If you’ve read my previous entry about photographing the nude, you’ll know that I’ve been asked on several occasions to provide this service. Each customer has had highly personal reasons, from the cathartic analysis of their own body image to simply giving a present to a close relative or spouse.
I’ve never been big on showing my own body. In fact, I’ve been painfully shy preferring to be on the other side of the lens. On moving to Walton, I discovered my neighbour was an accomplished sculptress and teacher, Corinne Manches. Later, I was also to find that she’d worked at a well known publishing house in London as an art director and photographer simultaneously whilst I was shooting for them too. Weirder still, the woman she had bought her house from was a practising Nichiren Buddhist as I have been for some years now. What a small world!
One day, out of the blue, Corinne gave me a bell. Explaining that she was stuck for a model for one of her life class sessions, she asked me if I’d be into posing for them. Don’t ask me why but after some considered thought I said yes. Maybe it’s because memories of art college flooded back. I had loved life drawing, especially the short five minute poses. Perhaps I’d come to a stage in my life when I thought: “F*** it! Who cares?” It did occur to me that it would be a useful experience to empathise with my own models.
So this is how I found myself stripping off starkas for a small group of artists. Once I’d got over the arduous process of de-robing ( which felt like an eternity) the next thing was getting used to the way they looked through me. I did feel like an object but it wasn’t in a bad way at all, no. Looking at the complete work was a different matter. I’m already fairly rubenesque as it is but their drawings accentuated all that I have and much more. I had been hoping they would draw my attributes as little, pert, fried eggs but they were much too honest for that!
The artists spoke kindly to me and I felt strangely disconnected from my body. “Please don’t fart! Please don’t fart!” I giggled inwardly. It had occurred to me that as I get older, I sometimes lose control of my bodily functions at key comical moments. We started a 20 minute pose to easy myself into it. You wouldn’t think that would be difficult but let me tell you, for a terrible fidget like me, it seemed like a life time.
I thought back to the model we had at art college: an elderly lady who always wore the same baby pink woolly pullover. She had the largest, most pendulous appendages, so large that she was bent over double as she walked. She had that old lady, mothball smell too. She was a great model, able to stand still for hours. The shapes her body made, the curves, made her great to draw. She was inspirational. I never knew her name because she kept a professional distance from all of us young’uns, and I don’t blame her at all. So now, over 30 years later, the boot is on the other foot and I know exactly what it’s liked to have every crease and crevice scrutinised. Don’t let anyone tell you being a model is easy. They work bloody hard even if they are being paid for the privilege.
With thanks to Corinne, Hugh and Claire.