Back when the weather was still scorching, I had the pleasure of going up to Chatsworth House to photograph Becky Crowley, head gardener of the cutting garden for The Times LUXX Magazine. Really happy to see the photos in print last weekend, 8th September with art direction from B.A.M London. Read the article online here.
Hannah and I had been talking about doing this shoot for a while. It's scary organising to get naked in front of someone you don't know and often it can make all sorts of emotions surface which had been hidden. So we waited till it was right. I say this a lot, but it really is such an inspiring experience watching someone go through this experience and Hannah totally owned it. We'd already talked about why she wanted to take part, but when I read her story it really hit me all the negative thoughts about herself she'd had to overcome to get to this point. The photos were are part of that journey to self acceptance but it was Hannah who made it happen. So proud to have shared that with her and so grateful to her for taking part in the project.
In her own words (keep scrolling), here is Hannah's story and her favourite image from the set.
" When Naomi sent me the photos, I cried. I was away for the weekend with a new partner and 15 of my school friends in the middle of nowhere. The downloads were slow, on a phone in the corner of the lounge, trying to hide them from small children and a group of people who had known me for 18 years. I had put on weight but was also in a relationship where the man involved could not get enough of my body, and I had recently started to come to slowly accept that this was just what it looked like, and some people liked it, and maybe I liked it, and it could do all these wonderful things.
But when I saw the photos, it was there. My body. Everything about it hit me in the face with a magnitude I wasn’t expecting. How I feel about the tummy that has always and will always protrude further than I want it to, that is so ugly to me. My confusion about how the world will see a naked woman. The enormous spot that had erupted on my hip and stayed there for months. Feeling strong, feeling like I want to curl up in a ball and never let anyone see me naked again. The tattoos I’ll probably regret in a few years. My vagina, in the photos, over trimmed and shaved because I thought I should be neat on camera, but it doesn’t really look like her. So exposed. The big feet. The scar on my knee from falling off my (stationary) bike a few evenings before, tipsier than I should have been. The ovaries, the eggs, the womb inside, getting older, unsure about their role, waiting and not waiting to do something everyone tells me they should. The lips I love. My breasts, slightly sagging now, after years of my weight fluctuating as I try and make my body fit into this mould we women are always, constantly, unrelentingly told to conform to. The sexual assault - the one that gave me an anxiety disorder for a year and a half, the one that made me a fighting feminist, the one that made me feel like my body was no longer mine - it was written in ink over every inch of my pale flesh in every one of those photos. And then my partner's hands, all over it, erasing every last letter of the assault because together, at long last, he and I told the shit bag to go fuck himself - this body was mine, ours, and every new memory we made together with it removed my attackers violent hands until there was no trace left.
The shoot itself started difficult conversations with family members, finally telling them why I was so strange during that period, why relationships were hard, why I was always in my head. The day felt good - for the first time, I felt exposed and yet safe. My body was being so closely looked at, but it was not being judged, or sexualised. No one wanted to invade it. No one wanted to criticise it. It was just there, being a body. Trying not to fart or get too cold or be too hungry. Moving around rooms, lifting up limbs, standing, sitting - just doing all the things my body does.
When Naomi left, I cried (I’m a crier). Then I picked myself up and went to meet my partner. We drove to the coast and stayed in the world’s strangest B&B, that smelled like dog and had woodlice on the floor, and a bed with an electric blanket that creaked so loudly we had to make those body memories on the floor. We walked on the beach and sang 90s R&B at the top of our lungs in the car and ate terrible food and fought so hard the urge to tell each other that we loved each other, because it was too soon and because of all the terrifying things it implicated. And I didn’t think about my body once, about how it looked to him, whether my clothes were too tight, where it was going or what it was eating or whether it should do a shot of Apple Sourz in the pub (it did).
It was just mine. It was just me."
'Body of Women' is a platform for anyone who identifies as a woman to share their story about their body. Read more about it here. If you would like to be photographed for the project or just want to chat drop me a line: email@example.com
A few months ago I took part in a seriously inspiring workshop called 'Bringing Sexy Back' by Vanessa Kisuule (if you don't know who she is I'd highly recommend checking her work out) with a group of about 20 other brilliant women. The workshop opened up some really important conversations between all of us about body ownership, consent and of course sexiness and we all stayed chatting in the space - and then the pub - until long after the workshop finished. It was here I first met Kate and she asked to be involved in 'Body of Women'.
(If you missed my first two posts introducing the project head here to read more)
On a prematurely sunny day a few months back Kate and I met to shoot some images of her for the project. And amongst lots of conversations about our shared loves of Bristol and sport Kate shared her story with me. The two images below are from that shoot, read on to find out what motivated her to take part.
"Looking at these photographs feels different every time. I so rarely see my whole body like this. I'm just so naked!
Before the shoot with Naomi I had a weird relationship with naked photography, as the only person I'd ever sent nudes to was the person who sexually assaulted me. Partly because of that, I didn't want these images to be sexual at all. And looking at these photographs still makes me a bit nervous, but doing the shoot has given me a different appreciation of my body. I like the fact that this isn't me at my fittest. We shouldn't just show off our bodies and be proud of them when we've worked hard at them.
My body has been through some things I'd rather it hadn't, but it would be ridiculous to be ashamed of it for a tummy roll, or scared because of the thought of what someone else could do to it. So yeah, now I don't just feel okay to be showing a photograph of my naked body. I feel really proud of it.
I also realised I have so few photographs of myself where I'm not smiling. I like that in the photograph where I'm standing slightly above the camera, I look a bit fierce."
Thank you Kate for a gorgeous day and for sharing your story, it's such an honor to have you on board.
'Body of Women' is an ongoing project in which we invite women from all over the country to share the journey they've been on with their bodies and help us rewrite the way female nudity is viewed.
If you'd like to get involved in the project drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org
If you haven’t already seen my last blog post introducing ‘Body of Women’ and the very personal story which started the whole thing off, give it a read here. Working with Jo on the photos was an incredible experience and as we work together now on the project, her story has inspired women to come forward for a whole range of reasons. Some very moving and all totally amazing.
Some have been on a journey of emotional change and for them the photos are a way of coming to terms with that change and owning their bodies again. For others it’s more about a physical change and how that physical change has led them on a journey. When I photographed Mikaela she was 7 months pregnant and bar a few totally normal nerves about being naked, amazingly relaxed and comfortable. She gave birth to her gorgeous son Otis back in September (he is totally adorable). Several months on, I wondered how she felt now looking back at the images and what effect being pregnant had on how she felt about her body.
“It’s hard to say whether I feel super comfortable being naked, I think the relationship you have with your body is intertwined with a lot of things. But at that moment my body was changing really quickly, so quickly it was impossible to reflect on the magnitude of the situation. Even when I first looked at the photos, because I was still pregnant I didn’t see the beauty in my shape. Since giving birth to Otis I feel so proud of myself and my body for showing it’s strength. The photos are a record of the change I went through and a reminder of the power of my body.”
‘Body of Women’ is an ongoing project in which we aim to re evaluate the visual language used to talk about women’s bodies, record the stories they tell and celebrate their journeys. As the community of women taking part grows, we are looking for more women to share their story and collaborate with us. Get in touch by emailing me email@example.com.
Happy International Women's Day to all of you
Over the past few months, I have been quietly working away on a personal project with my dear friend Jo. It began when she approached me to take naked photographs of her. The image below is of Jo and in her own words this is why she decided to ask me to take these photos:
“When I was 18 I was raped. I didn’t deal with it because I didn’t know how. But I changed. As the years went by I changed a lot. I didn’t like my body, I didn’t like it being touched and I found sexual attraction made me anxious and sometimes I even thought it was a bit repulsive. When it started to come between me and my boyfriend, I knew something had to change. I used to like my body and in rational moments I knew it was a good one – it was capable and flexible and it did everything I needed it to do. I just couldn’t see it. So I asked Naomi to photograph me naked. Nothing sexy, nothing too posed, nothing to hide. Just me.
I explained why and Naomi immediately agreed. I opened up more throughout the shoot and in doing so realised that I’d come so far already. It was like a surreal therapy session that ended with a huge penny finally dropping. When I got the photos back I saw a beautiful, strong woman and she looked a bit like me. Now, a year later, with one of the photos on my wall, I know that woman is me. I just needed to see it.
Being sexually assaulted has affected my life in more ways than I can put into words. But the body it happened to isn’t my body and it isn’t me. My body is mine and no one can take it away from me again.”
Photographing Jo, speaking to her about her experiences and seeing how she was taking steps to own them and tackle how they made her feel was a really powerful and moving experience. It helped me to recognise how I felt about my own body, the negative feelings I had towards it, the times when those negative thoughts had held me back and all the times I had been cruel to it, starving it, punishing it or denying it pleasure in some way.
I feel quite strongly that the photography we see around us on a daily basis in advertising and (increasingly) pornography has a big responsibility in this. From a young age we are taught as women that to feel happiness in life we must give up our sexuality and force our bodies to look a certain way. As Naomi Wolf writes in The Beauty Myth; ‘Female sexuality is turned inside out from birth, so ‘beauty’ can take its place, keeping women’s eyes lowered to their bodies, glancing up only to check their reflection in the eyes of men.’ And if we are focusing down on our bodies, we are denying ourselves our full capabilities as strong and powerful humans.
Turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly) Jo and I weren’t the only ones who felt this way and as we began to share this discussion with the women around us, the more women we discovered who felt the same sense of disconnect we felt from our bodies - sexually, emotionally and physically. From this I photographed more women, first friends, then new friends and now the project has grown into something bigger.
'Body of Women' is a celebration of all that we are, the journeys we have been on with our bodies and a reclamation of their form and the space they inhabit. It is a collaboration between myself as a photographer and the women as subjects, formed around the stories they tell as we work together to find a new visual language in which to speak about female nudity.
It's an ongoing project and if you would like to take part please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.
Over the past year it has been a total honour to not only photograph gorgeous Lydia and watch her project grow but to become friends and studio sisters. So proud and inspired to see her story up on Elle last week, go give it a read here and feel totally energised and all powerful. So much love for her.
I'll be showing some more images from our most recent collab very soon, so keep an eye out.
I shot the guys from Japandroids for the latest issue of Crack Magazine, which is out now. Japandroids latest single Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out 27th January.
Happy birthday Andrea x