Written and illustrated by MarkVarley
This month was my 33rd birthday and a reflective time for me.
As the fine-art-nude is the one photography style I love above all others, I've taken a little trip down memory lane and chosen 33 images from my archive, covering the few years between my beginning to work with the nude and my move to London three years ago.
So these were all shot when I was in my 20's. I hope you'll enjoy my selection and perhaps gain some insight from the information shared with them.
In no particular order, this is a dancer named Amber with whom I spent some time shooting figure styles. She learnt how to model in some new styles. I took some nice photos including this one in lingerie, bringing some irony to a collection of nudes.
This second photo was a classic early-morning shoot. The model stayed-over the night before and we left at about 5am when it was still dark. We arrived at the location as the sun was just starting to light the sky and we had a mouthful of coffee each. We ran down to the beach where we found the tide to be in, instead of out, and the noise of the waves on the rocks made communication impossible without waving arms around. So the model, Veronik, was briefed to 'go down to the waters edge and wander up and down a bit', which she did while I scrambled around on rocks grabbing anything that looked like it could work as a photo. This one did, we wrapped and headed to town for croissants and more coffee.
This 3rd photo is the same model as above, taken on another visit. I rarely work with clothes (on the model !), but I love the textures and colours in this with the blue jeans and warm smooth skin.
Photo number 4 and this comes from my very first nudes shoot.
I talked a local model into modelling for me after showing her my other work (to prove I knew how to take a photo) and some work by other photographers in the art-nude genre (to show her what I wanted to do). She said yes.
So I did what anyone would do and took her to the most distant, remote bit of secluded woodland I knew of, which just happened to have an amazing spread of bluebell flowers. I mixed a traditional black and white art-nude with a colourful background of the greens and blues to create something unique.
This is the same model as above, Nicola, and a black and white from later the same shoot.
Here I gave her my hat as a prop (I used to live in that damn hat) and took a high-angle to frame her against the rough floor of the woods.
I really was spoiled for locations when I was living in the countryside.This was taken on an old wall of granite which was near a reservoir up in Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.The sky was blue, the model was nude, and the photographer was 5 metres away keeping one eye on the car park and the other on the exposure.
This is the same model we started with, Amber, again moving through some figure poses in my studio in Cornwall, England, lit by halogen floodlights diffused with sheets of white paper.
I started shooting in the studio with halogen floodlights for 2 reasons, they are cheap and they show me exactly what the camera will capture. The light doesn't change at all when I take the photo so I could create a photo and capture exactly what I could see.
This is Selene who came down to see me for some outdoor nude figure photos, which I was doing a lot of at the time.
Sadly it was late in the season and the weather was unpredictable.
Today it rained, so we sat in the studio (which was unfinished at the time) and created, among other things, one of my favourite portraits.
Here I was playing around with lighting angles and some fabric props trying to capture a mood. This is Josie who I worked with several times, here kneeling with some pink fabric. I just loved this shot even before I took it.
This is Josie again with the latest thing in heavyweight jewellery, not really it's industrial chain, zinc-plated and polished and looks good against skin. This is a prop I still use often, but this was probably the first time I used it.
I love it's shine, I love it's lines and I love the skin tone and body's framing of it, and indeed it's framing of the body.
This is Marie, with whom I did a few shoots, seen above in photo number 6.She is here on an early morning beach shoot (I got the tide times right this time, the tide was out when we got there). I love the textured ripples the water had left in the sand. Add model, get a nice angle and then you have this.
This is Amber again. Here we headed to the dunes for sunset. As a dancer I basically gave her some space to work in (literally I scraped a box in the sand) and just asked her to move, and she did, and I pushed the buttons and captured everything I could, including this ingenious 'handfulls of sand look great in silhouette' photo.
My thanks to :
erosion for the sand,
god for the lighting,
the model for the sand idea
and Olympus for providing a button for the monkey to press.
Here we are again with Marie, in an old granite quarry. This time and there we found a heavy industrial looking cage thing. I love the contrast of smooth skin and industrial settings, especially when you add the texture of granite.
This is Amber again and in the studio with an example of hand tinting. I was never very good at this in the darkroom but now in Photoshop a nice bit of hand tinting is much easier and I do like the effect it brings to a photograph.Like all fancy techniques you do have to be careful not to do it too often and be very choosy about how and when you do use it.
On a trip to Scotland I used a studio that had a great brick wall coated in varnish, which I ended up using more than the seamless.Here the use of a warm light and a daylight white-balance really adds warmth to the wall and the skintones.
One of the great advantage of being very tall is high-angle photos like this, taken in a field close to where I lived in Cornwall.
I just love so much about this photo, the skintones, colours, flowers, romance, lines and angles, all very attractive to my eye.
This photo was taken when we were out shooting a commission for a magazine. I just loved the angle and lines of the torso up to the legs, so I kept this one very much for myself.
It looks a bit moonlight, it looks a bit infrared, but it's neither, shot in daylight in an old quarry. This is Marie stretched out on an old tree, underexposed photograph with a slight tint added after a BW conversion.
This shoot was a memorable one, taken in an empty room in which the model had put on a heater to make sure it was warm enough for a nude shoot, even though it was 30c outside. Then I arrived and lit around 100 candles in the room making it more like 45-50c. She was naked and very warm, I was fully dressed and sweating profusely.
The only light source we used was 100 candles on the floor and my exposures were averaging 1 second, handheld.
This is one of my favourite photos from that shoot, just what I was trying to capture.
A good example of what can be achieved on-location in less than ideal circumstances.
The location was the model's home and the backdrop is a pair of curtains over a sunlit window. However the curtains were patterned. The way to deal with this kind of problem is first to set your flash and aperture, turn down the flash for a wider aperture and when the exposure looks good you can start extending your exposure time so the sunlight backlighting the curtains turns the curtains pure white, overexposing a few stops. Thats how you get this, a technique I now use a couple of times a week.This photo has been the background wallpaper for my website since the site was first built.
I love corsets. They are just visually cool in so many way. But the thing I love the most about this photo is the arms and hands. Not sure exactly why but it's a favourite of mine.
It was taken with the model I used for my first book 'Beautiful Bondage - the art of rope bondage', the day before we did some stuff like this.
Yoga... I'm not sure why but I love the poses and positions of yoga, only visually though, never tried them for myself. Here I had the model running through some yoga poses and she did a cool thing with her arms, so I asked her to lay on her back and mirror it with her legs. Here is that photo !
Pretty girls, exotic locations, beautiful beaches, it seems idealistic, doesn't it ?
What you don't see is that it's around 6am and we had to be up at 5am to drive to the location. You also don't see the group of drunken tourists on their way home who noticed us and tried to get closer while looking casual and 'just going for a walk'.
Still, I'd rather be doing this work than just about anything else.
This is Marie again, first shot of the day, on location at a beach in Cornwall, England.
Nice droplets on the skin due to a quick dash into the sea while I was mincing around doing 'photographer things' in my bag. Just a simple nude photo of a girl on a beach...
Something I'm very well known for is rope bondage, both in itself and in my (and others) photography.
Usually you'll see exotic ropes of various colours tied in intricate ways, here is a very simple photo of a girls torso with some cord fitted thats no thicker than a shoelace, in a very simple tie known as a 'karada'.Nice and simple.
A friend of mine once said, 'Colour photography is all about the colours, Black and White is about everything else'.
I love black and whites, they just feel right 90% of the time, but here is a colour photograph. Nice pose, semi-silhouette, and it's all about the colours !
This isn't all about the colours, this is more about a colour you don't usually see, this is infrared.
Another colour. This time of Marie sitting on a wall. Saturation is pushed up and the exposure balanced between the sky and the model. And ignoring the cars on the road 20 metres away, thank nature for bushes.
The last photo of Marie, who features here alot due to the almost whole summer we worked together out on locations in Cornwall, England, in 2005 creating some of her, and my, best work at the time.
Here we are in another granite quarry, which as well as having alot of granite which is a great textured rock to photograph. Also had really heavy duty machinery, like this trailer made form solid lumps of iron which looks like it could carry around a small english county.
Here it's carrying a model in a classic figure pose against the sky.I love the strangely similar tones of the model and the rusty trailer mixed with the very delicate and very tough industrial shapes and lines.
This is Amber the dancer again, and another hand-tint. She was just sitting between poses when this photo presented itself.
When I was shopping for some new black velvet as a backdrop in my studio, the shop had some of this red velvet, which I had to have, and this is probably my favourite photo of it.
Mostly I work with white models, because mostly they are, but there are a few models that come my way. That bring me skintones like this, deep tones that I just adore.More examples of this in my more recent work, particularly 2008, but here is an earlier one with a model named Lala, who moved like a cat, beautiful to watch. She just moved around the floor and I just pushed the button feeling like a spare part, this is a favourite from many taken that day.
Another photo from that shoot with the corset. Something gentle here with a connection. I like it a lot !
And for the 33rd photo, here is Veronik, from my first year of shooting nudes. Here the model has covered her skin with a very liberal coating of baby oil for a great shine. I just love the lightfall on this photo, which was one of a few chosen as an example of fine art nude photography in a book a couple of years ago.
Thats all for now. 33 photos from my earlier years photographing nudes. All of these photos were taken before 2006, the year that I turned 30 and moved to London.
Happy Birthday Mark !