While I was in Melbourne, a comment from a friend of mine woke me to a whole attitude towards nudity and sex that I wasn't consciously aware I carried. The young lady in question is one of those folks that fits into two smallish camps - people I'd like to have sex with, and people who I'd like to photograph naked.
Now the two don't necessarily go together. And before I go into the personal revelation, I want to have a go at explaining the difference.
There are people I'd love to spend hours photographing naked that there's no way I would ever have sex with. I'm not thinking of their relationship status (though that would inform any decisions in that area anyway, as would whether Sharon gave me the ok, naturally) but of personality and how we interact - there are some folks I don't click with sexually, even if we get on fine in every other way. I may still be curious, but hell, I'm also curious about what it's like to fall from a skyscraper, and I ain't about to do that, either.
When I'm thinking of photographing someone naked, it's because I can see ways in which I can try to capture some essence of the person or their shape in a particular environment or light. Someone can have a body that I find incredibly gorgeous and desirable, but they may not spark any artistic ideas.
And there's the people I'd like to have sex with.
Which is down to who they are, rather than what they look like, though there are certainly physical traits I find immediately attractive. If I was actually having sex with any of them, I would like photos of these people naked anyway, because I forget what people and bodies look like within hours of being away from them and I want to remember them and their body. But that's a completely different mindset to wanting an artistically beautiful picture. Some may turn out that way, but usually only when I suddenly get distracted from my lust and see something that I need to capture. And that's more likely to spoil any romantic/erotic mood as I start trying to catch what I see.
"Wait, don't move! (grabs camera, snaps off some shots) No, this isn't working, try looking that way... that's better... (clambers over bed, ends up half-laying on floor looking up at an odd angle) Can you turn that light on? Ta. Actually, that doesn't work, pop it off again... Let's try the sheet there... that's better..."
"Danny? Can we get back to the sex?"
"Huh, what? Oh sorry!"
So yes, anyway, friend who falls into both camps. One of the reasons I'm so comfy with the idea of photographing her nude is that I don't think she has the slightest sexual interest in me, beyond (perhaps) simple curiosity. Because she has no interest, I find it pretty easy it ignore most of my own interest. I won't say there wouldn't be the occasional 'oh my god she's so hot!' moment, but it wouldn't overwhelm me in such a way as to distract from what I wanted to try to achieve with the photos - show the beauty I see when I spend time with her.
We were chatting about photos, and she mentioned a few other folks that have expressed a desire to photograph her over time. She talked about the pros and cons, and how she felt comfort-wise. These weren't necessarily nudes, though there was a potential for that as well.
Now she knows that I fancy her (she's someone I'm comfortable enough with that I can usually just come out and talk about such things without overly second-guessing myself), and we have discussed ideas for nude photos in the past, naturally enough. I mentioned that maybe her comfort with me was helped because she could see the artistic merit of the photo ideas we'd discussed, and didn't have to worry about me leaping on her and sticking my tongue down her throat. She replied saying that she was sure I'd love to though, if she let me.
It wasn't said in a mean or mocking way, it was said with the ease of someone talking to a friend and equal about sex in an open, adult, friendly way. But it actually shocked me, like a slap across the face.
It took me a moment to figure out why I was so thrown by her comment. It was simply that we'd been talking about nude photography, and suddenly a potential sexual angle was being brought up. And in my head, the two just didn't go together. Almost like a 'but if I was taking photos of you in an attempt to capture your beauty in a particular way... why would I want to mess that up with sex?'
And then I started finding other aspects and angles to it that I was a little uneasy with. The wording, 'if she let me' didn't sit right. I fancy her because she's brilliant, creative, artistic, intelligent, personable... I want to share closeness and intimacy with her because of that, to show each other hidden sides of ourselves. But you know, I'd be happy for an extended cuddle session. The idea of her 'letting me' get sexually intimate with her puts things on an unequal footing. If anything was going to happen, I'd rather it be because we both wanted it, rather than one of us allowing the other access, or passively giving in to another's perceived needs.
Now, none of this was the revelation, though it did let me explore a few of my attitudes to things that I hadn't thought about. But as I do with these things, I went over it again and again, looking at my thoughts and attitudes to nudity and the revelation was this -
The people I'm most comfortable being naked around, or having naked around me, are the ones who are unlikely to want to have sex with me.
Which is a blanket statement, full of holes, but still holds a solid core of truth. Of course I'm comfortable with lovers and potential lovers where there is already a natural mutual leaning towards intimacy/nudity/sex, but it's others I'm thinking of. If I seriously thought someone might, on seeing my wedding tackle, want to have sex with me, then I'd rather they didn't see me naked at all. I don't want to be wanted for my body parts, I want to be wanted for me.
And it's how I view people. If I fancy you, then big or small, nude or in a suit of armour, I will still be sexually interested in you. Though of course an outfit that shows you off in the best light is always going to be appreciated.
If you show me your bits in a deliberate attempt to try and create a sexual interest in you that wasn't there before, you're more likely to put me off. I may well enjoy the view, but it's not likely to move beyond that.
At this point I suddenly can't help but remember all the times I heard of men and women who 'accidentally' drop their towels, get 'caught', or play at the whole 'I'm comfortable with my body' thing by walking around naked, all in the name of getting a sexual response. Having been around people who were genuinely comfortable with their bodies, the real ones don't strut or pose. They may be conscious of how they hold themselves when naked, but that's a different body language from trying to actively entice someone on a pretext of it being something else.
I know from experience that there are people who I'm comfortable with when it comes to nudity. Some of whom I'm quite happy to hop into bed with for naked cuddles, talk and sleep, because I know that the nakedness isn't likely to influence things. Oh there may be certain automatic sexual responses to the warmth and closeness of another body and their scent, but that doesn't have to translate into action, and doesn't have to create an issue, even as the closeness is enjoyed. And I've shared beds with people where both of us would have been interested in pursuing things further, but that wasn't going to happen, so we just enjoyed being snuggled with someone who we knew liked us, and enjoyed that on face value alone.
My odd revelation also goes some way towards explaining some of my reactions to people, reactions I didn't fully understand before. I was travelling with a female friend, one who I would like to photograph, and yes, even fancy a bit. We chatted constantly, enjoyed talking, and were fairly comfortable around each other. It was only at some point when she was getting ready for bed and I found I was admiring the shape of her bare back, and had started thinking about how I'd like to try and photograph it to best show off her figure, that I realised I hadn't been doing my automatic thing of turning away when she got changed. In fact I was slightly shocked to realise I hadn't done it in days.
If I had been hoping for sexual intimacy I would have been more conscious of her body and remembered to turn away because of it. She just didn't set off my alarms. While we were physically affectionate, hugging lots and holding hands, there was no possibility of sex between us for various reason, including that our friendship doesn't operate on that level. We talked about my not turning away a little, she let me know she wasn't bothered, and as soon as it was clear that she wasn't going to be offended or upset by me being naked, I stopped worrying about if she saw Junior Danny. It made travelling together that bit easier and more relaxed in terms of changing clothes and other logistics.
By the same token, the realisation also explains one of the issues I'm having with a potential model. She's gorgeous, and someone that I'd quite like to photograph, and she's more than happy to oblige. The problem is there is a definite sexual frisson running between us, the possibility exists (to my mind at least) of something happening at some point, and it's getting in the way of coming up with concepts for the photos. I'm having trouble thinking artistically because as soon as I start to try and come up with ideas, my brain begins concentrating on the fact that I'd be getting to see her nude. It's really bloody annoying!
So yes, another odd bit of my psyche roughly mapped out, and then brutally dragged out into the public light of day. Suddenly the people I've been comfortable being naked around or having naked around me, makes a lot more sense! It also makes sense of some of the folks I've a desire to see naked, or photograph. A chunk of them are folks who I know have no desire for me whatsoever, so no issues at my end, and no worries about them being distracted by them trying to use their nudity to elicit a response from me.
So thoughts? Questions? Do you have some people in your life where you find nudity is fine, or an issue? Do you know why some people are ok to you? Or are you someone who never likes to see others nude, or be seen?
Just being curious. Usual rules, all responses will be screened, unless the final word is a 'yes'.