This is our first feature for 2012 and we are starting off our new series with Grace Vane Percy, an internationally recognised London based art photographer who specialises in nude female portraiture.
Clients come to her from France, Italy, Sweden, Holland and Monte Carlo and she also travels to New York to photograph women. Grace’s clients are professional and independently successful women, her work is a celebration of their natural femininity and unique beauty.
In other words, Grace does not work with "professional" models. It is an interesting choice, one that certainly challenges preconceived notions of beauty. Her work celebrates beauty and the female form and is about empowering women to think differently about their bodies.
Trained as visual artist at Central Saint Martin’s, Grace went on to study fine art and the techniques of the Old Masters in Florence. Grace sees her work as directly influenced by classical art as well as the work of mid/late 19th century English and early 20th Century European (especially Czech and German) photographers.
In 2004 Grace was invited to join the ‘Women In Photography’ Archive at Yale. She has had many solo exhibitions around the world and is currently being exhibited at Art Palm Beach, represented by Christopher Walker Art. Learn more about her by perusing her website.
I came across Grace's work in 2009 and we were briefly in touch. Last month the Evening Standard magazine carried a feature about her and this prompted me to reconnect. She graciously agreed (no pun intended) to contribute to UdA which she found very much to her taste.
I asked her two questions "Why real women rather than models?" and "Why film?" (Grace does not work with digital for her personal projects).
Let's hear it from her.
Why real women?
It just so happens that I am currently producing a body of work based on Venus, which ties in nicely with your question “Why real women?”
Nude female portraiture, that is to say the artistic depiction of the nude female form in art, harks back to the very origins of art itself. From the moment that man could conceive of art he has depicted the human form. But the creation of the nude as an art form in its own right and not just the subject, comes to us directly from the Ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC. The worship of Aphrodite or Venus and her celebration as the goddess of love, beauty and fertility was unquestioning of the fact she was a woman and the embodiment of physical desire. In fact this mysterious and compulsive force was embraced as an element of her sanctity. The concept of Venus has always unapologetically celebrated and glorified the female form.
The reality of any nude in art of course, is that its inspiration comes from an actual human body. Venus’s root is a woman’s body, a real woman’s body. In her many depictions art and art history are full of endless differing nude female forms, inspired by and indeed copied from life, from real women.
Simply put Venus is the worship of the triumph of the female form and the cult of its beauty. “Art”, says Aristotle, “completes what nature cannot bring to a finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature's unrealised ends”. And so we see that the existence of ideal beauty is a creation from art. Praxiteles (of the late 4th) the first sculptor to be credited with sculpting a life sized female nude was as famous as his muse Phryne and together they are credited with the creation of some of the most beautiful works of art to enrich the classical world. Sadly only replicas now remain, but their collaboration is well documented and certainly one of the earliest examples of countless such artist/’model’ associations. This particular ‘model’ being any woman inspiring to the artist who was prepared to pose nude.
My current Venus project is conceptually loosely linked with Pygmalion. The idea is to photograph women referencing the Goddess Venus (mother of all female nudity in art), posed within neoclassical architectural surroundings. The locations will include some of the UK’s most celebrated and renowned stately homes. The halls, sculpture galleries, temples, ruins, alcoves and fountains, will provide an apposite setting. The project is aimed at highlighting the natural, sculptural form of the body.
Not only am I totally in love with the romance of film – the idea that when you’re looking at a negative it is a precise split second of history captured – like a miniature time capsule of the exact moment when the light and chemicals combined. It’s like an imprint of the light we reflect constantly, and our eye sees constantly, that has been caught, suspended and preserved – what could be more magical?!
But also I find it gives this wonderfully rich tonal depth, which is especially valuable when the camera is describing skin. There are two films I shoot with pretty much exclusively – Ilford FP4 (120 roll film) and Ilford Delta 3200 (120 roll film), I use one for flash and one for daylight, they both give different qualities.
When I’m looking at a subject I want to capture that pearl like richness the skin holds and the luminous tones as the surface moves from light the shadow. I think no digital print can rival the depth and beauty of a high quality tradition hand print. My printer is a master at what she does, she has nearly 25years experience and a great understanding of the subtlety that is involved in good printing.
Thank you, Grace. Your work is thought provoking and inspiring. We hope to see more of it and good luck with all your projects!