June 28, 2011

The Outdoor Naked Conference Photo

History Buff poses for the blog

At the Big Creative Writing Conference last February, I stayed out late talking with my male friends about the naked photo project. They kept saying things like, “I can’t pose naked right now, I need to time to get into shape.”

“I’ll pose in June,” said Nature Editor, beer in hand. “I just have to shave my back.”

“We can go to a quarry, and you can take photos of us jumping into the water,” said Midwestern Writer. “A whole bunch of Friendly Green Men. It’ll be like a calendar shot.”

Standing in a bar in February, with summer far away, they made all kinds of promises. “Sure, sure, next conference,” they kept saying. Yeah, I believed it. Just like I believe things like “The check is in the mail” or “Adjuncting will lead to a tenure track position.”

Sure enough, when I got to the Friendly Green Conference, I heard excuses as soon as I hugged my friends hello. “I’m not ready,” said Nature Editor, eyeing my camera uneasily. “I need to lose 40 pounds.”

I was about to give up on the men; after all, I was rooming with three beautiful women, and I had no doubt any one of them would pose. It’s just easier to get women naked.

But then History Buff came to my rescue. Minutes after he arrived at the conference, he sat down with me for lunch, looked at me across the table, and said, “I’ll pose for you.”

He was completely comfortable with the prospect. “Being naked can build community,” he said. We talked about how nudity can create intimacy. Being naked means being allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

“Often I’m the first person to take my clothes off,” he said. “That sort of gives everyone else permission to do so.”

The next afternoon, Artist Friend drove us to a lake north of town. Philadelphia Guy came along, too, and the four of us hiked up a trail and down the edge of a bluff until we were at the edge of the water. The lake was a reservoir, really, small and shallow: families had rented canoes and kayaks, and were paddling about in the middle.

History Buff stripped off his clothes and stood on the shore, looking out at the birds and the kayaks and the dam on the far side of the lake. I scrambled up and down the bluff, taking some shots. Artist Friend and Philadelphia Guy, unclear on what their role was supposed to be, stayed at the top of the bluff.

“I’ve got a good shot,” I said to History Bluff. To my surprise, he began putting his clothes back on.

“You aren’t going to swim?” I asked. I handed my camera to Artist Friend and scrambled back down the bank.

In my worldview, swimming is the second best reason for getting naked. I can never resist a lake or river. I kicked off my sneakers and stepped into the water. It was surprisingly warm.

“Go ahead,” said History Buff, smiling.

I stripped off my clothes, waded in, and then dove under to get my hair wet. Weeds brushed my bare skin. I couldn’t believe how warm it was: no shock of coldness at all. I drifted lazily in the water, letting it wash away all the stiffness of conference sessions. History Buff stripped his shorts back off and dove in to swim next to me.

Artist Friend, who was holding my camera, looked torn between a desire to take some blackmail photos of me and an eagerness to jump into the water himself. Finally, he set the camera carefully on a rock, stripped off his clothes, and joined us in the lake.

Philadelphia Guy didn’t move. He’s younger than me, and the look on his face was the kind of look I’d expect from my teenage son. “My God! I don’t want to see Mom naked!” The kayak that had been heading toward us turned and paddled the other way.

At Saturday night’s banquet, we discussed what pseudonym to use for History Buff. “Which body part would you like featured in your name?” I asked.

The woman sitting across the table said to me, “He has such intense eyes. Surely you could use that.”

I settled on History Buff because I’ve heard him call himself that. And as you can see from the photo, the word buff can function as both a noun and an adjective.

(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. )

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hurray for tradition! He's gorgeous.

ST

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

LOL! What fun.

I can understand though, the reluctance of those who are overweight to be photographed naked and then compared to all the lean gorgeous bodies you have posted.

I know I'd be a little reluctant these days!

I was in town twice in the last week and a half but unable to visit--hope to come again soon and visit--but of course--you may be at camp.

my word verification is winningly, which seems like some kind of message from the universe, but I'm not sure what.

jo(e) said...

Mary: You'd be surprised at how many of the people I take photos of think that they are too fat, too thin, too short, too hairy, too whatever. But then my readers always think that they're beautiful.

Magpie said...

Ooh. Cheesecake. :)

Sandy said...

What he says is right: if one person takes his clothes off, that gives other people permission to do so. It's like dancing: someone has to be the first on the dance floor.

Cool that the naked photo shoot led to all of you skinny dipping.

liz said...

Awesome post, wonderful photo.

And here's the thing about Jo(e), she takes the picture so that the things you think are flaws (back fat or whatever) are made to look beautiful...not just to others, but to you, too.

Anonymous said...

Nice!

jo(e) said...

Liz: Thanks for that comment.

People are often unhappy with their bodies -- and yet think that everyone else looks beautiful. When I take photos of people, they can let go of the ideas inside their head and see themselves the way I see them. Or at least, that's what I hope for.

Anonymous said...

It's true that being naked can lead to intimacy quickly in a group. I've often noticed that with women. It's interesting that a man pointed that out as well. I think it might actually be harder to find men who are comfortable being naked in a group than women. Women are more used to it, I think.

S.

rented life said...

Your project wants me to meet you some day to pose.

fairbetty said...

Love it.

Heidi said...

I love this tradition!

It's funny how context is everything. Standing naked by a lake on a warm summer day seems completely appropriate.

Lomagirl said...

Interesting that the kayak simply changed direction.
Skinny dipping is the best!

jo(e) said...

Rented Life: Oh, we'll have to meet up one of these days. And I'll take your photo.

Heidi: Yeah, it's funny how context changes things. I can remember as a teenager walking on a nude beach and feeling overdressed in a bikini because everyone one else was naked.

Lomagirl: It's a lake near a college town. I suspect the locals are very used to folks skinny dipping.

YourFireAnt said...

Nice one, Jo(e), both composition and model.

T.

Phil said...

FireAnt - I wondered if you knew Jo(e), given your geographic and professional proximity. Even wondered if you were the same person.

Look forward to your photo shoot!

Zhoen said...

I wonder why women are more comfortable with it. I had never been naked in front of anyone, but the first time art modeling, or at a bath-house in SF, I was fine. Maybe we are more used to being looked at for our bodies, none of us less critical of ourselves?

Men, well, I don't quite know why they are so much more self-conscious. Too vulnerable? Used to having their 'uniform' of clothes that denote their work/class, and what are they without that?

jo(e) said...

Phil: Oh, Fire Ant has ALREADY posed for my blog. It didn't take much persuading to get her to take her clothes off.

Zhoen: Interesting. I hadn't thought about the way that clothes denote staus/class/profession. Nudity is an equalizer in that regard.

YourFireAnt said...

Phil: already did it. You'll have to plow through all those links to find it. ;-)

T.