Not all erotic art since the dawn of civilisation has been a great success. The 1970s, for example, were abysmal. You can blame the ’70s on a book called The Joy Of Sex. As a result all glamour photographers sported manicured beards and pot bellies. Sylvia Kristel could have made any number of erotic masterpieces if she had been so inclined, but instead she chose to star in Emmanuelle – a soft-focus numb-fest with delusions of spirituality and a saccharine soundtrack. At the other end of the scale the Americans released Deep Throat. This movie at least ticked all the correct boxes to ensure its notoriety – bank-rolled by the Mafia, a drug-addled star, and the director was a gun-toting maniac. Lights! Camera! Court Action! It was still crap.
The Brits, in our own quaint way, decided to fuse soft-core pornography with Benny Hill. It’s difficult to watch Come Play With Me in the 21st century without cringing behind the sofa at the sheer naffness of it all. Admittedly, the star of the hopeless UK porn world (Mary Millington) was eventually assassinated by an underworld kingpin (allegedly), but every flick she ever appeared in was mired by her terrible acting and crass innuendo. British pornography has been rubbish ever since.
The 1970s was basically the decade that eroticism forgot.
But there was one movie above any other which convinced me that all glamour photographers are in fact vain-glorious buffoons. Although Blow Up was released in 1966, I didn’t get to watch it until some dark day in the late ’80s. The plot revolves around some misogynistic, hep-cat snapper (David Hemmings) as he conquers every beautiful model in London with his Nikon and may or may not witness a murder during the process. Not only is Hemmings’ character a Grade A tit, but the film also encapsulates everything I really fucking hate about the Swinging Sixties. It’s a mythological world in which only the beautiful people are important, only the smug are rewarded and only the arrogant are revered. It’s a world of affected Mod and charmless narcissism.
Asking someone to take their clothes off for a photograph is not as simple as it sounds. What actually happens, for example, if someone agrees but you just wanted to get them into bed and you don’t even own a camera? So forget the whole bed thing altogether because it’s never going to happen. You’re not David Hemmings. Unless you look like a wedding chauffeur in which case you might be. But don’t bet on it.
Skyclad photography is built on trust above all else. A model has to believe your vision and you have to know exactly what you want to achieve. If you don’t know what you want your photograph to achieve then you may as well stay in bed because you’ll be damn-all use elsewhere. There is nothing more frustrating for any model than a photographer without direction.
“Oh, you know, just do what you want.”
“Really? Gee, thanks…I guess I’ll just leave you here then and go skateboarding with the Prince of Darkness. See ya!”
Skyclad photography can sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable, but it should never be embarrassing. As a photographer you need to collaborate and create with your model. Essentially you’re building a tiny universe around a naked human being. You’re not a New World Dictator and you’re not a baby. So don’t act like either. Grow up and calm down.
It doesn’t matter who you photograph naked but it matters how you photograph them. The following home-made suggestions apply to both photographers and models. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
1: Not everyone looks great naked. Including you. Photograph yourself naked in front of a mirror. Told you. Be aware that everybody has their pride.
2: Is it Art? The general rule of thumb states that eye contact with the camera is considered glamour, no eye contact is considered art, and sitting on a glass dildo is considered pornography. So know and accept your niche.
3: Using black & white filters doesn’t mean you’ve created art. A great photograph should work well in both black & white and colour. Black & white filters won’t save a bad photograph.
4: Always bring a third party to a photo shoot. Always. It basically negates the whole creepy, truck-stop serial killer thing.
5: Study the masters of skyclad photography. In my opinion that pretty much amounts to David LaChapelle and Igor Amelkovich. There’s probably a few others but I can’t think of them right now.
6: Always let a model know what you’re expecting. Everybody’s comfort zones are different and so never assume that every skyclad model is as comfortable as you are with Hentai Tentacle Porn.
7: Never ask a model to strip before you’ve finished faffing around with cameras and tripods. Get the technical stuff sorted (including test shots) before you ask anyone to get naked.
8: If a model is unsure of where exactly their photographs are going to end up then it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a contract stipulating image usage. Walk away from any photographer who is unwilling to provide such a contract.
9: Don’t watch the re-make of I Spit On Your Grave (2010) before a naked photo shoot.
10: If you want to stare at someone’s breasts then either go to a strip club, go to a beach, or watch Come Play With Me. Leave your camera behind.
The ancient Greek artists depicted all naked men as bearded warriors with 10 foot cocks. Not a lot has changed. Most erotic art is still preposterous and most glamour photographers are still vain-glorious buffoons. Effective and memorable nude photography generally incorporates more than one discipline. Igor Amelkovich, for example, is not only respected for his stunning nudes but also for his landscape photography. His skill at combining both means that his work has an almost mathematical precision (http://www.amelkovich.com/#/). David LaChapelle, on the other hand, combines aspects of pop art and surrealism to create his often macabre prints (http://www.davidlachapelle.com/).
Ultimately the image of a naked human being can still be fascinating and intriguing. I guess we’re all voyeurs to a certain degree. Not everyone can walk down a catwalk runway in high heels without falling over. Even fewer can project sufficient authority in a photograph to hold the attention. Modelling naked is a skill that cannot be taught. I know this. I married a sky-clad model.