October 18, 2005

Naked in the House 05

It was in the middle of the summer of 2005 that I first heard of Naked in the House, a photo contest out of Toronto which is now in its fifth year.

Based on the simple premise of one camera, one lens, one roll of film and one nude model, the event (which in the past has been presented on Fashion Television as an annual special) sees twelve photographers given thirty minutes each to work with a naked model in a specific location with some pretty strict limitations placed on them. Jane, who I first worked with in June, had mentioned the TV show to me numerous times over the summer, so when I received an e-mail invitation in late September to participate in Naked in the House 05, I had some point of reference.

6x7 cm film
After much debate (mainly focusing on the cost of close to $1500. CDN, which would require me to sell some equipment to pay for the cost), I decided to accept the invitation, and just over six weeks later, I stepped off a plane in Toronto with a borrowed Mamiya 7 (thanks Steve), a roll of 120 film, and butterflies in my stomach.

As it turned out, the Naked in the House competition was quite different from what I'd envisioned, though I suspect this is from misinterpretation, as opposed to misrepresentation. When I'd read through the promotional material, I missed the fact that the model for the event was a fashion model, not a figure model. I suppose the give-away to this should have been the fact the TV presentation of the event has always been on Fashion Television, but as I do not have a TV, that little detail escaped my attention. While on one level, it might be proposed that a figure model was little different from a naked fashion mode), I would argue that there is a major difference, and my experience with the competition bears this out.
6x7 cm film

Even before I'd arrived at the competition, I had some reservations about the process; usually when I work with a new model, I spend some time sharing my work, and learning what they are seeking from the work; in this case, however, I knew I would have 30 minutes with the model and was expected to deliver three finished image at the end of the process...three frames out of ten on a roll. This did not permit much time for chit-chat, so it went without saying that I'd have to forgo the preliminaries, an approach I found unsettling and foreign.

As soon as I started working, I began to feel the difference between a "figure" and a "fashion" model; the make-up and carefully coiffed hair was a dead give away but the model's literal interpretation of my directions and her for very specific directions in regards to posing and positioning was a little shocking. With the models I usually work with, the process is very much a collaboration, with the model and I working together to discover the possibilities, but for this event, the model was more like sculpting clay, waiting for my very specific directions before moving. This totally stumped me, and while I managed to adjust to it somewhat before the end of the half-hour, the only image of the finay three that really feels "genuine" to me is the first one I made, where I'd just made one image, and model was just relaxing out of the pose...I asked her to stop moving, made a quick composition adjustment, and made the photograph.
6x7 cm film
I think the most frustrating element for me was not so much the fact that I was photographing a fashion model (as opposed to a figure model) but all the extra crew who were part of the process. I had expected a film crew (and got two) but the addition of a make-up artist and a hair stylist brought the total number of extra people on the set to 8 or more people. While the prescence of the film crew was anticipated, the make-up and hair professionals injected a totally unexpected element, often jumping into the frame just before an image was made to primp this or adjust that, more than once taking away an element that I'd been attracted to in the initial composition. Normally, when I am photographing a figure model, the only interaction in the session is between that person and myself. Both the make-up artist and the hair stylist were obviously skilled in their areas of expertise but, to me, their prescence felt diametrically opposed to what I normally do in my nude photography; their goals were to create, enhance and maintain a certain ideal of beauty, while my intent is to simply reveal an already present beauty.

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