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  • Roni.Fine

    Posed or poised?

    We try so hard to publicise naturism, but it is often a difficult topic to illustrate! Not only are some of us hesitant to have photos taken, but we always have to be aware of how much of the body we actually show when portraying naturists. Though we might take nudity for granted, we have to remember that not everyone is ready for such complete acceptance of the human form, so we have to tailor the photo to suit the particular audience we are dealing with.

    Or do we? Should we simply declare that nudity is normal and take the stance that we shall prove it by sharing our nakedness with the public – be it on television, in newspapers or via any advertising opportunity we can access? Should we almost force it upon an unprepared public and say, “This is us, accept it!”

    I would love to give you a most definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this question, but I am not sure I can. When I was asked to appear on a Vanessa Feltz television programme discussing naturism, the first thing I asked was whether they expected me to be naked and, of course, they thought I was offering and almost bit my hand off, saying, “Yes please!” But I followed my own question with a statement, “I do not undress to be looked at, but to feel good so, no, I will not be naked in your studio. However, if you wish to come and film at Blackthorns, then I will strip and feel comfortable doing so.” (That last bit might have been a bit of a fib!)

    I was then constantly referred to as the “prudish naturist”, which I thought was ridiculous! Their reaction convinced me that they, like many other producers of television programmes, just wanted some sensational nudity to increase their ratings, but I wasn’t going to be providing a cheap thrill, and I do mean cheap as they weren’t offering any payment!

    When I invited a local newspaper’s reporter and photographer to Blackthorns to run a piece on club life and prove that a certain national newspaper had got it all wrong with their article stating that naturists were pensioners who sat around in deckchairs knitting or dozing, I had to prove that naturism was perfectly acceptable by conducting the interview in the flesh – quite literally! Having spent half an hour telling them how comfortable we are with our bodies, and the fact that it is all about body acceptance rather than body beautiful, we could hardly refuse when the photographer asked to take photos of my husband and me.

    Believe me, we tried! We offered them some lovely ones we had previously taken of another couple, but no, they wanted their own proof that we meant what we had said, so there we were, strolling through the trees with a camera following close behind! So do think before you speak!

    When we produced publicity leaflets for our club, we put together one which had a nice woodland scene on the front and a distance shot on the back, giving little notion of actual nudity. The photos inside include a close-up and it is obvious that the people are naked but, to save any possible embarrassment, their genitals are discreetly out of sight. You might think this is wrong, but we would rather censor the pictures a little so that they are viewed comfortably than be viewed and thrown in the bin.

    It is similar with our website. Although our front page carries a warning of possible nudity, we still only post a hint of nudity with few full-frontal shots that could possibly embarrass or attract the “wrong” audience. Again, you might disagree, but I would argue that we undress to feel good, not to be looked at, so we don’t need detailed pictures of us doing so. People understand what nudity means and they’ll see plenty of it if they choose to join the club.

    Mind you, others seem not to understand nudity at all. How many times have you heard a film company, television programme, newspaper or magazine brag that they are going to include full nudity: “Ooh! Naked people! Shock horror! Excitement!” And what do we get? Partially clothed people or nudity with arms across breasts and covered genitals.

    I often wonder how they make these statements and seemingly don’t understand the meaning of the terminology they use? But it obviously draws in the viewers – that is their intent and although there are plenty of people complaining that there is too much nudity, you rarely get people openly criticising them for not having enough.

    Personally, I think that if a storyline calls for nudity, then it is better to include it in a straightforward way than an uncomfortable cover-up that makes it look silly. For example, a couple having spent a night of passion together then get out of bed dressed or with the duvet wrapped around themselves to protect their modesty! So I am not a prude after all!

    What do you think of H&E magazine, which is available to non-naturists? A long-standing problem is that it can be very off-putting for ladies faced with pages of attractive, young, slim, shapely women with big smiles and “perfect” proportions!

    Whilst I don’t want to get drawn into the long-running debate over whether these models are naturists because they have removed their clothes or whether they are naked models, there is always the worry that they deter the more ‘average’ woman from attending a naturist venue for fear of comparison.

    It is fine for us seasoned naturists who know it is all about body-confidence rather than body-beautiful, but novices need to gain that confidence in the first place. They may look at these magazines and think we are all perfect specimens and will not dare to join us. Oh, how wrong they would be! I have always told men with reluctant partners to leave H&E until later and show them the genuine members’ photos found in BN magazine, so that they see we are indeed all ages, shapes and sizes, that there is no competition and that they will fit in.

    But now, to find a place on the shelves of a major high street newsagents, H&E have run a few editions without any full-frontal photos. When I first noticed what they had done, I have to admit I was quite pleased, although it did seem a little strange to see so many backsides! Whilst many photographs were very carefully taken and look very natural, there are some that look censored, and I began to feel they were giving the completely opposite impression. The whole concept of naturism is the acceptance of the human form without embarrassment or shame, so a cover-up is wrong. I was, therefore, pleased when they declared if other publications were getting away with featuring breasts and nipples, then they would too! They said their new restrictions were to encourage the “right kind” of customer and convince the shop that it has a rightful place on the lower shelves, rather than with top-shelf publications.

    But are we holding ourselves to ransom? Would another shop agree to sell naturist material as long as there were no bums, then another demand no naked bodies at all? Would we, should we, pander to their demands? After all, the very meaning of the word naturism in my dictionary is “communal nudity or nudity practised openly, sometimes in the belief that it encourages self-respect, respect for others and a feeling of being in harmony with nature.”

    We are not like the many varied industries that use naked bodies just to get noticed! We are using nudity to sell nudity, plain and simple. I like photos that depict nudity without being obvious; by that, I mean none of those shots of men who stand, legs apart, hands on hips as if to say: “Look at me, look what I’ve got!” Is it truly a natural pose for men, or is it as false as I feel it is? Maybe I am wrong and the expression “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” is acceptable?

    Neither do I favour naked females in falselooking poses; sometimes, a little erotically and supposedly in the name of art. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and maybe sexual connotations are too. Perhaps what I see as a sexual pose is all in my mind and to someone else, it’s an innocent artistic shot and a thing of beauty. I even wonder if it is my subconscious jealous thoughts as a female that make me see these pictures as unsuitable, as I am sure male readers do not complain about their existence.

    I’m always defending naturism as a nonsexual nudity, but by printing provocative poses, we could be attracting people who are convinced we are using the guise of a naturist club to fulfil our sexual interests. There are still many who cannot differentiate nudity from sexual connotations, and I feel so protective towards the much-improved reputation of naturists that I just don’t want anything to spoil it and undo the progress we have made.

    So what photos would I be happy with? Any taken in the same way you would do when clothed: happy holiday snaps, of sunny days and momentous events – not of people who look like they have quickly stripped off and posed, before hastily dressing again before they are spotted. Take photos of people and things as they happen; with them feeling comfortable with their bodies. The more natural they look, the more acceptable they become to others. But is total and full-frontal nudity necessary to promote naturism? We all have the right to decide whether we wish to share our nudity with the public, so it should never be forced and you should never feel guilty if you prefer to remain private. Should we have natural naturists or provocative poses? Let me know what you think.

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    Wow, there's a lot to take in there...

    I'm not going to approach each and every point, but to me there is a strong link between Naturism, Nature and Natural. People doing what people do (naked, of course) is, to me, normal and natural and whether or not it is full frontal is not important.

    People provocatively posed is unnatural and deliberate, and so fails my 'normality' test.

    Yes, I love to see pictures of naked people, naturally, as it reminds me that I'm not alone in wanting to be in my natural state as often as possible - being the only one in my family I sometimes suffer from self-doubt.

    I think a lot of this hinges on the difference between posed, but natural looking, and posed, but provocatively. I also feel that the line between the two is probably a personal thing.

    So....with the internet providing something for everyone, even the undesirables, where should Naturist publications stand? In my opinion they should be showing real life. if they show pictures of Naturist facilities or beaches and there are som full frontal shots, Then that should be comsidered normal BUT they should not all be PYTs...because I certainly am not, and nor are many Naturists and, to be clear, nor does it matter.

    As for TV appearances: If i went on TV to be interviewed as a pianist, or Rugby player, they might show some footage of me playing but wouldn't expect me to play all the way through the interview. Why should Naturism be differnt?

    The human body IS natural, we all have one, and they are all amazing. Maybe not in the way the tabloid press might think, but the simple fact that these lumps of flesh last for, sometmes, over a hundred years and take all the abuse (if that's the right word) that life throws at them in that time really is amazing, and to be celebrated.

    Full-frontal or not, old or young, male or female, all shapes and sizes, the human body should be seen and enjoyed as the miracle of nature that it is.

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    Thank you for this article, Roni - my thoughts entirely.

    Since you ask, I would like to say that I dislike intensely pictures of men, legs apart, hands on hips, as you describe above ("meat and two veg" shots, I call them). I also dislike similar photos where the man's head has been cropped out - they're just plain creepy.

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    Excellent, thoughtful post, Roni.

    Personally, I think any pose that would be acceptable with clothes on should be acceptable without them. I have come to the conclusion that men, and some women, are natural exhibitionists. If they pose in a way which is a little off-putting, they will be ignored. Ultimately self correcting. I suspect many men pose arms Akimbo even when clothed but it is not as blatant. Men will display their wares, as will confident women. It is not in itself sexual and I think natural, equally natural for many to ignore.

    For a wider audience, a we need to be a little more selective to use pictures which provide a genuine but positive image of naturism. I don't think we should censor, except to enable publication where it would not otherwise be permitted.

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    thanks for your comments!

    I have, so far, only received comments that agree with what I have written and funnily enough, the majority are from men. I rather thought some would speak up to argue my point and declare they always stand in that "show off" position and it is completely natural..........I now stand back and await more comments!! Thank you everyone who took the time to read it and lots of thanks to Chris for posing for my photos to illustrate it!

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    In her feature article (BN192) Roni posed several thought provoking questions on the subject of, well, provocative poses. She asks ‘should we take a stance over pictures?’

    Whilst I agree that we should take a stance, my conclusion is not based on consideration of the merits of ‘posed’ vs. ‘poised’ but a completely different line of thought.

    Spend a few moments looking through the portfolios of Paul Taggart. http://www.paultaggart.com

    A beautiful and serene picture by Paul Taggart sticks in my mind. In the foreground two large blue, rectangular shapes lie on lush grass in perfect symmetry within the frame. These objects geometrically balance the almost clear sky, whose tone they also match. In the distance are mountains; it is an aesthetically perfect image. It is only as the viewer’s eye is drawn, deliberately and skillfully, into the image that fragments of metal are noticed. There is a sudden realization that the image has a narrative: the tranquility that follows the tragedy of a plane crash. It is only on reflection that you realize that the two objects placed right in the front of the frame are body bags.

    Such is the skill of a seasoned photojournalist that he is able to arrange forms and tones in a way that is pleasing and guides the viewers eye into and out of the frame, bringing attention to his subject. So intentionally can he focus the viewer’s eye on the bright, beaming faces of street children that the fact that they each hold a rocket launcher goes almost unnoticed.

    A skilled portrait photographer knows how to make his or her subject feel at ease. The photographer will fire the shutter only when the image in the viewfinder tells the chosen story; bringing out a selected characteristic of the subject’s personality or describing the relationship that the subject has with his or her surroundings. The photographer is in control; whether the subject wishes to pose or otherwise is immaterial.

    If naturism is a difficult topic to illustrate, I suspect that this is because we lack the compositional skills and photographers eye. Intuitively, it can be no more difficult a subject to tackle than warfare or the aftermath of a tsunami. What matters is not the amount of flesh but the story that is conveyed through deliberate use of dynamic range, balance, geometry and light. There is no requirement to show full frontal nudity any more than there is to show blood and guts in an image illustrating the desperate sadness of human conflict.

    I don’t believe that we need to censor for an unprepared public; our art galleries are full of nude portraits and there seems little problem with the acceptance of photographs by Spencer Tunick and others. Any censorship should be of badly composed images (I include my own) and holiday snaps that leave the viewer’s eye to wander and search for meaning and intent.

    Roni bravely invites us to study two of her images. Are we meant to be looking at Chris or admiring the sauna? Where are your eyes drawn? In the absence of other compositional devices, this is usually towards the brightest area of an image. In both pictures, the areas around Chris’ ‘privates’ are most strongly lit. The lines of the benches also help to lead the eye in that direction. His face, which may tell a more interesting story, is relegated to relative darkness and a compositionally weak point within the frame. Were these choices intentional?

    Whilst we cannot all be photojournalists, we can be more mindful about pictures, commissioned or otherwise, that we chose to make available to the general public. How many of the images in BN tell a clear stories or challenge views about naturism and naturists? How many leave the viewer wondering, “I’m not sure what the point of this photo is. What am I supposed to be looking at?”

    [Lynda.com has an excellent course on photographic composition. There are many books on the subject including the widely available series by Michael Freeman.]

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    thanks for that interesting account of photography and it has made me look at my photos again in a different light..........I was merely illustrating my writing but your references to light and lines will make me think next time. I was limited to background choice and time.........it was cold and wet outside and I needed to take his photo before he changed his mind and the sauna was the only obvious alternative to out of doors! Maybe BN ought to devote a page a month to naturist photography and we might find some super photos to use for publicity elsewhere; natural looking ones of course!

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    Thank you for this article, Roni - my thoughts entirely.

    Since you ask, I would like to say that I dislike intensely pictures of men, legs apart, hands on hips, as you describe above ("meat and two veg" shots, I call them). I also dislike similar photos where the man's head has been cropped out - they're just plain creepy.


    Thank you for your interesting article I'm pretty sure this isn't your main point but I what i can't understand is what silversussie is explaining, Men naturally stand with legs open and sit with legs open for obvious reasons, we're all not comfortable with crushing the "meat and veg". These shots come about as they are probably taken when we are comfortable and we can't put our hands in our pockets, so they sometimes go on our hips. It's not always easy to hide ourselves when we are trying to be open with our bodies amongst our community

    Apologies if this comes across a bit crude, this is not my intention


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    Thank you Roni for such a thought provoking article,

    Now, my thoughts as a life model. Most of the time, models are expected to adopt a 'pose' themselves, be it a standing, sitting or reclining pose.

    As an experienced life model I always try to adopt a 'Chris' type pose. To elaborate; a position that my body is comfortable with, one that I usually am in during my day to day activities. These positions are ALWAYS the most pleasing to look at, in the finished drawing or painting.

    I therefore totally agree with your point about natural, pleasing and in fact un posed pictures. Whether or not they are full frontal should not matter. Sadly, in the society we live in, it sometimes does!

    I think the cover picture in the current BN illustrates this point so perfectly. How natural and how beautiful this picture is. It shows nudity in all its beauty and is totally non sexual.

    Chris Roberts.

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