23 October 2020

Nude vs. Naked

Art Model, Alisia Copyright 2020 Terrell Neasley 

"Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress."
~ John Berger

I got a chance to talk about my nude art work a few months ago in a pizza shop. The conversation with a couple and their female friend got fairly in-depth as we talked about my art. This picture usually develops often in my travels when I mention I do artistic nudes. And in this case, like several others, it's the women that usually drive the discourse. First, they want to see the pics. I take them to my website (PhotoAnthems.com) or show them some of my latest work on my phone. After that, the questions, discussion, or debate commences. 

The absolute most common question I get is... 'Why do they have to be naked?" This comes from a more conservative circle who don't understand why I do this. I get that. My art is not for everybody and I'm not trying to persuade anybody into my court on this. And therefore the answer I give to this question is, THEY DON'T. They do not HAVE to be naked. They are nude because I CHOOSE to photograph them this way.

Other times there is instant appreciation and the discussion turns to inquiry. How do I find models? What do I look for in a nude model? Who are my inspirations... both model and other photographers? How did I get started? The girlfriend wanted to know what kind of nudes I enjoy (other than my own). I initially thought they were trying to get me to talk about porn. But that wasn't the case as they explained to me that my style was different from what they were familiar with, however, surely every artist must also appreciate different styles and and hate others.

The friend of the couple pointed out that she liked how I used "real" women who look like somebody you might see shopping in a store or standing next to you in the elevator. She felt it was cool that somebody could find beauty in people like herself and not just "Hollywood" women, as she called them. The conversation also brought to mind the debates, in which I sometimes engage, on the distinction between a photograph of a nude woman vs a pic of a naked chick. I'll scroll past the latter all day. 

Art Model, Alisia Copyright 2020 Terrell Neasley

So what is the difference between art nude photography and a photo of a naked person? That's a simple, yet complex question. On the face of it, nakedness simply implies a condition of being without clothes or something that covers your modesty. Yes, there are other functions of clothing, but let's stick to the point. Any image depicting nakedness can be claimed to be art or artistic by the creator or subsequently by anyone who views it. I used my cell phone to take photos of a girlfriend while she showered or sometimes when she exercised outside on the back patio. Is it art? I can be, if I say it is. And subsequently so, it is if I display it in an artistic environment with other similar depictions and call it, "Life of the Domestic Nude". Therefore, weight is given to the creator, the viewer, the context, and the environment in which the photo is displayed as to determinant factors to answer the question of artistic value and merit. 

Conversely, if I take the same shot with a camera that allows me to slow down the shutter speed, I can blur the cascading water and maybe her hands as they pass over her face and through her hair. I could shoot with a wide-angle lens and capture more of the surrounding bathroom for the environmental portrait aspect and shoot upward from a low angle. I might narrow the aperture down to reduce the light which illuminates her backside more than her front as she faces the shower head... and intentionally underexpose it. This creates a vignette on the backside of the composition whereas the front side is already in shadow. Maybe I'll shoot at a higher ISO to introduce grain and edit the shot in Black and White. 

Art Model, Alisia Copyright 2020 Terrell Neasley

At this point, I've employed fundamental principles of photography, introducing motion, perspective, balance, light and shadow variance, depth of field, grain, and use of monochromatic techniques. I'd bet if you saw the shot, you could see geometric shapes in the composition. If I never used the photo in an art gallery or if I never even called it art, it would still likely be widely accepted as an artistic composition on it's own merit. Why? Because I used artistic tools to consciously create something. You don't have to be called an artist to create art. Art is an expression. A person who creates something that is an outward manifestation of their expression, views, or emotion has created art. If you do it repeatedly, your an artist whether you get paid for it or not. If you get paid, then you're a professional artist. 

I don't often put a name to my style of nudes, but what the girls were used to seeing was glamour nudes. What they saw in my art didn't reflect much of that. I'm glad for it. I hardly ever need a make-up artist or a hair stylist. I like my nudes as raw as they come. I shoot the nude in whole or in macro parts, but I shoot all of her. Nudity restrictions hamper my creative abilities. I usually find my models by asking or they get referred to me. It is not often that I get someone who sees my work first and then contacts me, although it does happen. Over they years, especially in the US, word of mouth is what garnered the majority of my model finds. 

"There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth." 
~ Agnes Repplier

Art Model, Alisia Copyright 2020 Terrell Neasley

Shape, hair, eyes, are usually the first things that get my attention, in that order. However attitude is the prevailing factor. I say it all the time. I shoot as much as what's inside the model as I do the outside. If the attitude is not a fit, then I can't do it. That's not to say she or he has a poor attitude, just that for whatever reason, their hearts are just not in it. 

Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus, Jerry Ulesmann, Sally Mann, Spencer Tunick... these were my initial inspirations. My photography professor, Michael Johnson first encouraged me to try nude photography. Dave Rudin was huge for me when I was still fresh and had finally switched to digital. He shoots film however and was already an established art nude photographer in New York. He contacted me offering encouragement and insight. He attended one of my art nude workshops and I got to see him often on his trips to Las Vegas. I get inspired by practically every model I work with. There's always something that is unique which they bring to the table. 

I love working with the muses who I shoot often and they let me play, experiment, and have the patience to stick with me when I do crappy work. There have been some I only worked with once and it was just as impactful. I can say I've shot hundreds of models. It seems like at damn near every point in my life, since I began shooting nudes, there has been someone there to help me. Since I first began, I once went a whole year without shooting a single nude. In 15 years, that's only happened once and I pray it never happens again. Top 3 models I've shot the most... 
Art Model, Alisia Copyright 2020 Terrell Neasley

I don't need for other art nude work to be like mine for me to enjoy them, but I don't particularly like implied nudes, nor nudes that trend conservative. It's so subjective. My favorite nude/photograph of all time is Dave Rudin's art piece of Carlotta Champagne. In fact... I think I will do a blog post on that one photo at some point. But it's an easily conservative piece that is nonetheless the best photo I've seen. I'm not particularly a fan of sexualized nudes. And there is a difference between that and erotica. Your idea of what sexualized is may be different from mine. Mine even has degrees to it. Maybe I'll talk on that at some point, too. Can sex be art? Sure. But more on that later. Everybody has their range on the art nude spectrum. I can only explain mine... ambiguously, so.

I've been happy to work with 4 women here in Vietnam. Art Model, Alisia was someone who was referred to me and we put together our collaboration soon after. It was a long photo shoot! I was ecstatic that she had that kind of patience for a first shoot. We discussed the possible concepts and then just got to work. I let her move, pose, and tried to provide as little direction as possible. I wanted to take what was given and see what resulted. That has been my approach most times, but if the model has difficulty and needs help on how to move, I can step in and direct. I placed Alisia where I needed and just let her go for it. My job was to capture her performance with the right light, perspective, and angles. We did that and I think we created some fine art. I am very appreciative of her. I thank her for helping me celebrate the female form with this art.

Art Model, Alisia Copyright 2020 Terrell Neasley

05 October 2020

1000 Days of Adventure and Stories

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

 "Still around the corner, there may wait a new road or a secret gate."

~ John Ronald Reuel  Tolkien

This past month, I hit a benchmark that I wasn't even aware of until I was downloading some files from my online backup. It told me that my desktop computer (in storage in Las Vegas) had been out sync from continuous backup for 1004 days, which is the time I unplugged it, packed it, and locked it up on December 21st, 2017. It has been that long since I've had a home where I have all my stuff and lay my head down every night. Since then, it's been hotels, hostels, and apartment rentals... the longest stay in one place being close to 6 months in Xela, Guatemala

I know some people thought I'd be back after only a few months. Two and a half years later, I'm still rollin' and no where near finished. Delayed! Halted! Holed up! But not finished. A global pandemic and the current reduced status of the US passport has me unable to move around as freely as I might desire. The Global Passport and Power Index has the US ranked tied for 23rd, but there are 53 countries ahead of us. Bosnia/Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, and even Ukraine are ahead of us. Japan and New Zealand tie for the strongest passport in the world for 2020.  

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

Less countries are admitting US citizens and even here in Vietnam, people still ask me when I got here before they let their guard down with me. I have to make sure they know I was here PRE-Pandemic! This should be obvious, because the borders have been closed and no new tourist visas have been granted since March. But given the recent smuggling incident where some Chinese immigrants snuck in some illegal Chinese citizens and then coincidentally we got a second wave... I guess I can understand.

So how did all this start for me? Well, I've already told you about people who have been influential in my life regarding international travel... The Army showed me new lands and new people. An ex-girlfriend showed me it's not as expensive as I thought to go someplace. My friend Heather convinced me to go with her to Central America and that started me to traveling the way I do now. But there have also been a number of other factors while I was growing up that also heavily influenced my wanderlust. 

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

I think I've always been an explorer by nature. Where I grew up in Texas, there are woods behind my house. I used to venture into those woods with my little brother, Greg just to see where they led and what was within them. We didn't have Google Maps back then. I was always interested in what was around the corner, over the bend, and beyond the horizon. 

I also read books. Who doesn't remember "Where the Wild Things Are"? It's a story about adventure! And I read countless adventure books like this. None was more influential to me than J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and Bilbo's adventure with Gandalf and the Dwarfs. I actually saw the 1977 animated version in the 4th grade during an assembly. All of my 4th grade class saw it. I was mesmerized the whole time. 

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

It was only later on, while I was in high school that I accidentally came across The Lord of the Rings series. Discovering, after all this time, that there was a continuation! Crazy! 

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” - J.R.R. Tolkien "The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring"

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

I think that one quote stuck with me best. Along with, "Not all those who wander are lost..." which is part of a poem in The Fellowship of the Ring. Then a year AFTER high school, I learn that there is yet another continuation... or rather a preceding book to the series called, "The Silmarillion". I listened to that one on audio CD's when I found it at a bookstore. I had to have it! I actually first looked at the box and thought, "They are just copying LOTRs!

But all throughout my childhood and adult life, I've had stories of adventure surround me or I was on them myself in the Army. How could I keep still? I had to seek out the horizon. Initially, that was moving out west into the unknown deserts surrounding Las Vegas. That sufficed for a while. But adventure called again and I headed off to Central America 3 or 4 times. Sometimes solo... sometimes with company

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

But there was one nagging feeling that gnawed at a spot in the back of my brain since the first time I met someone on my first trip to Guatemala. They had been traveling for a 13 months by the time I met them. I thought I was big-timing it being gone 6 weeks. It pestered me! What is that like to be traveling for years at a time? That was back in 2012. It took me until 2019 to actually find out after crossing my first year of travel. Three more months and I'll be on year THREE! And I feel like I'm just getting started. 

Art Model, Jenny Copyright 2019 Terrell Neasley

Thanks again, Jenny for coming out to meet me in Peru, despite NEVER having met before! That was a FABULOUS THREE WEEKS! Good times, tough times... we made it through blistering heat on the beach and freezing cold nights on the lake. Those are the things that makes the story.