a portrait. The variable, pitted grey is perfect.

In the second photo, the same model is shown with dramatic, but natural light. Here it's interesting to note that colour photography often works best when the colour is actually very muted. The strong vertical of the sternokleidomastoid is always a beautiful feature of the human body, and the delicate features of the model's face, which it takes a while to decipher, gives the photo an intimacy which is rarely attained in photography. You have to go right into the photo to see the expression on the model's face, and, by then, it is too late to modify your response.

The third photo, the same model again, this time flaunting her well proportioned body, like an athlete. There is, no doubt, a certain amount of vanity apparent, but it is tempered by ... difficult to say what. We would have to delve into her history to find that out. But it is this which offers interest and appeal. The photo is slightly out of focus, but this works well to humanise / soften the image.