March 25, 2013

On the other side of the camera: flipping the naked photo shoot

Flipping the naked photo project

I was looking over my conference schedule to plan a blogger meet-up. I’ve known Beautiful Photographer for years: I’ve read her book, I read her blog, and I’ve admired her photographs. But we’ve never met face to face, so I was looking forward to talking in real life over breakfast.

That’s when a text message chimed in: “Just so you know, I will NOT be getting naked for you.”

It’s possible I’ve given readers the wrong impression. I don’t spend every conference coercing innocent people into taking their clothes off. Honest. Those rumors about bribes and blackmail are completely false. Or at least, wildly exaggerated. That story about me running through the bookfair wearing nothing but a red cape is fiction. I’d never run barefoot on that filthy hotel carpet.

The naked photos happen quite naturally, usually when I meet someone whose been reading my blog for a long time. I’ll be innocently making small talk, chatting about their kids or mine, talking about blogs we both read and which bloggers we’ve met in real life. The woman I’ve just met will go quiet for a second. She’ll look around the room to make sure we’re alone, lean forward to look me in the eyes, and whisper, “I’ll pose for you.”

Honest. Readers volunteer willingly, often before I even ask. And some, like Beautiful Photographer, turn me down before I even ask.

I had suspected, to be honest, that she wouldn’t pose for me. I mean, at least not on our first meeting. I had planned to work up to the naked photo gradually. So when I got her text, I asked, “Did you bring your camera? Want to take a picture of me?” 

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the camera during a naked photo shoot. The last woman I photographed sent me a text saying, “It was a wonderful experience. I hope it was good for you too.” Okay, maybe I’m paraphrasing.

The night before the breakfast meet-up, I stood in front of the mirror to try to figure out a good pose. “I feel a little nervous about this blogger meet-up,” I said to my conference roommate. “Maybe I ought to shave my legs.”

She laughed. “Now you know what it feels like to be on the other side.”

Of course, once I met Beautiful Photographer, my fears disappeared. She was as warm and friendly in person as she was online. We’d had several discussions over the years about our bodies. I knew she’d be gentle.

We didn’t have much time. We both had plans for a 9:30 am session. During breakfast, I sent my roommate a text to make sure she was awake. “I need the room for a photo shoot,” I said. I knew she'd understand. She’s used to coming back to the room to find a naked body sprawled on the bed or balanced on a table.

Morning light was filtering in through the window. Perfect. I stripped off my clothes. Beautiful Photographer climbed up on the bed to get a better angle. “Try sitting on the window ledge,” she called out.

The window ledge was cold against my bare skin. It really wasn’t all that comfortable. I got the idea that I wanted to pose with my journal – although to be honest, the situation was a little artificial. I do write in my journal when I’m naked sometimes, but I’m more likely to be snuggled in bed then sitting on a cold window sill. And of course, I had to hold the journal at arm’s length to accommodate my aging eyes.

“I’m not sure about this angle,” I said, “Let me sit up straight so I don’t look fat.”

“I can’t believe I hear you saying that,” said my roommate. “You hate it when women say they’re fat.” 

“But I’m NOT fat,” I said in defense. “I want a photo that shows me as I really am. It’s all about being true to reality.” That's the truth about this project. I always want to take a photo that shows each woman how beautiful she really is.

“Shake your head so I can see your hair,” Beautiful Photographer called. I loved that she wanted to feature my hair, with all its silvery strands.

She snapped quickly. I jumped off the ledge to peer at the photos in her camera, and she loaded them efficiently onto my computer. Another naked photo shoot complete.

To read more about the Naked Photo Project, check out this page — and the gallery of photos. You can click the link under each photo to read the story behind it.

37 comments:

Cindy said...

She did a great job! I LOVE the swirling hair.

rented life said...

I love it! I love the movement in your hair. Your journal looks much neater than mine, or did you select a particular page deliberately?

jo(e) said...

I just opened the journal to a random page. Most of the pages are pretty messy -- I think it looks neater when you don't look too close.

patrick said...

With the last photo, I commented that it was probably my favourite one of all that you've done. When I first took a look at this (on flickr, prior to reading the context), I thought this one might take the proverbial cake (irony, perhaps?). Yes... the sweeping weeping-willow-tree hair was genius.

Beyond that, I'm glad you finally came up with a way to link to all the naked photos without having to keep adding to your growing paragraph of and heres.

jo(e) said...

Patrick: Yeah, that's why I asked Leslie -- I knew she'd do a fantastic job.

And I was determined to return from spring break with a blog for all the photos. I had originally set up a page on Flickr but someone tagged the photos as NOT SAFE (really! it's ridiculous) so I had to go to a blog.

Anonymous said...

LOVE this one. Especially the hair.

H.

Michelle said...

Beautiful!!

liz said...

Awesome photo.

L said...

oh, there's a blog? I'll go look.

GORGEOUS hair!!!

L said...

The new blog looks AMAZING! Particularly on the page with all the photos, that should be the opening page (I don't know if you can set that up).

GREAT JOB!!

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

BEAUTIFUL! Turn about's fair play and yr a worthy model.

Magpie said...

Yes, the hair is captivating. But so is your ramrod straight back. Wonderful together. Thanks for being on that side!

jo(e) said...

Magpie: I was trying hard to sit up straight so that my yoga friends would be proud of me.

Sandy said...

Your friend did a wonderful job. That's a lovely photo.

Sandy said...

And I like that you have a separate page for the gallery of nekkid shots!

Paige said...

Just lovely! And so is the new gallery. Thanks, as ever, for keeping this project going -- it's a lovely break from grading papers and the everyday business of school

Anonymous said...

I love seeing the whole set. And it's great that YOU posed.

Linda

robin andrea said...

Fantastic! Good for you for being in your own naked photo. It's a great photo.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I didn't realize you were planning to write a book. I want to pre-order a copy! I've been reading these naked-photo posts for awhile and I'm *so* curious to hear even a part of the conversations you have with other women.

For myself, I can contribute this: After my 2nd child was born, I lost a lot of weight. I'm not exactly sure why. I think partly she was premature; partly I was nursing; and partly I had a toddler + infant and no help, so I was always running around and never eating... I had a 4-month-old and wore a size 0. Anyway, that year that I was so crazy thin, I got more weight-related criticism than I've ever had in my life before or since -- and all from women. One woman said to me, "You're so thin, your friends must hate you." I could've slapped her. But also, I've always wondered exactly what she was implying. Did she mean to say that my thinness made other women look bad? Made them look -- what? Lazy? Did she mean to say that I had an obligation to look a certain way post-childbirth?

As soon as I got back to my standard weight, all the criticism stopped. It was a very weird experience.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

OK, now I feel the need to add that for every backhanded compliment I received, I had a woman approach me with concern, because clearly I was unhealthily thin. It's the criticism I remember most, though, because it took me so much by surprise. People would admire my baby and then look at *me* with disdain. So weird.

Zhoen said...

Gorgeous. You in your skin.

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

Beautiful!

Did you get any attention from across the street?

jo(e) said...

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law: Nope. I think the other buildings were too far away. I don't know about people on the street. I didn't look down to check out.

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: Oh, I should interview for the book! (And perhaps take your photo if I'm ever on your side of the continent.)

There's this stereotype that American women are obsessed with looking "too fat" and therefore they're jealous of all thin women, and that being thin must be everyone's goal. But thin women just as often share that they have insecurities about their bodies -- or get criticism for being too thin, too flat-chested, not curvy enough. It seems that no matter what your body type in this culture, you can get criticism.

Leslie F. Miller said...

All I can say is HOORAY!

Jeff C. said...

Haven't been on here much with other real-life issues taking hold. So when I did log on after a long time it was refreshing to see another beautiful, whimsical take on another aspect of real life. Ourselves, naked. (ok, the blog is of just one person and in this case, you...but still the idea of us as a people or collective human beings is what I'm trying to say). Nevertheless...

Love the accentuated, stoic yet gorgeous feminine pose; fabulous light and a delightful story.

Servetus said...

I'm mostly reading your blog because of Biker Boy, frankly, but I wonder -- if your goal is really to show every woman how beautiful she is, how come all the women in your photos have (from my perspective) near-perfect bodies?

jo(e) said...

Servetus: Well, that's the secret. All people *are* beautiful. I've never met someone who wasn't.

Honestly, if you talked to some of the women in the photos, many would tell you that they think they are too fat, or too thin, or too flat-chested, or too wrinkled, or too scarred -- or whatever. Most of the women who have posed for me have been over the age of 50, which is considered "old" by standards of beauty in our culture.

I think our culture encourages women (and often men too) to feel insecure about their appearance and unhappy with their bodies. But when they see photos of themselves naked, they are often surprised. They see themselves the way other people see them -- and they see that they are really beautiful.

jo(e) said...

Servetus: Oh, and if you'd like an update on Biker Boy, he's doing well. He's still at the foster home that's out in the country (and they're nice people), and he's been spending time with a couple who might adopt him. It's all very promising. I don't know how much I should say about that in a blog post (I want to protect his privacy), but I figure it's probably okay to put it here in a comment. I really hope the adoption works out. I'd love to see him in a permanent situation.

Anonymous said...

Servetus: I've posed for jo(e) and I can assure you that I don't have a perfect body. Not even close.

Servetus said...

I'm really sincerely grateful for the update about Biker Boy; when he doesn't appear for awhile here I start to worry about him. I've really been grateful that you make sure to see him and take him out for pizza and be a constant presence in his life.

With all due respect, because I don't know you: when you photo someone who doesn't fall within the physical and aesthetic norms of polite academic society, I'll believe that making people realize how beautiful they is what this project's about.

Annette said...

Bold and beautiful! Bully for you!

Alice Kildaire said...

Beautiful! Your naked photo shoots somehow put me more at ease in my own skin.

Amber said...

Wanted to share what happened when I went to the Photo Blog and read that you were making it into a book: I cried. Wasn't expecting that. I have loved and followed and shared this project since the beginning. I think it is your tenderness and genuine interest and affection. So few people speak or write as thoughtfully about our bodies. So thrilled that you are building on this project. I hope I get share my story and pose for you someday.

jo(e) said...

Amber: Aw, thanks for sharing that with me. And we do have to figure out how you can pose for me.

Anonymous said...

It may seem a bit of spam but my mates would say I have a memory like (alpha) wolfram... and thought you might enjoy the brief narrative... connecting points and all.

http://www.today.com/id/13756233/site/todayshow/ns/today-books/t/im-so-fat-other-locker-room-tales/#.T5SPbdkplhE

jo(e) said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I just ordered the book.