As an amateur photographer, I’ve always explored where the next step will lead me. From taking up basic photography, to studio lighting, to travel photography, to landscape, I’m always in the pursuit of whatever else there is to learn about the hobby. Sometimes, you take lessons only to come out of it learning that it’s not your cup of tea. It’s not a waste of time, because sometimes, the only way you’ll find out if you like it or not is to try it out. I’ve always been interested to take up nude photography for the longest time, but I’ve shied away from it mainly due to the stigma attached to it. There’s the idea that people only get into nude photography for the sheer prurience of the experience. But since photography is about as close as I can get to an artform, I was up for the challenge. Is nude photography just porn in formal attire? Or is there art in the naked human form?
So when my photography guru, Leo Castillo came up with a nude photography workshop, I jumped at the chance, since I’m very comfortable with Leo having taken many classes with him in the past. To a degree, although the genre is daunting, to say the very least, the teacher was pretty much a comfort zone. But the actual teacher for the 1-day session was Raymond Latonio, also a former student of Leo. So it felt pretty much like a family affair. Of the 6 students, I was 1 of the 2 who were first-timers. The others already had previous experience shooting nude models so I guess only the newbies were a bit nervous.
There were no lectures, everything was hands-on (but hands-off, modelwise). We learned what we had to, by actually shooting. We’d see our mistakes, and learned the lessons as we shot our model. Personally, I’ve always felt that portraiture was my weakest genre in photography, and studio lighting my waterloo. Even when clothed, I have a hard time communicating with models because I’m just too shy to tell them to pose in the way I want them too. I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. If you watch America’s Next Top Model, you see the photographer inspiring their models by egging them on, talking to them, getting them to react. I have the tendency to just stand there, wait for the model to pose, then shoot. This time, it was doubly hard knowing that the model did not have a stitch of clothing on. Communication was essential, and I had no choice but to step up.
Frankly, after the first few sets, I got so wrapped up in finding the right shot, looking at the light instead of the model, and challenging myself beyond my limits, that seriously, I even forgot that the model was nude. The novelty wore off quicker than I expected. After a while, it was less a naked body and more of an empty canvass, from which we were to derive a hopefully compelling image. It was hard. We did about 9 or 10 different set-ups, different lighting, different backgrounds, that by the 5th or 6th set, I was physically and emotionally drained. Trying to find creativity under pressure is harder than you think. Per set-up we were given 3 minutes each to take as many photos as we could.
And of course, there is the matter of the thin line between art and porn. Of course you can always argue that one man’s art is another man’s porn, and you would be correct. I’m sure you can locate a man who would find the Venus De Milo an erotic piece of marble fetish, but deviance aside, one could always differentiate between a genuine attempt to artfully document the human anatomy and a soft-focus attempt to soften an otherwise hardcore porn pic. But for those who can actually think beyond the narrow confines of the nudity=porn logic, there is a thin but sturdy line that can actually separate the 2 creative regions. This line we tried to delineate, and hopefully we were successful.
If it’s a sexy shot, does it automatically qualify as porn? Or as long as you avoid a frontal assault on the senses, does it remain safely under art’s wing? Does it have to be clinical in it’s approach, like a photo of human bodies in anatomy books? Or is it possible for a nude photo to be sexy AND tasteful? These questions have raged on for as long as nude images have existed. Many films have argued on these questions when defending their movies against conservative critics who label their magnum opus as pedestrian erotica. Of course as a newbie, such a lofty dissection is far from my concern. On my beginner level we just want to find as artful an image as our untrained eyes could muster.
By the end of a more than 5-hour shoot, I was exhausted! In fact when I got home, I just ate dinner then practically collapsed into my bed and was knocked out by 8pm, the earliest I’ve slept in decades! But I must say, it was nice to be challenged to find art in the naked human anatomy. It forces you to examine where your borders lie in the realm of the question, “what is art?” I don’t really know if we succeeded or failed in our search to find art, but we surely tried. Maybe you guys might find some of my photos artful, while some raunchy, but I guess that’s the beauty in the exercise. Inasmuch as it’s a challenge for the photographer, it also serves as an exercise for the viewer. I must admit, it was a challenge to find which of my many photos are fit to publish in my blog. I didn’t want to cross that line as far as my readers are concerned. But at the same time, I didn’t want to dilute the concept of a nude photoshoot by posting pictures only from the neck up. Kinda defeats the purpose.
So, that’s it! Finally I got to experience a nude photoshoot. I really learned a lot from the experience. Being more of a travel and landscape photographer, it was truly a novel experience. I’m still kinda scared of portraiture, and still clueless with studio lighting, but at least I’m a little less scared than before. Would I do another nude photoshoot? Why not? It’s really just nice to be taken out of your comfort zone and see how you rise to the challenge. Definitely an enriching experience.