Nude Photography is complicated as it is beautiful. Different eyes view it distinctly, which makes this art all the more nuanced. Before you all dive into the article, let me take you through my observation and standpoint regarding nude photography.
The first time I came across a nude photograph of a woman while scrolling through Instagram, I stopped for a second, and just admired the confidence of the model. The way she embraced her body like hers, only hers, made me question my own perception of the ‘perfect body’. At the same time, I also kept on asking myself about what it meant to be photographed naked. It’s more than just a click. There’s a lot of ‘letting go’ involved in the art of nude photography, be it for the person clicking the picture, and for the person modelling. In a way, it is sort of empowering because you’re at your comfortable best, letting go off all the judgements that you’ve passed on to your body, and just accepting it the way it is. Mind you, that takes a lot of courage, and a lot of unlearning our own insecurities.
To look beyond our skin, and be our rawest self is indeed powerful so I went on a journey to explore the minds behind photographers from Kerala who have managed to shift the vulgar gaze of nudes to something more meaningful. These photographers have grown to carve a special place in their field by making something that society would perceive as uncomfortable, comfortable.
What are you really trying to capture?
If there’s one trend, if you can call it so, that I have noticed in the past year, is the rise of self-portrait nude photography. As the name suggests, you become the photographer and model, showcasing your vulnerable side at ease.
Jithin Raaj from Calicut, who photographed himself wanted to “portray the tenderness and warmth of a male body.” He goes on to say that “the beauty of a male body is frowned upon and never seen as beautiful. The notion of the ‘real man’, of meeting the societal expectations of being a man, is flawed“, and that we should “stop running behind this utopian sense of beauty”. Through his photos, he wanted to tell people to love and accept themselves, no matter what, and that being perfect is just an illusion that our toxic society has created.
Thinking on similar lines, Harikrishnan from Thrissur believes that “beauty does not depend on the colour of the skin or the clothes you wear. Everyone’s beautiful. Everything’s normal.” And, that’s exactly what he tries to capture.
Arsha‘s understanding of the body and its politics is highly reflected in her series of nude photographs. “Nudity is sexualised, particularly with women. In a patriarchal world, this is an act of men to ensure their dominance and hide their insecurities. They are scared of losing their power and dominance. Consider Instagram for that matter. The very platform through which we fight against sexism, inequality and other social and political causes itself blatantly endorses discrimination and supports the sexualisation of the female body. How ironic and unjust, isn’t it?” she pointed out. The idea of nudity comes with a piece of historical and cultural baggage of censorship, as Arsha rightly stated. The more we immoralise human bodies, the more time it’s going to take people to view nudity beyond its sexual connotations.
Shajeer Razeena, on the other hand, feels that “nudity is the identity of any species”. We humans began to cover our natural bodies to survive and to create an identity. So nudity of humans is not something special when it is seen from nature’s perspective, he said. For Shajeer, beauty lies in human normality in their personal space and mood, that is individualistic and personal.
He further added, “We don’t get to see a lot of people comfortably standing, sitting, dancing or even moving in their own skin, naked. So many people haven’t even seen their entire body or skin yet, even Infront of a mirror”, shared Shajeer. His idea of nude photography has always been about giving new perspectives to people so that they get that confidence out if it to sit free or face a crowd without any insecurities.
When asked about Arsha’s POV about nude photography, she shared, “I consider nudity as truth. When I capture nude photographs of an individual, it explicitly reflects a comfort zone that the individual shares with me and the confidence and comfort of that individual in their own skin. It’s a process of breaking their insecurities, fears and conditioning which were forcefully imposed on that individual by our ancestors. Hence it’s a revolutionary act.”
Adding on to the above statement by Arsha, Aparana Thankaraj shared, “In our society, the female body has been objectified and mystified so much. Normalising it, and aesthetically depicting it in all its virtues and flaws is what I aim for.”
Keerthana Dinesh finds realness in the human body. She shared, “I’m trying to capture the simple raw nature of the human body. My images communicate an expression, lets the viewer interpret and share a moment of thoughts with themselves, sans words. It’s about self-expression. I want my subjects to feel empowered and confident in their skin. I, through my enriching experience, aim to use photography as a tool to capture the art that emanates from the portrayal of my subjects in an individualistic way. My practices have explored the natural boundaries of photography and I work to push its potentials in various situations.”
What goes behind the making of the perfect shot?
Let’s get back to the basics. Nude photography is not a piece of cake. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between the photographer and the model. In the other words, both the parties involved need to be extremely transparent and comfortable with each other. Then only would you get the perfect shot. It’s more about accepting and being confident in your own narrative.
Harikrishnan believes that “when your subject is comfortable, you get the best pictures. So when someone’s posing in front of you, they should be as comfortable as they can get. Once that connection is made, you get the best shots.”
Then, all you have to do is just go with the flow of your body. Anurag, a self-taught artist and photographer, shared, “I don’t have a particular style and I don’t believe or know what’s a perfect shot. Mostly, it’s all about experimentation and I always try to do that with my subject. It is about embracing one’s body in a positive way and finding joy from within. The process of capturing those raw emotions is meditative for both the photographer and the person being photographed.” Arsha too is of the opinion that the perfect shot does not exist. “I capture moments that I find to be absolutely true and dramatic. I love the drama. We are indubitably the most dramatic beings. Drama is an integral part of our everyday life,” Arsha further added.
Technically speaking, “The conceptual framework is just as important as the aesthetic and technical set up. A noteworthy concept, the right equipment, a well-composed frame, and a fearless woman – now that’s a perfect shot,” shared Aparna Thankaraj.
Interestingly, Jithin Raaj pointed out an important matter that is often discussed in the discourse of nude photography. With the little time he has spent doing nude photography, he understood that finding a body to photograph and to portray your vision is hard. Not everybody is willing to showcase their bare bodies, let alone take photographs of it. And, one of the reasons behind it is misuse. In a country where nudes are highly sexualised, misuse of such photographs is a fear that exists, which goes beyond its artistic presence. So, establishing trust between the photographer and the model and creating a safe space to feel open becomes a norm rather, when it comes to nude photography.
What inspires your art?
Keerthana finds it fascinating to tell stories through strong portraitures and communicating it through body language. She said, ” The human body fascinates me. I get my inspirations from contemporary photographers like Helmut Neuton, Diane Arbus, Duane Michals to name a few.”
Harikrishnan finds real beauty in real, everyday people. For him, nude photography started out as a professional challenge he took up to experiment, but it soon turned out to be a body positivity project that empowered the people behind and in front of the camera. Jithin Raaj, in fact, wanted to take nude pictures that were as close to reality. He said, “I have seen a lot of photographers trying nude art. But most of these pictures were too ‘perfect’ to be true. I hardly saw any pictures that I could connect with. That being my inspiration, I had to take pictures that show people as they are. I have been trying to capture different body types to convey that idea.”
Aparna’s tryst with artistically capturing nude photographs started with the “raging desire to change social perception, boundless curiosity, and a love for all things beautiful”. Shajeer, on the other hand, shared, “I feel art is the truth behind every culture and time. For me, capturing the essence of everything that exists on this planet makes me more present and futuristic.”
Both Shajeer and Arsha are inspired by Spencer Tunick‘s art activism where hundreds of people gathered in front of Instagram’s office, naked, protesting their discriminatory censorship polices against female nipple showcase. A revolutionary in the field of nude art, indeed.
“A patriarchal/male dominant society is always insecure about nudity or what I would call, truths of nature. I have always been curious about Spencer Tunick’s art activism. I wish I could shoot like Spencer with a large crowd, fully nude without any gender barrier or bias in a vast public memorial space. But the reason why this society is very intolerant towards nudity is because of their insecurities and lack of knowledge. Mostly, this intolerance can be pointed towards the feminine body because we live in a male-dominated society. Through my art, I wish we all find beauty and peace in nature and its true reality.”, shared Shajeer about his inspiration.
How do you deal with the backlash?
Needless to say, the word ‘nude’ itself is enough to make someone’s blood boil. Take the case of the wedding couple whose post-wedding photoshoot became the negative talk of the town. And a lot of it has to do with our conventional understanding of the body. I really wanted to know how these photographers deal with the backlash.
Anurag, on dealing with hate on social media, shared, “it’s difficult to keep this profile public and fight hate comments. Most of the times, I don’t indulge in any kinds of hate and try to ignore the toxicity that exists on Instagram. I believe that I have stopped worrying about things that I cannot control and more focused on being more persistent towards my strength, ie, my art.” Arsha too has experienced negativity towards her work ever since she started at the age of 18. She said, “Backlashes have always been an unavoidable part. First I always try to educate them. if that doesn’t work, I ignore them.”
Aparana shares almost the same process as Arsha when it comes to dealing with backlashes. “I spend my time educating as many people as I can, and if they refuse to be educated, I let it go. I think the real victory is when you can convince someone whose ideologies are poles apart from yours,” said Aparna.
Harikrishnan had an interesting point to make, which Jithin Raaj had pointed out earlier. He said, “The worst thing was when some guy told me that he was alright with women posing nude, but disgusted with men’s’ nudes. I responded by doing a nude self-portrait series, which I am absolutely proud of to date”.
“Art is not to please anyone, so I don’t think it matters much” was what Keerthana put forth. And yes, in many ways, she is right to say so. Art is very personal and political at the same time, but more than that, it’s an expression shared by the artist.
We’ve come to the End
Reclaiming the politics of the body through photographs comes with a lot of challenges. Nude photography is a powerful expression of bodily integrity. It is an outright protest against patriarchy, making it even more empowering. Perceive nude photography differently, and you’ll definitely see the beauty that lies within.