The Bare Project
The transformation comes when the models step into the studio. They may walk through the door carefully, unsure of what will happen next. Many wear gowns and have bare feet. The room is filled with props and bits of equipment. They don’t own the space yet. But once they step into the space, begin the journey and start to feel comfortable, a transformation starts to occur. These women go from fearing their flaws to exploring their own beauty, strength and sensuality.
To be naked is to fear being exposed as imperfect, to be unclothed, to be vulnerable
But artists have always used nudes to depict a message. As a nude, the body is no longer about its flaws or imperfections. To be nude is to be completely safe, to feel empowered, to be represented as strong and as beautiful.
The makeup artists often stand close by, wondering if there needs to be any sort of touch up. The makeup, for this project, is about sharing a message. One has silver leaf placed over a scar, while another has words to share her journey from despair to healing , hope and assertiveness. Another, a young man, shares his journey as a wounded healer. There is a cancer survivor and an artist’s muse, a burlesque dancer who has only recently been called a slut.
The muse and the dancer wish to share that art is not porn
They are not naked, ashamed or guilty, they share. Instead, they are comfortable being themselves, seeing their bodies as their own, in a world which would cover them with brands. The dancer says she doesn’t want to be sexualised. She wants to simply share the beauty which comes with being human. Beauty is something to aspire to.
There are gym instructors, dancers, students and fitness enthusiasts taking part in this project. Nobody feels self conscious after the first few minutes. Afterwards, participants share how liberated they felt, and how, reclaiming your body in a safe space is a form of healing in itself.
The shame which comes with abuse, with loss of control, with stigma, illness or imperfection belongs to the naked, the vulnerable, the outcasts and the wounded. Each has been there at one point or another. But in the studio there is only beauty, the body represented through an artistic lens, a story that has to be told, an image to be captured.
The Bare Project started as a means to share stories
We wanted to work towards creating body confidence and acceptance. It was about working towards equality, working to reduce shame and stigma, and about putting a message out there that each participant saw as important. What we did not expect, was the transformation and healing which would come out of the photography sessions.
As a boudoir photographer, I have always known that women feel strong, powerful and beautiful after a photography session. When looking at the images which have been created, each will see herself through different eyes, exploring her own beauty and sensuality with wonder. She will suddenly see herself as beautiful, as enough, beyond the shame which is constantly perpetuated by marketing messages. I’ve always been moved when this happens, and it brings value to my work. But boudoir photography emerges out of joy, out of sensuality, an appreciation of a new relationship or a meaningful life event.
The Bare Project shares stories of pain, stigma and loss of control
Gender related violence, pain, illness and despair emerge and wish to be communicated along with strength, inspiration, determination and healing. The stories combine with our views on nakedness – they share that the body is shameful, failed, abused, despairing, a source of stigma, discrimination and imperfection. And yet the participants find the same joy, healing and peace that the boudoir models feel.
As human beings we are fascinated with bodies
We categorise, discriminate, police and shame them. All social stigma is embodied, and those who are seen as bodies often lose their humanity. Ill bodies are ruled over by medical practitioners while prostitutes’ bodies are governed by police and state. We tell people they can share intimacy, and we create befriending programs for the lonely, the institutionalised, or the old. But we govern sexualities, try to prevent authorities from hugging children, and we stigmatise bodies which do not conform to our social norms.
The Bare Project tells the stories behind the stigma, the abuse, the discrimination, judgement or shame. It allows the person behind the body to speak out, sharing a story which is later represented through photographic images. We try to restore a complete humanity to those who have been stigmatised. And we try to create a safe space, a sense of value, and an opportunity to realise that, although your body may tell a story, it is you who gets to share what it says.
The project is being overseen by our qualified facilitator Nicci Attfield
MPHIL in Diversity Studies (UCT), PhD Candidate (Wits)
The project is the brainchild of Allison-Ann Maaske and Peter Driessel of Boudoir Fusion Photography.