For most people the idea of having their photograph taken in the nude is the stuff nightmares are made of, but photographer Grace Vane Percy is turning ordinary people into modern day works of art, and could give Gok Wan a run for his money when it comes to advising how to look good naked.
“You know, ordinary women have been adorning the walls of galleries for years – Lizzie Siddal (Pre-Raphaelite muse most famously known for featuring in Millais’ Ophelia) was just an ordinary woman who many artists thought was attractive.” It is this acknowledgement that goes some way to explaining what makes Vane Percy’s work so interesting.
Tall, willowy, and ethereal, she is the embodiment of her classical background having spent her formative years as an artist studying in Florence, which is probably why both she and her work are a far cry from the sensationalist visuals that saturate modern media (“Quirky angles? Some images are just so ugly – I don’t get it!”), which is something of a renaissance in nude studies that have one primary and unapologetic goal: to be beautiful.
Using high speed film to produce a grainy effect, and only working in black and white, the final results are painterly images that focus the eye on the composition – viewing the body as a work of art: “black and white works well because the viewer is less distracted by the flesh itself: you see the shapes and lines and forms rather than going ‘oh goodness, that’s a whole lot of nakedness!’”
Born of her education and an engrained appreciation for the body, particularly the female form Vane Percy’s choice of subject matter was an organic creative progression: “My mum had cancer when she was twenty-four and wasn’t expected to live, but she got over it and went on to have a family. She taught me that your body is the map of your life – it tells your story, so I grew up with the idea of being kind to your body and valuing its scars, which makes me very comfortable around nudity.”
It was this clarity of thought that made her first customer such an inspiring success: “I was
advertising myself as a child portrait photographer and I got a call from a woman who was pregnant. She had a terrible time previously where she lost a baby in an accident and this was an important moment for her. She asked if I minded if she was naked, and I said ‘absolutely not’! It was a very positive experience for her celebrating what her body had been through and where it was going, and it made me happy to have given her that. It was as though things fell into place – that moment when you find exactly what you want to do.”
Whatever way you put it, photographing naked people is bound to raise certain issues: Aren’t people nervous? Is it possible to make anybody look beautiful? Vane Percy just smiles at the inanity of the inquiry: “There is an amount of mental preparation that goes into the session: I ask clients to exfoliate and moisturise before they come, and not to wear any underwear or tight clothing on their way to the studio. Women are travelling with no bra for what might be the first time in years, so the process has really started before they get here, which I think goes some way to assuaging any nerves: people always say how liberating it is. I am also quite matter of fact about it, and it’s a quick process which has to be a positive thing!”
Regarding the perhaps more reflective question of whether you can make any body beautiful, you might expect a response about tricks of the eye and strategic positions, but the answer is much more simple than that: “Women, regardless of their size have a guaranteed shape – it’s always feminine and beautiful,” she says as we pore over photographs of one curvaceous customer who looks resplendent with tumbling blonde hair and enviable hips. “Very skinny women can look awful. People often look slimmer without clothes on because you can see their shape better, but my favourite body type is probably a yoga body – they are usually lean but keep the feminine form, and age really well – not just their shape, but skin elasticity as well.”
Ultimately what’s special about Vane Percy’s photographs stems from the artist (and that really is the word you are looking for) herself: her intent is no more or less than to create beautiful pieces “it’s meant to be you, but at your best” … and to facilitate the ennoblement of the woman – “it’s not about who it’s for, it’s not interesting to me what their husband might want, it’s about them and that moment.” My sneaking suspicion as I ponder undulating thighs, and bodily profiles made perfect by shadow, is that customers will go to her expecting to have a nude photograph taken, and come away seeing their bodies in a completely different, slightly kinder light.
To win a photoshoot with Grace Vane Percy email us at firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday 20th April and tell us why this experience is just what you’re looking for!
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