I’d been wanting to get these photos printed for a while. They’re part of an ongoing art project exploring the nature and implication of nude self-portraiture. I asked a friend in term time if I could have access to the large-scale printers in the Architecture Department, but to do this he’d need to be there. I didn’t have a problem with it, or at least that’s what I told myself, but it was a bit weird asking him. I was attempting to shrug it off whilst inside I was experiencing a mild panic. But why is a naked body such a big deal? My naked body?
I don’t think it’s only the fact that the unclothed female body is intrinsically sexualised and objectified, but that nakedness, in my own social environment, is still, as in most instances, seen as something to be ashamed of. It’s not explicit but it’s there. Like that sense of embarrassment that comes with being caught naked, lights on, in your bedroom, forgetting to have shut the blinds. There’s a sense of shame, of humiliation, of wrongdoing.
In this exchange with my friend, I felt these sensations, not wholly, but a taste of them. I felt after asking him that I’d done something wrong, broken a code, and for a fleeting moment our friendship felt compromised. I didn’t end up getting his help in the end. He forgot, I forgot, things got in the way, and I decided I’d walk in to somewhere and ask.
So I did, in Berlin. Already here, having visited a few lakes, I’d come across nakedness and I’d shrugged it off. It reminded me of what my friend had once told me, horrified, that there was a nudist airline that flew only in Germany. Once you get on the plane, you all strip down, and I suppose you put everything back on once the plane lands. My friend kept going on about how unhygienic it was. But it made me think of a safe space, that on this plane the passengers all shared something; not bodily fluids, but an agreement, or understanding, to accept one another. Though perhaps I’m thinking about this airline a little too wistfully, a little too like a commune where everyone just gets along, holding hands and singing songs together to pass the time. I’m sure there’s a fair share of discomfort when someone gets up to go and use the toilet, your head suddenly met with a friendly clump of pubic hair.
The place in Berlin was a ten minute walk away. It was a Friday night and I bounced along the street in a great mood. As I cross the road a guy standing on his terrace kisses to me, a big grand “MWAH!” from the first floor. So I smile and keep walking, but he gestures and starts speaking in German. I stop and tell him “mein Deutsch es nicht sehr gut” and so he starts speaking to me in Spanish, to my surprise. I do not feel threatened, unsafe, not yet at least, so we converse in Spanish, superficial conversation only. Then he asks me to come upstairs, or he’ll come down onto street level, and I’m off. I’m off to print nude photographs of myself, to compromise myself perhaps more than I would have done if I’d stayed.
I walk into the store and ask the man behind the counter if I can print some photos from a USB stick. He opens the files, first one of Daisy, a portrait, harmless, then the next one, me, blurred, unclothed, looking at the camera. I keep my eyes on the image, on my naked body. I keep my eyes on the image to show that I’m not ashamed. I feel myself getting a bit hot, wanting him to hurry up so that I can look elsewhere. I calmly, firmly, try turn this anxiety into nonchalance. I look at the screen, then at him, and ask him about the quality of the print. The conversation flows and I breathe.
When I walk out of the store with the roll of papers in my hand I didn’t feel triumphant, ecstatic, like I’d won a prize. I didn’t actually feel any different, the sequence of events didn’t fit the narrative I’d given myself in my head. But as I walked towards the Ring-Center to get my bike, I did feel eager to start drawing. I’d be fabricating my mood if I said I felt joyous and elated. It wasn’t a victory, yet.
I am not content with the idea of anyone seeing these photos. They are still private. But the final etchings are different, they will be more removed from the directly representational, if only imaginatively. As a medium, nude photography is tied up with pornography, with explicitness, with a fragility that is hard to overcome, for they are often used, as we see in the media, for revenge. I am willing for friends, family, and strangers to see the etchings, the pieces of art once they are finished, but I am not ready for the exposure of the photographs. Only the stranger in the photo-printing store has seen those, and the impermanence of that I can handle.