“It’s got to be a little strange for you – the only sober person in a mob of drunk writers,” said Maine Writer, my conference roommate, the morning after a late night at the hotel bar. “The promises these men make! Your heart must just get broken again and again.”
She was talking, of course, about my naked photo project. She was right. A drunk friend will often ramble on about how he would love to pose for me, how he’s got cool scars to show, how he’s totally comfortable being naked in front of the camera. Then the next day? I get a text message about how he had to leave the conference early, to go wash his hair or something. The friends who willingly hang out with me in the dark of night, downing beers in a hotel bar, are never to be seen when I’m wandering about in daylight with camera in hand, looking for a volunteer.
It happened again on Friday night, as we were jostling to fit everyone around a table in a crowded bar. We started talking about the naked photo project, and the men made bold proclamations about how they were going to pose for me. They knew they were safe. I won’t take photos of anyone who isn’t sober. And I insist on natural light.
“These pictures are pretty innocent,” said Copper John, peering at the photo he’d pulled up on a smartphone.
“Yeah,” agreed Poetry Guy. He sounded a bit disappointed. He scrolled through my blog, searching for naked photos like a seagull after a french fry. I’d mentioned casually that at least three people in the room had already posed for me — all women, of course — and he was trying to match these anonymous photos with the women sitting at the table.
“You don’t really show anything risqué,” said Poetry Guy, looking at the photos. “I’d pose. With a prop to hide —”
“You could use your phone as a prop,” said Tall Editor, helpfully. He demonstrated with his own phone, holding it in front of himself as if it were a fig leaf.
“Please,” said Poetry Guy. “That phone is not going to be big enough.”
That’s the way it is with guys. They love to make seventh grade jokes about the naked blogging project, but when it’s time to actually off their clothes, they balk and make excuses. Women are way easier.
“That’s because you're a woman,” Poetry Guy said when we talking about this the next morning in the harsh light of day, by which I mean the dreadful fluorescent lights of the bookfair. “It’s no big deal for a woman to take her clothes off in front of another woman. But a man getting naked for you? That’s got to be a little weird.”
“I’ve got a husband and three sons,” I said. “The sight of a penis doesn’t send me into a tizzy.”
The mention of male body parts didn’t reassure him. He looked at his watch and mumbled something about at 10:30 panel he wanted to go to. I’d seen that look before — on the face of an eleventh grade boy who really didn’t want to go to prom. He looked nervously around the room, casting about for a friend who might rescue him. “Maybe Tall Editor will pose.”
“Not going to happen,” said Tall Editor. “I’ve said that all along. It wasn’t me making promises in the bar last night.”
That’s when Copper John strolled into the scene. I’d had my sights on him all along. He fit the profile — that is, if there is a profile of men willing to pose naked for my blog. He’s in a solid marriage and he seems comfortable with his body. He listened closely when I talked about my silent retreats at Southern Monastery. I could tell he was listening — and observing — when I talked about the naked photo project. He watched me exchanging smiles with two of the women at the table when we talked about the project, and he said, “It’s like a secret club, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” I told him. “The world is divided into two types of people. Those who have posed for me, and those who have not.”
His promise to pose hadn’t been a drunken declaration; I think he’d only had a single beer. And he kept the promise. On a gorgeously sunny morning, we walked back to his hotel room, where there was plenty of natural light.
“You could pose with your laptop,” I said. “I’m sure that happens all the time – you get out of the shower and need to write something right away.”
He nodded. “Sure. All the time. I’m always sitting naked with a computer.”
We hung a sheet from the top of the bed, with bottles of water carefully balanced to hold the sheet in place. “It looks just like a portrait studio,” I assured him. “Totally professional. Your roommate will never know that you were sitting naked on his bed.”
He sat cross-legged on the bed in a pose that looked so natural that I asked, “Do you meditate?” He does. So we chatted about our meditation practices, comparing Christian-based meditation techniques to Buddhist-based ones, while he adjusted the computer for maximum coverage.
"You need to look down,” I said. “You don’t have any hair to hide your face. And don’t pull at the sheet or you’re going to get hit in the head with a water bottle.”
He looked down at his computer and began clicking away while I snapped the shot. Once the photo was taken, he put his clothes back on, and he showed me the files he’d been looking for: some pictures of his wife and kids, all of them smiling at the camera in that relaxed way families do when they’re on vacation. We strolled back to the conference, talking about our kids, our spouses, and the work it takes to keep those relationships strong.
If you don't know the history of the naked photo tradition, you can check it out here. Or go look at the gallery of photos.