January 18, 2012

Living Sculptures

My high school art teacher was a little eccentric, (which was a good thing and seems to be part of the job description for art teachers!) She helped students through personal projects that had nothing to do with the exam material, calmly reviewed proposals for twenty-foot high paintings, and was an expert at tackling students paralysed by artist’s block a week before the deadline.
One of my friends wasn’t happy with her work and on hearing her plea for inspiration, our teacher cried “but how can you be stuck- you’re a walking work of art!!!”
I could almost see the light bulb turning on in my friend’s head. Her subsequent self-portraits received an A.

Seeing the human body as a living sculpture isn’t exactly an original concept, or a difficult one for many photographers and models- the tricky part is often getting the viewer to see what you do.

For some people, the challenge is getting past the obvious:
“She’s naked.”
“That’s right- but look at the pose and the way
her body is positioned. It is perfectly symmetrical- the light makes her curves even more pronounced…”
“But she’s naked!”
And on and on and on…

Making an impression on other artists is even more difficult as most have seen it all before at the very least. Many have tried it themselves. That’s where the lighting, positioning and imagination come in- especially inside a white box with- if the team is lucky- a cube or step for the model to pose on.
Not that shooting outdoor nudes is easy- it isn’t- but a lot of decisions are already made. On location there are infinite focal points, a change of scenery usually within a minute’s walk, a variety of things for the model to pose with, in, on or under- and there’s a nice round sun to help with the lighting decisions (or hinder them until five ‘o’ clock precisely when the light suddenly becomes perfect)!
A studio is literally a ‘blank canvas’. There are so many ways to treat the curves, angles, ripples, joints and plains that make up a human body, that such a project could last a lifetime- and that’s without factoring in models of different genders, colours and shapes!

It is while browsing studio nudes that I find I can identify the best of the art models- bizarrely, this is because shooting abstract or sculptural nudes often involves doing the opposite of what modelling usually entails! As a model, scrunching yourself into a ball may not feel like the most attractive position, but when photographed from the right angle the creases and awkwardness of the pose are hidden and instead, you resemble a smooth living stone.
Close-ups are often joked about- it is a daunting thing to see your elbow in all it’s wrinkly glory… but if the viewer sees amazing texture captured in an abstract shot, then you have earned your meals that day!
While it is lovely to be recognised in photos (“another wonderful shot posed by _______” is always nice to hear), hiding models’ he
ads instantly makes the photograph about the form, rather than the identity of the person posing and so sometimes it is better to shut egos away, keep our heads down, and hope to be recognised for our incredible knees!

There are only so many w
ays the human body can be arranged and so accidentally copying someone else’s pose is a nightmare of many models. (Trying to avoid this with experimental posing often results in some hilarious outtakes!) However, trying to invent a new pose- whether it can be done or not- and, in the case of abstract nudes, banishing your inner model (along with the ego) is what, in my opinion can make a great pose.

And when the aforementioned great pose is captured by an equally-great photographer? That’s when the magic happens…


First image: "Underlap", by Matthew Scherfenberg. I love the marble-like appearance of the model's legs. (And could see this on a pedestal in a gallery!)

Second image: by Lightphile Studios. This is the definition of a "living stone". Beautiful pose.

Some more beautiful pictures:

3) by Keital.

This image reminds me of the yin/yang symbol
in the way that the model (Anita de Bauch)'s face is shown in one reflection but not the other. If you look without trying to separate the reflection from the real image, the different curves and lines take on an abstract quality.

4) by Jose Manuel de Caso

I see so many photographs of swans taking this pose, but it didn't occur to me that models could! I really like the sensuality- even eroticism- of this image, without it being explicit.

5) by B L Photography

It is always fascinating to see the work of art-nude models when they are behind the camera! This photo is a self-portrait by nude model Brooke Lynne- and a great example of an unusual pose that works to great effect.

6) by Jose Manuel de Caso

I love the pose and the contrast of the model's body with the dark background. Proof that the model does not have to be contorted to produce a wonderful image!

7) by R Davidson

I did not know the human body could make a heart shape in so many ways! If you focus on the model's outline, you can almost see another heart shape!

8) by Franklin Photographs

I love the way the lighting emphasizes the muscles and shadows on the model's body- and the tension in her fingers and toes.
Comparing this picture to the one above, it's a good example of how a small change in pose can change an image entirely.

9) "Ear", by Matthew Scherfenberg.

This image seems simple at first glance but the longer I look, the more details I see- especially the changes in tone around the jawline and hair. Beautiful piece of art.

January 6, 2012

Venus is a real woman: the photography of Grace Vane Percy

Happy New Year everyone! 

This is our first feature for 2012 and we are starting off our new series with Grace Vane Percy, an internationally recognised London based art photographer who specialises in nude female portraiture.  

Clients come to her from France, Italy, Sweden, Holland and Monte Carlo and she  also travels to New York to photograph women. Grace’s clients are professional and independently successful women, her work is a celebration of their natural femininity and unique beauty. 
In other words, Grace does not work with "professional" models. It is an interesting choice, one that certainly challenges preconceived notions of beauty. Her work celebrates beauty and the female form and is about empowering women to think differently about their bodies.

Trained as visual artist at Central Saint Martin’s, Grace went on to study fine art and the techniques of the Old Masters in Florence. Grace sees her work as directly influenced by classical art as well as the work of mid/late 19th century English and early 20th Century European (especially Czech and German) photographers. 
 In 2004 Grace was invited to join the ‘Women In Photography’ Archive at Yale. She has had many solo exhibitions around the world and is currently being exhibited at Art Palm Beach, represented by Christopher Walker Art. Learn  more about her by perusing her website.

I came across Grace's work in 2009 and we were briefly in touch. Last month the Evening Standard magazine carried a feature about her and this prompted me to reconnect. She graciously agreed (no pun intended) to contribute to UdA which she found very much to her taste. 
I asked her two questions "Why real women rather than models?" and "Why film?" (Grace does not work with digital for her personal projects).
Let's hear it from her.

Why real women?
It just so happens that I am currently producing a body of work based on Venus, which ties in nicely with your question “Why real women?”
Nude female portraiture, that is to say the artistic depiction of the nude female form in art, harks back to the very origins of art itself. From the moment that man could conceive of art he has depicted the human form. But the creation of the nude as an art form in its own right and not just the subject, comes to us directly from the Ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC. The worship of Aphrodite or Venus and her celebration as the goddess of love, beauty and fertility was unquestioning of the fact she was a woman and the embodiment of physical desire. In fact this mysterious and compulsive force was embraced as an element of her sanctity. The concept of Venus has always unapologetically celebrated and glorified the female form. 

The reality of any nude in art of course, is that its inspiration comes from an actual human body. Venus’s root is a woman’s body, a real woman’s body. In her many depictions art and art history are full of endless differing nude female forms, inspired by and indeed copied from life, from real women.
Simply put Venus is the worship of the triumph of the female form and the cult of its beauty. “Art”, says Aristotle, “completes what nature cannot bring to a finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature's unrealised ends”. And so we see that the existence of ideal beauty is a creation from art. Praxiteles (of the late 4th) the first sculptor to be credited with sculpting a life sized female nude was as famous as his muse Phryne and together they are credited with the creation of some of the most beautiful works of art to enrich the classical world. Sadly only replicas now remain, but their collaboration is well documented and certainly one of the earliest examples of countless such artist/’model’ associations. This particular ‘model’ being any woman inspiring to the artist who was prepared to pose nude.

My current Venus project is conceptually loosely linked with Pygmalion. The idea is to photograph women referencing the Goddess Venus (mother of all female nudity in art), posed within neoclassical architectural surroundings. The locations will include some of the UK’s most celebrated and renowned stately homes. The halls, sculpture galleries, temples, ruins, alcoves and fountains, will provide an apposite setting. The project is aimed at highlighting the natural, sculptural form of the body.

Why film?
Not only am I totally in love with the romance of film – the idea that when you’re looking at a negative it is a precise split second of history captured – like a miniature time capsule of the exact moment when the light and chemicals combined. It’s like an imprint of the light we reflect constantly, and our eye sees constantly, that has been caught, suspended and preserved – what could be more magical?!
But also I find it gives this wonderfully rich tonal depth, which is especially valuable when the camera is describing skin. There are two films I shoot with pretty much exclusively – Ilford FP4 (120 roll film) and Ilford Delta 3200 (120 roll film), I use one for flash and one for daylight, they both give different qualities.
When I’m looking at a subject I want to capture that pearl like richness the skin holds and the luminous tones as the surface moves from light the shadow. I think no digital print can rival the depth and beauty of a high quality tradition hand print. My printer is a master at what she does, she has nearly 25years experience and a great understanding of the subtlety that is involved in good printing.


Thank you, Grace. Your work is thought provoking and inspiring.  We hope to see more of it and good luck with all your projects!