In this section we will be looking at the impact nudity has had on various forms of art, cultural perceptions of nudity and its use in the media, and talking to artists about their reasons for including nudity in their projects. We will be covering as wide a cross-section of art as possible from the traditional to the very modern, and looking at it from outside the projects as well as inside.
You hear it time and time again. Every time someone posts a picture of a woman with her legs open a whole host of people jump all over it declaring that it's pornographic, sexual, and not suitable for places intended for social nudity. Even among people who post nude pictures of themselves all the time there are a significant number - I have no idea if it's a majority or a minority - who cannot cope with the idea that an open leg shot can be non-sexual. These vaginaphobes threaten to block anyone who posts such material. They report them to moderators, add them to "porn lists", and do everything they can to distance themselves from the subject.
But why? It makes no sense. If we spend all our time telling people that nudity is natural, nudity is non-sexual, and that our bodies are intended to be looked at without clothes, then why do we suddenly panic when we see a vagina?
I was talking to Lu the other day over Twitter about this subject, and she sent me a few photos taken in her hotel room. There is nothing sexual about them at all, but I can guarantee that's what some people will see. And to those people I would like to say the following...
If you are going to accept that nudity is normal then you have to accept that all nudity is normal, not just some angles or some subjects. Treating parts of our bodies as taboo is a route straight back to treating all of it as taboo, and that goes against everything we want to see.
Nude is normal. Nude is natural. Nude is not rude, whatever bit of the body is on show.
Click here to see the rest of Lu's photographs.
A number of years ago, I was asked to make a film about a naturist club that showed their daily life and how they relate to the community around them. It was going to be a documentary with a bit of a plot added in - a 'dramumentary' or 'docu-drama' as they are sometimes called - and would be sold on DVD to raise funds for the club. As part of my early production research, one of the first things I did was to contact the BBFC (the UK organisation tasked with age-certifying UK film releases) and ask them for advice on what certificate would be achievable for a film of this type. They were understandably reluctant to give any definitive answers without seeing the film first, but they did give me some general advice on the sort of things that would earn certain certificates, and this advice surprised me a lot.
Even if your film is a 'U' certificate, a film that is deemed suitable for everyone including unaccompanied children, it can contain some nudity.
Now obviously that is perfectly normal and correct as far as anyone who writes for NINR is concerned, but for the British Board of Film Classification to say something like that really surprised me. So I pressed the point, and asked for clarification. Why then if nudity wasn't seen as inherently 'adult' were all films containing nudity classified as 15 or above? What was going on?
Simply put, the BBFC explained, because no-one actually films any non-sexual nudity and puts it in otherwise low certificate films. They film it and include it, but only ever in films with otherwise mature content, and so the certificate it is assigned comes in at a 15 or higher regardless of the attitude to nudity.
I asked him for examples. Again, he was reluctant as advice like that can be considered to be pre-approval which they don't do, but he did say that lifestyle nudity, shower scenes, documentaries involving naked people, someone getting undressed to change clothes, even if it was full-frontal scene would not in itself require classification above a 'U'. But if there was any hint of sexual meaning attached to the nudity, even something so subtle as a meaningful glance from another character or 'seductive music' played over the scene then the certification level would go up.
Now to me, this makes sense. Although we may disagree on the level of sexuality that is appropriate for people of various ages (I'll be writing about that soon), they are at least classifying simple nudity as "suitable for all".
So why the hell aren't there more nude scenes in films?
There are a number of reasons for this and I'll be looking at those in future posts, but there are two main ones that kill any nude scenes before they get going....
1. The American film classification scheme is a lot less tolerant than ours. Nudity over there is seen as something almost entirely sexual, and so it automatically boosts a film's age rating. Violence, on the other hand, is seen as normal, and you can put that into any film you like (I dare you to make sense of that). Anyway, for a mainstream film to have any chance at realising a profit, it has to sell in the US as well as the UK, and so films are generally made to comply to the US market requirements.
2. Even in the UK where attitudes to nudity are generally more accepting (although not as accepting as they are on the mainland), our media is sensationalist and nasty, and any time someone releases a nude photograph or appears naked in film or on stage they spend all their time talking about the nudity and no time talking about the production. This is not what a distributor or marketing company wants for their product, so they avoid the problem by putting in less nudity.
In other words, the mechanisms for getting nudity onto the big screen are already there. Now we just have to persuade people it's a good idea.
The idea for this piece came about when I was lecturing to a small group of people about what it was like to be a writer. I told them about the long hours, the low pay, the bad reviews and the good, and then someone asked me what it actually felt like when someone read my work for the first time. I thought about that for a moment, and then said that it was like being naked in front of them, standing there for them to walk all around you, analyse your body, and then start to tell you what they thought about all its wrinkles and flabby bits whilst you have no opportunity to respond or hide.
That made them think, and a few of them looked like they were about to give up writing for good, so I explained a bit further. Writing comes from inside, I told them. It comes from a part of you that does not normally see the light of day. When you write, you expose your thoughts, your optinions, your hidden desires in a way that we rarely do in modern society. Even when you try to hide it, things get out, and a reader can get to know a lot more about a writer through their work than that writer would ever believe.
They liked that explanation and relaxed a bit, so I carried on with the lecture. But when I got home I started to think about how to represent that photographically, and so I came up with the idea for this photograph.
The image on the left is me, unedited, unretouched, just me. The writing projected onto me is a page from my book "Blood Changes, in a digital version of my handwriting. It was a particularly difficult scene to write as I was trying to make it hard-hitting and personal without diving into sensationalism, and I wrestled with it for ages before finally being happy with the result. So that side of the piece shows me, the writer, with my thoughts in disarray as I struggle to find the right words to do my character and my audience justice.
The image on the right is a model called Bex, with exactly the same passage projected onto her. This time, however, it is the final version exactly as it appeared in the paperback, and all the rough edges have been removed. Her serene elegance is in direct contrast to my rough and unkempt aspect, and shows how audiences often fail to realise the difficulties the writer went through to create something that they were able to read in just a few minutes.
The two images were shot at different times and in different locations, but the merger of the two photographs into a single piece achieves exactly what I was aiming to portray.
"From Writer to Reader", by Graham Guy