The Naked Muse

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At last, I can tell you about the naked male poets shoot! I’ve been dying to tell you for ages, but I had to keep it under wraps for several months until the exhibition was over. I may have to put an “over 18” button on this site now!

So look away if you are offended by pictures of naked men (not explicit) – and carry on if you want to brighten up your day

Last summer I was approached by Vik Bennet and Adam Clarke of Wild Women Press to be part of a project to raise money for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Vik & Adam’s 4-year-old son, Django, was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes and they racked their brains to think of a way to raise money for the charity. Vik came up with a great idea – get together 13 male naked poets, 13 female poets to write the poems and 13 female photographers to shoot the pictures for a calendar. She then created a 13-month calendar – the extra month being a spare month to do all the things creative people never have time to do! (Great idea!)

Vik is a poet herself, and introduced me to a world of poets I never knew existed. She arranged for us to shoot the poets at Greta Hall, Keswick in the English Lake District once the home of a famous Lakes poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I have to admit I was very apprehensive about this shoot, as photographing nudes is something I only usually do when they are semi naked, as I’ve never met anyone who really wants to be photographed totally naked- they usually feel pretty self conscious and want to hide various bits! However I was under strict instructions that the poets were to be totally naked, but had to be tastefully shot – no full frontals! We also had to try and link the picture to the poems that the female poets were writing – one for each month of the calendar.

We were to produce one shot for the calendar and one shot for an exhibition, and everything was extremely secretive – no shots were allowed in the public domain until after the exhibition, and the photographers didn’t even get to see each other’s photos.

My poets were Max Wallis and Andrew Macmillan, two well known, young, English poets.

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Andrew and Max as they are normally seen (dressed!)

I arrived at Greta Hall on a very damp, overcast, rainy day, to meet some very, very nervous people. And I mean VERY, VERY nervous. All of a sudden, what seemed a good idea at the time was now really making the poets anxious – and I’m not surprised really!

Normally, in a shoot of this nature, I would always start by taking some pictures of the person fully clothed, to get them used to being photographed before stripping off. The difficulty here was that we had one house, and a lot of poets and photographers all trying to use the same places – so I had no choice but to get started straight away!

I started with Andrew, because he was so nervous I thought he might change his mind! We practiced the shots in clothes first, and then removed them bit-by-bit. Andrew was particularly apprehensive because he had never been photographed before, and he had a very poor self-image – he had always hated his body, having been much larger as a teenager. I had to get him to trust me, by promising him he would look fantastic if he just put his trust in me, and let me take the shots – and he would see them all first before anyone else did. But all credit due to Andrew, because it is not easy lying fully naked on a bed being photographed, particularly by someone you have never met before.

The poem was about tulips, so I had arranged with Vik to get lots of tulips – unfortunately plastic, as it was the wrong season! But I thought the tulips would come in very handy in covering certain places!

The final image and poem that appears in the calendar.

The final image and poem that appears in the calendar.

LEFT: This shows the scene for the shot, and shows how little light you need to create pictures like these. I placed the reflector on the bed to bounce as much light as I could, used a high ISO (1600), F2.8 to blur the background, and held the camera very steady! RIGHT: Andrew is facing the light and I am standing with my back to the window. The final image (above these 2) is much more shadowy as it is being shot from the bottom of the bed - with the window light coming in from the left, to deliberately create the shadows for effect, and no reflector.

LEFT: This shows the scene for the shot, and shows how little light you need to create pictures like these. I placed the reflector on the bed to bounce as much light as I could, used a high ISO (1600), F2.8 to blur the background, and held the camera very steady! RIGHT: Andrew is facing the light and I am standing with my back to the window. The final image (above these 2) is much more shadowy as it is being shot from the bottom of the bed – with the window light coming in from the left, to deliberately create the shadows for effect, and no reflector.

Once we’d spent some time shooting indoors, it was time to brave the cold outdoors, not to mention the passing tourists etc.!

I really wanted to use the river at the bottom of the garden as I thought it would make a fantastic shot. Andrew was now used to doing as he was told, and bravely agreed to stand butt naked in freezing cold water, while I took the shots.

Because it was so cold, and also because tourists were walking along the footpath in the background, we practiced the shots first whilst he was partly dressed, so that we just had to take the clothes off and do the shots very quickly while he was naked. I am not sure what the tourists thought that day, strolling along a lovely quiet lane in the Lake District to be confronted with a naked man standing in the river! Luckily we didn’t get arrested. Coleridge probably didn’t have so many tourists walking past in his day!

Fortunately there was a rope swing in the river providing a piece of wood to hide behind!

LEFT: Practicing with clothes on first, enabled us to take very quick shots when we took his clothes off (Image Peter Adams). RIGHT: I grabbed a quick shot when I had to give Andrew the reflector to hide his dignity as the tourists walked past gawping!

LEFT: Practicing with clothes on first, enabled us to take very quick shots when we took his clothes off (Image Peter Adams). RIGHT: I grabbed a quick shot when I had to give Andrew the reflector to hide his dignity as the tourists walked past gawping!

One of the final shots that appeared in the exhibition.

One of the final shots that appeared in the exhibition.

I think you’ll agree that Andrew has no reason to be worried about how he looks – he makes a fantastic model, and we’ve had lots of great feedback about his images. His picture has appeared in many features now, from The Guardian to a gay porn mag! In fact, while I was writing this blog, Andrew emailed me and said “the shoot did so much for my body confidence, its actually been life changing :)”

So, onto Max. Max was slightly more confident about having his photo taken, as he had just started doing some test shots for modeling. However, he had never been photographed naked before – so this was a whole new experience and he was also very nervous at first.

I decided to use the Opium Bed in Coleridge’s study for these shots, as it is simply stunning, and I felt it was appropriate to include it in the shoot. The bed is a huge wooden structure, full of ornate carvings – and perfect as a frame around a naked poet!

As with all my shoots, I see people as a shape, and I try and make them the best shape I can. So here, I used the bed as a "frame" and moved Max around until he looked the best shape within the frame.

As with all my shoots, I see people as a shape, and I try and make them the best shape I can. So here, I used the bed as a “frame” and moved Max around until he looked the best shape within the frame.

I always start by taking an “establishing shot” – i.e. a picture where you can see the context (as above). Once I’ve done some of these kind of shots, I then zoom into the inside of the “frame” and shoot images which are part of the scene, so to speak – to create variety. See below.

All these images were taken indoors in natural light, using the very small windows of the house, and a high ISO (1600), with occasional use of a reflector to help bounce the light. Canon 1Ds Mark III - 70-200 F2.8 lens, and 35-70 F2.8 Lens.

All these images were taken indoors in natural light, using the very small windows of the house, and a high ISO (1600), with occasional use of a reflector to help bounce the light. Canon 1Ds Mark III – 70-200 F2.8 lens, and 35-70 F2.8 Lens.

What a great experience – I am so glad I got involved! I even got to drive the guys back to the railway station while they recited their poetry to me all the way! Just amazing hearing poetry read by the writer – what a difference. I hope all the other photographers enjoyed the day as much as I did – it was really interesting not to be able to see anyone else’s pictures until the calendar came out too – very nerve wracking!

We’ve had some amazing publicity and also some negative publicity – and I just want to say that I think this is an amazing achievement for everyone involved – remember, these are not models, they are ordinary people; people who have never taken their clothes off for the camera before. Most of us just wouldn’t do the shoot in the first place, let alone allow ourselves to go out naked on the Internet, or be part of a public exhibition! Amazing that Vik managed to persuade so many poets (of all ages and sizes) to strip off, and amazing that every photographer managed to get them to do the shots. Sometimes people just do things for a good cause, and this is certainly a good cause. Well done Vik, and well done all those photographers and naked guys. It’s people like you that make a difference.

Or as 4 year old Django said:

“Mummy, you know – lots of people love me, who don’t even know me”. When I asked him what he meant he replied, “because all the poets and lady photographers helped make my lovely calendar to help the doctors invent things to make my diabetes better and they didn’t even know me…” I think that just about says it all, really. Thank you…” Victoria Bennett

Adam, Vik & Django - I just had to do an extra shoot of this gorgeous little boy and his wonderful parents.

Adam, Vik & Django – I just had to do an extra shoot of this gorgeous little boy and his wonderful parents.

Check out the calendar in this video and then read the tips below for photographing nervous nudes!

Video: Adam Clarke
Calendar design: Donated by Lavahouse Associates

First 100 people to visit the Wild Women Press site and buy a calendar (£10.00) before 30 June stating code ANNABEL on their purchase will receive their copy signed by Annabel Williams – remember it’s for a great cause, and a very cheap way to get a signed print!

Tips for photographing nervous nudes

  1. The key thing is making your subject feel comfortable. Try to do a straightforward portrait shoot first – spend up to an hour doing shots in different outfits, so that the subjects starts to enjoy themselves, and starts to relax into the shoot.
  2. I usually start with lots of clothes, and gradually take more clothes off, bit by bit. So you may start fully dressed, then eventually do shots in just jeans and bare top, then with the jeans open, then underwear, and finally naked, all over the course of a couple of hours – in order to gradually relax the client.
  3. If your subject is not toned and slim, you will need to use something to disguise less photogenic areas. I often lay people on a white duvet, because you can pull up areas of the duvet around the person, and hide areas of skin you don’t want to show.
  4. A hint of nudity can often look much better than the whole body – depending on the body basically. You can use a white towel, or robe draped around for example.
  5. Make sure the room is warm – goose bumps don’t look great. If working outdoors (as in the river shot), you need to work fast on a cold day. Practice in clothes and then shoot quickly when you remove them.
  6. If you have to work outdoors in the cold, take wider shots so you can’t see the goose bumps!
  7. Instead of saying “breathe in” (which makes people think that you think they are fat!) – ask them to stretch up tall, and tense their muscles, which will give greater definition. But remember to get them to relax their shoulders before you take the shot, as they will tend to lift them. Say, “Stay like that, but relax your shoulders”.
  8. Use words like “I just need to get a stronger shape in the shot – can you stretch out your body as tight as you can?”
  9. Use these tips for shooting lingerie pictures too – it’s the same principle.
  10. Try moving around your subject looking for the best shapes. Take different angles and zoom in and out to create variety.

Many thanks to Ann Mulqueeney for retouching the images of Andrew and Max for the calendar and exhibition, to OneVisionfor printing the metallic prints and to Eden picture framing for the exhibition frames.

Find out more

To find out more about the charity Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation go to: JDRF

The smart woman’s guide to diabetes: A Smart Mother to a Diabetic Son, the dance of diabetes…

Check out some poetry!

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