Do you need to be an exhibitionist to be a nude model?
A few years ago I was commissioned to shoot photographs for the Scrap Yard Nudes calendar for a metal recycling company. Read more about Creating the Calendar.
The subsequent shoots threw up several interesting thoughts and observations on the reaction to nudity, largely from males, and exhibitionist nudity by females.
A metal recycling yard is full of exciting visual possibilities, even before you add nudes, and the sales director’s original concept, to produce ‘fine art’ style black and white images created the first discussion.
Some directors of the company felt that their target audience (mainly working men) would probably favour a more glamorous theme. The gist of their argument was that most men would prefer to look at a photo of a scantly, sexily, clothed woman rather than an ‘artistic’ nude. They also commented that women who saw the calendar might find ‘art nudes’ a little too revealing.
We (the art director and I) countered with, so you are saying that the average man cannot appreciate the female body displayed as a beautiful shape or form and that women will find a calendar that depicts women as a sexualised and objectified less offensive than one that depicts their natural beauty.
We semi-won that argument. The first year’s calendar contained elements of glamour photography. The feedback from many of the company’s customers was good. The target market proved more discerning than the directors expected with some of the black and white images receiving the highest praise.
To provide the safest and most private environment for the girls the shoots were scheduled for Sundays; the only day that the yard was closed but, inevitably, several of the, mostly male staff, decided that they had something vitally important to do at work on the first Sunday.
I had deliberately picked models who I knew were confident, several were definitely exhibitionists and would happily have walked down the local high street naked. The day was warm and sunny so there was no physical need for clothes.
I always tell models to bring something to walk to the location in, even if it is only a few paces. The idea is that they slip off the covering, hand it to my assistant, we capture the photos, they put the covering back on and we move to the next location or model.
When the first coat came off, I began to hear comments behind me such as, “Well, I think I will go and finish those invoices,” and “I’ll just nip back to the office.”
As the second model took the stage and the first stood there holding rather than wearing a jacket I looked behind me. The yard was empty, the rather embarrassed spectators had all disappeared into their offices.
It seems that if men are given permission to look at a naked woman in a situation governed by society, e.g. in a strip club, they are confident viewers, but place nudity in a day-to-day context, even where the woman, by removing their clothes, is expressly giving them permission to look, embarrassment takes over and they look away.
Some of the models were quite disappointed that they no longer had an audience. They confessed that they enjoyed being looked at and their naked bodies appreciated, especially in a non-sexual setting.
Are they exhibitionists or nudists?
I would use the following criteria: Those who derive stimulation, i.e. enjoyment, from the feeling of the air on all of their skin are primarily nudists. A nudist is quite happy to be naked in the middle of a field with no observers. Nudism can of course take place when there are other observers but, in a nudist setting these tend to be other naturists.
An exhibitionist derives stimulation from the nudity but also from the gaze and reaction of the, often clothed, observers.
Do you need to be an exhibitionist to be a model?
The models on the calendar shoot were all exhibitionists. After the audience departed the camera became their audience. I have worked with models who were more nudist than exhibitionist in the studio and on locations with no observers. The results were excellent in that they depict a confident person, naked, saying, ‘this is me, this is what I look like, take it or leave it’.
I would conclude that a model does not need to be a hundred per cent exhibitionist but the ability to relate to the camera, and ultimately the viewer of the photograph that a little exhibitionism brings will always help produce engaging pictures.
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