June 28, 2011
The Outdoor Naked Conference Photo
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. )
Posted by jo(e)