Audience Exposure

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I have never had any qualms about nudes.  I grew up with coffee table books tracing human anatomy and nudes on the walls.  I’ve modeled for art classes and done my fair share of life drawing.  Bodies are bodies.  Yet for some reason I’ve never actually done self-portraits of my own body.  The bodies I painted in college had strips of clothing cutting into their forms, the sculptures were based on dresses or else skeletons, with flesh over bone perhaps but without any identifying features of an actual body.

I think, somewhere, I internalized the “be careful what you put out into the world– it can come back to you” lesson of sex tapes and boudoir photos surfacing and somehow applied that to my own life.  Though in truth, I am not concerned with black-mail, so much as audience.  I’m trying to erase the idea of audience, but it’s tricky.  I do not exist in a bubble, and art, while it exists outside of my self, can trace back to my Actual Life.  I do not want to make people who know me as one thing uncomfortable by being exposed to me in another light.  This is why some people have very careful and catered circles of associates. Co-workers. Athletes. Artists.  I’ve never been good at keeping my life in compartments– I crash family into friends and co-workers into adventure buddies.  But this means my art and my life cannot exist in isolation from each other.

About a year ago I watched the documentary The Woodmans and found the photographs of Francesca Woodman.  They are beautiful and haunting and often feature nude women. (She died tragically young, and the documentary is very sad, but that isn’t what this is about.)  While I don’t pretend to have the skill that she has, I remember thinking– I should try something like this.  I never got around to it.  And then a friend sent me a link to a photo series making the rounds across social media, Stone Nudes. And I just moved into a new apartment, with a white tiled shower, a window ledge, and a sink counter at about the right height to balance my phone. 

I took a series of self-portraits with a self timer and after a little bit of editing, threw the first image up onto Instagram. I included my full body, splayed against tile, though at the last minute decided to blur most of it out.  Even within the blur you could see the tan line from my bathing suit bottoms and it was very clear that there was nothing in the frame beside body and background.  This is a test I thought.  I took the photo down within hours.

Why did this image feel like too much? I am not ashamed of my body and I still think the picture has strong composition and can hold its own.  There was nothing overtly sexual about the image, nor was it intimate.  It was, I think, a matter of audience.  My co-workers follow my instagram account, as do friends and family.  I want to say that I don’t care– but when it comes down to it, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.  I’m realizing more and more, this is one of my largest artistic hurdles.  I don’t mind being uncomfortable myself– I often am.  But I don’t want to put other people in a place of discomfort.  The co-worker that brings me fruit snacks in the afternoon is probably not someone who wants to think of me unclothed.

The images I’ve included above are ones that you can find online, on my instagram account. I’m still unsure as to whether or not the complete portraits belong online. This is the part of art that scares me– I am still toeing the line of safety.  Do I have the nerve to create something and put it into the world, while ignoring the audience that receives it? I’m starting to do that with my (body) text. Maybe it’s time to jump all in, entirely, and let people sort out how they receive it.