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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Surfaces and Strategies – Why volunteer?

Considering why strangers and friends have volunteered for this project.

In order to get people to model for this project, I put out a casting call on a model website called PurplePort and also put out casting calls on Facebook and twitter.  These were successful in many ways. Not only did I get friends reply to the casting, but I also got strangers volunteering to take part.

When each turned up, one of my questions to them would be why they had volunteered.  In some cases, they just wanted to help and thought that the body parts project was worthwhile in getting involved in. For others, the challenge of being naked in a studio in front of other people was one they wanted to tackle head-on.

Some of my volunteers were very comfortable in the studio, whilst others took a little while to relax. One volunteer turned up and was visibly shaking. As with all the models and volunteers in this project, I reassured her that she did not need to take part unless she wanted to and that no one was going to force her. She did explain that she had PTSD from a car accident several years ago. So whilst her anxiety was trying to take over, she really needed and wanted to do the shoot. I started the shoot by photographing her feet, legs, and hands. Within a short space of time, she was confident and comfortable enough to be fully naked in the studio.

A plus-size (horrible term) model who posed naked for me, told me her reasons for doing it were “It’s a body. Everyone’s got one and I’m fine with mine, so I am fine with being naked. My body requires no justification or explanation. It is mine and I am proud of it.”

Another volunteer told me that she had offered to take part because she had previously had a boudoir shoot where the photographer Photoshopped her body without permission. When she looked at these images she did not see herself. She informed me that the quality of my work spoke for itself and that is why she got involved. She has now gone onto take modeling as a hobby, inspired she tells me by this shoot with me. I have shot with her since and have many plans for future shoots.

One female model came along having informed me that she was prepared only to do implied nude and wanted to keep her pants on. Of course, this is totally acceptable as I do not want to put anybody in a position where they feel uncomfortable. However after a short time she too felt relaxed and was happy to work fully nude.  Talking to her during the shoot, it became apparent that she had worked predominantly with one photographer in the past that she trusted, and had worked with other photographers with whom she had bad experiences.

A friend who volunteered commented that she was curious about what her body looked like captured in a photograph.  She wanted to capture her body as it was, before it deteriorated with age (her choice of words, not mine).  Having a friend behind the camera made the process a safe space for her.  She commented that although it was a daring and brave decision for her, she was proud of herself and just wanted to help me.  I was very touched by this.

The male models the reason for applying is often different. Some have told me that they have suffered a midlife crisis and feel that something they need to do. For other male models, they struggle to get paid work, so feel that refreshing their portfolios with new art nude images and body part images may help them in the future. A couple of the male models enjoy experimenting with different props and styles of shoots, so find working with me gives them the freedom to do that and get images of a high-quality.  One of my male models told me that he had a subconscious desire for exhibitionism. Standing in front of a camera naked, posing for a MA project that will be published is not such a subconscious desire then.

One chap offered to help because I ‘asked on Facebook for volunteers’ and he thought ‘why not?’.  He also commented that he had had several health problems since turning 50 and had decided to do things he had never done before.  He compared the shoot to jumping out of a plane (seems extreme…). Once we got going, he was proudly showing me his moles, skin tags and lumps and bumps.  This shoot threw me into turmoil as I had considered my work in progress portfolio completed.  The shoot produced amazing images that were necessary to be included.

Most models leave the session having had fun in a relaxed atmosphere.   They volunteer to come back and help as many times as possible.  All have been very pleased with their images and most have happily shared these with their friends and family.

So, could I strip for the camera? At this moment in time it is not something that I could see myself doing. I have too many hang ups about my body and I would not feel comfortable and relaxed in front of a camera, no matter who the photographer was.  I have taken part in my project, but it has only been my knee and a scar on my stomach that have been photographed.  This is enough for me at the moment.

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