Category Archives: Personal reflections

The male art nude – a workshop

WARNING: This post contains nudity

and is NSFW.

P1630076v2

Yesterday, I attended a workshop on the male art nude. It was led by Jo Suthurst, who is an MFA student at the University of Falmouth, and the workshop was part of her degree course. Jo is interested in the human body, and the parts that are usually hidden, particularly in people who do not conform to the current norm of beauty, and her blog is here. The timing of the workshop fitted in perfectly with some research I am currently doing on the male and female gaze (more of which I will address in a separate post).

I had two aims in mind for my own participation in the workshop. The first was to practise studio lighting, at which I am still an absolute beginner, and the second was to question the idea of the Female Gaze and how it might affect a photography shoot where the subject was a naked male.

Firstly, I will explain the practicalities of the day. It was held at a small studio near Cricklade, with which I have become familiar as a result of a Facebook group for local female photographers. We meet monthly to try out different concepts in a non-threatening environment and to share our collective experience. The attendees range from near beginners to commercial photographers, so there are plenty of different ideas to discuss. They have started to do regular workshops recently, and I signed up for this, as well as an Creative one at the end of the month, as I find studio work intriguing.

Jo explained the etiquette of nude photo shoots and referred us to some literature on poses for men, and also the model release form, which I have posted about here before our model, Clint, turned up. We were two students, Jo, and two other ladies, one of whom was the studio owner and the other a female model whom I had already met. The latter two were around, but did not take part in our activities. We started with a range of slighting situations for upper body nudity, and as the day progressed and we all felt more comfortable with the situation, moved on to full nudity.

I have never been to a female nude shoot before either, and have nothing to compare the experience with, so I asked Clint and Gemma (the female model, who does nude work, but was not involved in this day) how our approach differed from a shoot where the photographers were mostly men. Clint’s response was that an all female group was less threatened by his nudity and that there was a lot more conversation than would have been the case with male photographers. He is very experienced in nude shoots and was entirely comfortable without any clothing, so very soon his nudity became irrelevant from a social point of view and an outsider would have been startled to see three middle-aged women and an overtly naked man all huddled up together looking at a camera screen to see if a shot had work and discussing what might be improved.

Clint has done a lot of modelling for top shelf female magazines, and  his natural range of poses tended to reflect that. We also tried various ideas from David Leddick’s The Male Nude (2015), which includes an extensive series of images right through the history of the genre. The great majority of these fell into the category of “tasteful”, rather than “explicit” but Clint told us that he has been asked to pose for everything right up to extreme porn. This was well outside our remit for the day though, thankfully. Below are three images which give a flavour of our day. I won’t post any more for now, as I am planning to use them later in Part 4.

 

So, where does a day like this sit in the gap between the Male and Female Gaze? And what did I get out of it?

Laura Mulvey (1999), who coined the term The Male Gaze in 1975 to convey how through many centuries our viewpoint on practically everything has been that of the white heterosexual male. It is tripartite, and consists of a) the director, b) the actor’s performance and c) the viewer, all of whom are traditionally assumed to be male. (I am writing another post on this subject too, so won’t go into a great amount of detail here.) In this scenario, women are considered as the Object – largely silent, and something for the male to view and/or own, as John Berger said in Ways of Seeing.

One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (Berger, 1972)

Berger talked about The Gaze, but his gaze was the Male Gaze, and amazingly, he seemed to think that it was women who put themselves in the position of being objectified.

The response to this came with Jill Soloway’s lecture on the Female Gaze in 2016 (see my other post on this for details) where she asks society to move away from the male way of looking at the world, towards something more inclusive of many minority groups. This she characterises as the Female Gaze, which she argues consists of  a) a feeling-seeing on the part of the director, b) the actor is fully aware of being seen and can choose to agree to it, i.e. having a sense of agency in the transaction and c) returning the Gaze, as in I see you looking at me and I don’t want to be an object any longer.

Along the way towards this, feminists and sympathetic men made several less than successful attempts to subvert the Male Gaze, through notions like the Female Combatant, in which the female heroine plays what is essentially a faux-male role, including leadership, violence and super-strength, and the Objectified Male, in which the Male Gaze is twisted back on itself, with women supposedly looking at men as men have looked at women.

This workshop might potentially fit into this last category, but I would argue that it does not. Taking each of Soloway’s elements in turn, Clint said that he could tell from an image of himself whether it was taken by a straight man, a gay man or a women, as those taken by the latter two categories have a different feeling about them. The great majority are not what we would consider objectifying, but are using his body to express other ideas and/or feelings. He was aware of what we were doing and why, and I don’t think there was any question of him not having agency in the process. He was as fully involved in the making of the art as we, the photographers were. (It’s interesting to contrast this process with that of life drawing, as a quick diversion. In life drawing the model is simply there to be looked at, while in the photographic process we undertook, our model was an active participant with opinions and personal rights.) In some of the images I took, Clint has chosen to present himself as an object of desire, but that was his choice and wasn’t requested by me, and I am not intending to use those images as they do not convey the messages I want to examine.

Overall, it was a fascinating and very creative day, and I must thank Jo again for her teaching and knowledge on the subject of the nude. Finally, you might like to know Jo’s thoughts on the subject of Clint’s tattoos, which are something I have made no reference to in my own post, as for me, they were just something that was part of who he was. Jo puts a more considered academic viewpoint to the subject. From my own aesthetic point of view, the images I like best are the minimalist ones I took with rim lighting, like the top one, although the masked images are also interesting. (Jo does a lot of work with masks, and it is something I too have looked at before. She has access to a much wider range than me though).

Edited to add:

Following discussion on the comments thread below about the importance of the model’s tattoos and whether the work really does have a non-traditional viewpoint , I’ve now started to stitch Chines symbols for female words onto the photos, in the style of tattoos. I think this has some potential for assignment 4. Here’s an example below.

References

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Leddick, D. (2015) The Male Nude. TASCHEN GmbH

Mulvey, Laura.(1999) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44. [online] At: http://www.composingdigitalmedia.org/f15_mca/mca_reads/mulvey.pdf (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

Soloway, J. (2016) Jill Soloway on The Female Gaze | MASTER CLASS | TIFF 2016. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnBvppooD9I (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

Suthurst, Jo. (2017) Surfaces and Strategies – Shoot Mod3#7 – Male Art Nude – “Clint” At: https://josutherstphotography.blog/2017/06/08/surfaces-and-strategies-shoot-mod37-male-art-nude-clint/ (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

On the subject of model release forms

Today I attended an art nude studio day, more about which I will got into in a different post. However, the subject of model release forms came up and how they are necessary for this type of work. First of all I went to the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) website, to see what they say about it.

Bath, 18 May 2015 – With increased public concerns over privacy and the need for photographers to protect themselves and the people they photograph The Royal Photographic Society has produced a generic model release form which it has made freely available for all photographers to download here: www.rps.org/MRF

The RPS has worked with a top UK law firm to produce a RPS Model Release Form template with supporting notes to give guidance to amateur and professional photographers over how to use it.  A model release forms specifies how pictures can be used and is there to protect both the photographer and his/her subjects. Properly completed a signed form will protect the photographer in the event of any future claim. (RPS, 2015)

The principle behind the model release form (MLF) is that if one is using a photograph for commercial purposes, then there is the possibility that the model may sue for invasion of privacy. You and I might think that because the model has been paid to come along and pose for you, they have given their permission implicitly, but legally they have only agreed to the taking of the photograph at that stage. If you then decide to sell it to a stock library, for example, you need their permission again.

There seem to be three types of circumstance where MRLs are advisable

  • where you plan to sell the image to a stock photo library
  • where you plan to use it for advertising purposes
  • where there is a more diffuse promotional element to it.

The last is the one that applies to this blog, Facebook, Instagram etc. Because my pages are public, and can be viewed by anyone who finds them, I should really be covered by an MRF if I am making staged photos with a paid model.

As a general rule, MRFs are not necessary in the following circumstances:

  • if you will only be using the image for personal use
  • if you are shooting in a public space, and are not planning to use it for commercial purposes, although it is often better to get one signed where any individual is easily identifiable and is the subject of the image.
  • if it for editorial purposes, although this is a grey area again, and one needs to watch out for potential pitfalls. The one most easily accessible for a general photographer is probably the Royal Photographic Society’s one, which is available here: The RPS Model Release Form.

Thinking this through, initially I thought a form might be a bit over the top for many circumstances, but a few situations where one could get into trouble without one are:

  • paparazzi images, where the subject does not know they are being photographed on private land.
  • an image which the subject hates, but which is made publicly available. (This makes me wonder about the legal position of photos on social media where the subject is in a private area, e.g. school and has not given permission for the shot.
  • where an image taken in a public space is used for advertising, and the subject was unaware that it had been taken. We occasionally hear of situations where members of the public find their faces on billboards as part of advertisements, and they knew nothing about it.
  • Finally, one needs to think about those situations, such as the previous case, where potentially the model would have been able to make a commercial gain if they had known about the use of their image.

In the art photography world, an example of where a case has been taken to court is outlined in this article. It refers to Arne Svenson’s series The Neighbours, where he has taken images through the windows of his neighbours’ flats, without them knowing. In all cases, the person is not identifiable, but a lawsuit was made for invasion of privacy. It was an American case, and Svenson won on the grounds that the series of images was protected under the First Amendment, which is about freedom of speech. My own, non-legal opinion would be that in the British legal system he should also have won, as the subjects were unidentifiable even though they were in private spaces. Contrast his work, for example, with a similar series by Sharon Boothroyd, The Glass Between Us  where people are again photographed through their window, but in this case their faces can be seen and Boothroyd has asked each of them to sign a model release form.

References

http://blog.docracy.com/post/35863395427/whats-a-model-release

http://www.rps.org/news/2015/may/rps-launches-model-release-form

http://www.sharonboothroyd.com/index.php?/the-glass-between-us/

When Does Photography Become an Invasion of Privacy? Perhaps Never

http://arnesvenson.com/theneighbors.html

A quick note on sewing and pixels

I came across the following two books in the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop yesterday, which are worth noting.

http://www.javierhirschfeld.com/el-pixel-protector/

Moreno talks about how in the West, children tend to be protected in images to avoid the somewhat unlikely chance of the images being used for child pornography purposes, while this respect is not offered to African children. He therefore takes portraits of African youths and children, mainly in Senegal, and pixelates the faces, as a statement and protest about colonialism. Something to chase up later.

IMG_3857v2I noticed the second not for the subject, but for the cover, which combines two interest of mine, the idea of the red thread and sewing on images (or in this case, a book cover).

IMG_3900v2

Quick note on another iteration of the mandala work

Just thinking last night that the mandalas could easily be turned into cross-stitch patterns, in the style of Diane Meyer. http://www.dianemeyer.net/projects.html. There is something very attractive about the merging of two arts which use the same basis for their production (fabric square/pixel). I have a piece of software that will transform an image into a cross stitch pattern, so it is a possibility. Just not sure I can spend the time making the actual work. It takes Meyer many hours to do each image and I am sure I am slower than her.

https://www.diffusionfestival.org/diffusion-live

However, this has the side effect of making each image no longer replicable, which removes it from the genre of disposable photography into something else. I need to look into the different ways in which photographs have been made unique, not because I want to sell anything, but because I am interested in the materiality issue of image making.

(On a technical point, I have been wondering how to produce the formal gridwork of holes in the photographs, and reckon that it must be done on a light table with a fabric or paper grid underneath the photograph. I tried it and the photo paper was too thick, so decided to print a grid and then prick the grid holes over the photo using that).

Here’s an example of my recent thrush mandala, and the cross stitch pattern I have generated for it. P1610668-Editv2.jpg

P2P-6223166 cross stich thrush mandala

The software I used was the free pic2pat one which can be found at https://www.pic2pat.com  This is a great tool, as you can choose all sorts of elements of the final piece, including size, stitches per inch and number of different colours used. One could embroider the whole thing (which would take me years) or pick out a section/sections to do in the same way as Diane Meyer. A further possibility is to use my gold thread to expose some of the patterning.

More on photo-manipulation

My creative frenzy has continued over the weekend, and extended out from the original mandala concept. Progress is slow because I am learning thing I did not know about Photoshop through videos, which is time consuming, although  very worthwhile. Here is my rendition of Sunrise at Angkor Wat, an image I took last year, with the Before and After for reference. (Please zoom in; there is a lot of detail). Unfortunately, a lesson I have learned is to make completely sure that the images overlap, as I have two very annoying lines one pixel wide intruding into the image, which I am struggling to get rid of. I have printed out and framed a couple of the mandalas so far, and they don’t look bad at all.

I then started to look at moving away from a circular image towards something that still holds references to the original image. The result below is called Wolfgang Tillmans Revisited. Before and After are shown again. I rather like this, and think there is some potential here too.

Finally, I have been looking again at something  I was hoping to do in assignment 3 of C&N, which is combining different images in an organised way, and have finally figured out how to make a shape within an image (and written down the instructions, so I can do it again).

_1410522-1v1w triangle

My plan now is to explore this in more complex ways, as outlined in this YouTube video on polyscapes. This should allow me to manipulate my images in the way I am looking for. It isn’t a quick process, but is great fun. I am also mulling over the idea of turning some of these images into patchwork quilt works, using fabrics similar to the colourways I am producing.

 

 

Some more mandalas

Today, I’ve been making some abstracts of Iceland, and extending the Photoshop repetition idea a little further. Here are a couple of original images, and some of my variations. The first is River at Jökulsárlón, with the original first (obviously).

I then tried something a little different, using a YouTube video on making Kalaidoscopes in Photoshop. This included how to make a repeatable action set for the process, so that I don’t have to start from scratch every time.

It is interesting that in the straightforward mandala has picked out a small feature from the original (a rope hanging in the drying hut) and emphasised that, while the kaleidoscope version is much truer to the original colours and proportion.

With this in mind, I produced a kaleidoscope of the first image and this was the result.P1180281-1v2

Not nearly as successful as the other one. Clearly the layout of the original is critical to how it turns out, depending on the treatment. Some work much better than others.

What is Place?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, with regard to my own work and the different locations I visit round the world. There’s a section in the Landscape course, which asks “what makes a space a place?” and my very basic understanding is that human intervention and the creation of memories there turns a space into a place. However, that is not what has struck me on my globetrotting adventures. My own experience is that it is the colour palette of the landscapes that clearly identify them. For example, when I think about Icelandic landscapes, the pictures in my mind are black, yellow, red and white, while that of central Australia is ochre, black, soft lime green and yellow.

Taking this a little further, it is interesting to flick through my Lightroom library at high speed, over the course of the year. As the seasons change, so does the colour palette in a very clear but subtle way. Of course, we all know that the seasons are associated with different colours – black and white for winter; greens and yellows for spring; bright yellows, reds and blues for summer; and soft golds, bronzes and browns for autumn.

Alongside this, a couple of pieces of work have caught my attention online, which specifically look at the way that colour grading is used in films and TV programmes. Jason Shulman has condensed entire films into a single image, which condenses the colour grading used and which gives hints about it and also how the director filled the screen in their work.  There has been much speculation on the OCA Facebook sites about how he achieved this, and the consensus was that he merged a series of very long exposures. In a similar vein, Visually Satisfying Project Shares the Color Palettes of Iconic Film Scenes, a Twitter project, picks out the specific colours that exemplify movies and puts them together in the same way that Design Seeds uses. This has the effect of bringing together a range of colours that work together and which are reminiscent of the films concerned.

I am keen to explore the idea of working with different colour palettes as representations of a place and have decided to explore them in a couple of different ways. Firstly, I have taken the scenery out of the images for the most part and making mandalas in Photoshop which merge the colours into complex patterns. Below are my first two trials, and I am quite excited about where this might go. They are both from Australia, the first from Uluru and the second from Darwin. Alongside it is an abstract of water reflections from Katherine Gorge in the style of Peter Kenny, a photographer whose abstract work I greatly admire. This has possibilities too. Do zoom in on the mandalas – there is a lot of detail in them

The potential in Photoshop to take this further are huge, and it merges my interests in patchwork and photography in a mutually effective way. There is much to be learned here about the use of vectors in making template shapes and extending the complexity of the work to incorporate symbols and patterns appropriate to the place about which they were made.