September 26, 2011

Naked Thought

Naked thought

The naked man in my hotel room climbed up onto the stuffed chair and looked out at the clock tower we could see in the distance.

“That’s perfect,” I said. “You look like a sculpture.”

“I had Rodin in mind,” he said. The thinker pose fit his personality: I’d only known him for less than 48 hours, but already I’d noticed that he was someone who listened closely, made careful observations, and thought deeply about topics before speaking up in a conversation.

I snapped a few photos of his silhouette and then looked again through my viewfinder. Wait, something was weird about that silhouette.

“You didn’t take your socks off!”

He looked back over his shoulder and then down at his feet. “Oh, I didn’t think you’d see my feet.”

“You have to be totally naked,” I explained. “That’s part of the experience.” So he reached down and obligingly stripped off the socks, then settled back to tell me the story about the tattoo on his shoulder. 

Yes, the naked photo tradition has continued. My conference friends have gotten used the tradition. When I bumped into Vegetarian Guy With Cool Tattoos in the elevator between sessions, the first thing he asked was, "Have you found a victim yet?" 

This conference was interdisciplinary — a mix of scientists, artists, writers, and literature professors — and almost all of my colleagues had something to say about the naked photo project. (Yes, somehow it has become a “project.”) We’ve all studied the body in some way, whether we’ve sketched it, or learned anatomy, or looked at sexual symbolism in literature. In fact, the art show at the museum where some of the sessions were held included interactive exhibits in which the viewer’s body became part of the artwork she was viewing.

One thing I’ve discovered through this project is that everyone has stories about their body. Ask a naked man about his tattoo, and he’ll tell you what was happening when he got that tattoo, often when he was at a transformational stage of his life. Ask a woman about the scar on her belly, and you’ll hear a story. That’s still the valuable part of this project: not the photographs, but the stories that people tell me when we talk about the project. The stories don’t end up on my blog because they aren’t my stories to tell.

On Saturday night, conference attendees gathered for a dance. After three days of intent discussions and serious presentations, it’s always fun to watch everyone strip off their blazers and gyrate to the music. As I looked around the room of sweaty conference folks, I thought not about the intellectual ideas they’d brought to the conference, typed into laptops or scribbled onto yellow pads of paper, but the stories written onto their bodies.

(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 and here and here and here. )


Cindy said...

I love this tradition. And it's a great photo!

Anonymous said...

Nice to see a man step up to the plate!

Anonymous said...

Nudity after a long time. Love the man's butt. :)

- Jena

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

How fun! I love this tradition! :-D

Magpie said...


(also, my capcha is PHOLLEC, which seems oddly apt...)

Zhoen said...

Every scar, every tattoo, every wrinkle and freckle, we wear our stories.

Anonymous said...

That's why we need to value laugh lines, wrinkles, scars, stretch marks, grey hairs, and such. They tell a lifetime of stories.


Sam said...

Wow. I'm new here but I guess this tradition has quite a history.

Jeff said...

Everybody & "every body" has a story to tell and this image is no different.

A naked thought always makes for a refreshing pause, I think. :) Brings back memories of a long ago self-portrait silhouette I posed for by a hotel window but I digress.

It has probably been mentioned but one element of this series I like is how these photos strip away the cultural layers we wear.

jo(e) said...

Jeff: Oh, I'll have to come take your photo so that I can hear that story.

Another reader commented once on how everyone kind of looks alike once we take off our clothes -- it's an equalizing move.

Jeff said...

jo(e): If you're in Atlanta that might happen. :)

Yes, "equalizing" is another apt description for how I view your project.

Another digression; I was at a nude beach in Greece about 25 or so years ago and my first thought was anxious nervousness/interest. When I saw how all walks of life, bodies & age were at the beach it changed my perspective; I began to think of this activity as as "equalizing move" despite the outward physical differences.

jo(e) said...

Jeff: Oh, I get to Atlanta fairly often. It's one of my favorite places to visit in March, when there is still snow on the ground here.

YourFireAnt said...

So when does your book come out? "Conference Nudes" ;-)

Sharon From the Creek said...

I do love this. I asked a friend to do this for me, which she did, but when it came to posting the pictures she asked me not too and backed out. She was uncomfortable with it. Some are. You are lucky that most are comfortable in their own skin to do this. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Your models are always in such a great shape! I feel like I'd need to work out at the gym for about a year before I'd be ready to pose.