" The goal of the new candid nude is to explore the person's Essence - the intangible quality that makes a person who they are. The emotional mask is the last layer to peel away before the viewer is able to see the truth of a person's existence. " Kiran Patil
I searched, no more sites ? Kiran, tell me !
First, dear Kiran, my favorite question : when and how did begin your passion ?
In my late teens, I shot numerous 16mm short films with a Canon Scoopic, which I purchased second-hand from a retired war journalist. It had a bullet fragment lodged in the chassis. I showed the movie camera to everyone proudly – as if I too, had been in harm’s way and survived. This is what people do when they have nothing substantial of their own to offer.
The student actresses I directed were young and pretty and had aspirations of becoming professional models. Most were turning eighteen, the legal age of majority, and immediately wanted to explore the boundaries of what their new adult status allowed them. This was the first time I picked up a still photography camera - and I haven’t put it down since.
Some words about this memorable experience ?
Yes, it was the aforementioned nude photo shoots with the student actresses.
It was much like my first sexual experience ; I was very excited and amazed that a girl would willingly want to do this with me, but I didn’t quite know what to do aside from “point and shoot”. Honestly, the girls were more comfortable performing in front of the camera than I was shooting them.
I cannot recommend nudes as a way to leap into serious photography.
The photos will always be substandard. Art students start their education by drawing a bowl of fruit before leaping into figure drawing for a reason.
The basis before... By the way, did you learn your art at school or are you a self-taught photographer ?
Once I realized that I was an awful photographer, I started collecting old how-to photography magazines from the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s.
All the early Playboy photographers such as Peter Basch, Sam Wu, Russ Meyer and Peter Gowland wrote informative articles on how they approached photography and on what they felt constituted a good photograph. These articles had a great influence on how I approach my own photos. Before I developed my new candid nude style, I emulated each one of those photographers.
I also discovered that a lot of lesser-known yet very talented photographers who contributed occasional how-to articles in these magazines were living less than 8 hours away from me. Gas was cheap back then, so I drove out and asked them to teach me and many were enthused to do so, even giving me their old darkroom equipment and cameras. I think, at their age, they were just thrilled to have someone to talk to since their wives had passed on. I started from scratch, reacquainting myself with composition, color and general art theory before moving on to the specifics of photography oriented lessons.
The first of which involved putting an egg on a stool and lighting it with a single lamp that is moved around the egg in 45 degree increments.
It is a bit silly, but to this day if I do studio work,
I still see a model’s body as an egg.
Is your art an obsession ?
I begin to suffer withdrawal symptoms after two weeks. After one month I am willing to pay anything to get a body in front of my camera. I’m not joking.
You’d be amazed at how much I have paid a model just to get the “itch” out of my system.
I once paid a model so much that I had to skip one meal a day for the following month. She was a well published pro and worth the money, by the way.
The longest I ever spent away from a camera was about seven months and I survived only because I focused my attention back to writing and filmmaking. Over the past two years I have managed to average one model per week, though.
How long dit it take to find your so own style that you call "the new candid nude" ? And, more difficult, could you define it in your own words ?
I was nineteen when I took my first nude photo in 1995. It wasn’t until late 2005 that I first developed the basic concepts of what would become the ‘new candid nude’ style of photography. I think that is a normal amount of time. Nobody worth their salt creates a style out of thin air. It’s usually a reaction or amalgamation of other artists’ styles and if you haven’t explored them, how can you create one of your own ?
So you need that time to study, emulate and explore what is out there. I eventually opened my own 8,000 sq. ft. studio outside of Philadelphia and I was hired primarily for uninteresting small local jobs ; corporate headshots, girls with guns calendars, alternative glamour, and lingerie catalog shots. I needed to stop and think about the direction I wanted my photography to take.
I spent over half year without photographing anything.
I closed down my studio and worked on other non-photographic art projects while the bills piled up. That was when I realized what was bothering me all this time.
The models I worked with regularly were my friends ; most were very close to my heart. I knew their life story, what made them happy, what made them sad, what movies they enjoyed, their favorite foods, etc.
Models are like actors in that they are always being asked to be something they are not and I wanted to find a way to convey to the audience who these people truly are.
The problem, as I saw it, was taking myself out of the equation. Having me in the middle of the conversation between the model and the viewer would only serve to muddle the transmission.
My job should be to enable the model to sublimely open her Essence and then document it without my own interpretation getting in the way. That is the goal of the new candid nude.
Your goal is reached !... Do you feel the message you express through your work ? Have you thought about the vision you give us ?...
I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for this question. My initial response is that I have no message, which makes me feel slightly irrelevant. However, I have to qualify that “no message” response by re-emphasizing that my artwork is a direct conversation between the model and the audience, not between the photographer and the audience.
I try not to interject my own worldview or social commentary in to my photos. It’s not about me. It’s about peeling away the layers of the person in the photograph and exhibiting their Essence to the world.
I’m just there to enable this to happen and capture it for posterity.
With success ! Kiran, you shoot mainly BW nudes, that's clear. Is there another particular genre one you enjoy ?
At heart, I’m a storyteller. My formal education was in literature and I still do a lot of writing.
Brion Gyson’s cut-up techniques had an immense influence on my screenplays, music and art.
In my early photography, I destroyed several 8x10 transparencies of people, objects and places and reconstructed them on a light board to create a collage of interesting stories. The entire light board was sold so that it could be mounted on a wall with the transparency collage illuminated. I’d like to explore this again once everyone gets tired of my current nude work. The problem with my old light board artwork was that it was heavy and rather crude. I’d like to take advantage of new technological possibilities like digital camera backs, archival ink jet transfers and newly improved cold lighting technologies of fiber optic or LED.
Writing... Kiran, your shots are really intimate, something hard to plan. How do you process ?
In short, my goal is to strip away the physical and emotional masks that people hide behind when interacting with others in daily life. I call what is left behind the Essence ; the true-self that constitutes a person’s core being.
In order to reveal the Essence I strip away the physical mask, which is clothing and then I attempt to strip away the emotional mask by having a person concentrate on a familiar activity.
I do not always succeed, but when I do, I hope that others will find the effort worthwhile.
I do have a set of rules I adhere to when photographing a model in the new candid nude style. I think this is the first time I have ever explicitly told anyone about them. These rules were constructed to differentiate my photos visually from modern fashion and glamour.
My hope is that the viewer wouldn’t associate the new candid nude with current trends and would automatically categorize it as “something different”.
This would allow the viewer to develop their own feelings about the photo without the connotation of other popular genres imposing themselves on the discourse.
Kiran Patil's Candid Nude Shooting Rules :
1. Only unmodified sunlight and available practicals are used to light the scene.
2. I must use an entirely manual function camera.
3. Composition and exposure should be accomplished within 30 seconds.
4. Only 12 exposures of each person are allowed.
5. I must shoot handheld.
6. The model cannot directly engage the viewer by looking at the camera.
7. Only ambient sounds should be present during the shoot.
8. I must guess my exposure settings.
9. The environment and activity cannot be foreign to the model’s normal life.
Thanks for the exclusivity ! Be sure your hope is satisfied : there is something really different in your work, I confirm : your rules work. But, sometimes, maybe would you prefer to plan all the details of your next shooting ?
If it were any other shoot, I would plan every detail ahead of time.
For the new candid nudes, I do not plan anything.
Aside from the experience of photographing many people this way, I’m more comfortable with the possibility of failure than I used to be… and I reluctantly admit that I do fail sometimes.
However, no amount of planning would prevent that from happening. Often it is due to my inability to remove the physical and emotional masks of a particular model. The photo might look nice, but the Essence isn’t revealed and that definitely constitutes a failed photo for me.
When Erin told me she and Nicholas were renovating their house I was excited and jumped at the opportunity to photograph them. Well, you saw that I ended up shooting Nicholas doing his bedroom DJ gig. But I did shoot Erin working on the house. I broke my full nude rule so she could wear boots and goggles. Safety first !
I imagine your goal, and it's not the easiest... Where, and how, do you find this so personal inspiration ? Just watching life, I'm sure, isn't it ?
People are my inspiration. I know that sounds clichéd, but everybody I meet from diner patrons who talk about the economy to my elderly next door neighbor who lovingly tends his garden, inspire me.
There is beauty in all people and in the most mundane of activities if you take the time to look.
In an awkward way, glamour photography inspires me a lot. It is the antithesis of all I do.
Glamour is about one thing : sexuality. That isn’t to say that I dislike glamour. I’m a man, after all, and throwing a woman down on the floor and ravaging her senselessly is in built-in to my genetic code. Sexual desire is what initially guides us to propagate the species.
However, we should have all things in moderation. I worry that glamour and by extension pornography may become omnipresent and we will lose sight of other aspects that makes people beautiful. I know a lot of my fellow nude photographers disagree with me on this issue and I’ve had many heated debates that have lost me their friendship.
I see the lines between glamour, erotica and pornography being blurred far beyond the experiments of my parent’s “sexual revolution” – I’ve already experienced the effects of this blurring while living in Germany.
They have a generation of teens, only a decade younger than I, which are over-exposed to unromantic hardcore sexuality in the media.
The inevitable result is they completely bypass the discovery of eroticism. When they make love, it’s purely mechanical and not psychologically enjoyable. We’ve permanently damaged something that should be beautiful to these kids.
I think this realization had a large impact on my desire to approach the nude without guiding attention to the model’s sexuality.
What locations do you prefer to use ? Indoors of course ?
Yes, I prefer to shoot indoors ; this is where people live their daily life. They are comfortable and the activities found in a home or at work aren’t foreign to them.
There is also an issue of legality and safety. In order to shoot people nude outside, it has to be in an isolated area because walking around naked can get you arrested depending on what country you are in. I know from personal experience that if you get caught, you’ll always be let go - but your rolls of film will definitely disappear, presumably into the arresting officer’s private collection of ejaculatory-inducing media.
Mostly, I am paranoid about models stepping on something that may hurt them : jagged stones, beer can tabs, screws, etc.
Several years ago I spent half year in Europe. Through a mutual classmate, I was hired by a client to photograph models from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. They were asked to walk nude in the street, buy oranges, and talk to old men who passed by and so on. Occasionally models would step on a loose pebble and yell expletives in their native language. They were never hurt and we would even laugh afterwards. However, the worst was when a model stepped on a broken bit of glass. There is nothing more frightening than watching a beautiful and vulnerable woman, naked in the street, screaming as she bleeds profusely. I don’t ever want to see that again. I still have nightmares about it.
So, you will rarely see outdoor photos from me unless I get a chance to inspect the area first. Not long ago, I took a photo of a friend fishing at a local river. It was the first nude outdoor photo I have taken in a long time and my heart skipped a beat every time she insisted on moving to a new location to cast her reel.
I'm sure they appreciate your deep concern and your infinite respect. During my trip in your portfolios, a nice one, I've observed that you work with many models... Some words about ? What are you waiting for them ?
The people who model for me are very brave. It is not a simple thing to ask of someone.
I’m exposing their body, mind and soul to the world.
The vulnerability that they are entrusting to me is a duty I take seriously.
Most people seem to intrinsically understand the purpose of my photos and want to be a part of the experiments. However, hiring a model who can deliver what I need is difficult.
When I started this series, I photographed amateurs who had never modeled before.
My thought was that they would be more “real” than a working, professional model from an agency.
The first twenty amateurs I photographed were hit or miss. Most had preconceived notions of what a model should do in front of the camera. And this being the model’s first nude shoot ; they wanted to appear sexually alluring like in the magazines they buy.
Amateur models tend to throw their hip to the side, place a finger in their mouth teasingly, cock their head and smile at the camera. I was unable to dissuade many of them from doing this. There was also the problem of amateurs not keeping to the scheduled shooting date. That being said, I still photograph local amateurs who express interest in my work.
Professionals, especially glamour models, also have a similar problem. They can’t help but pose in front of a camera. It’s automatic, as it should be, for many pro models. This is when I figured out that engaging them in a simple activity around their house is important. When a model starts concentrating on something else, whether it is washing the dishes or brushing their teeth, their emotional mask is quickly set aside provided the photographer creates the right environment.
Overall, I prefer professionals because modeling is their livelihood. Pros come in all shapes and sizes and it’s a mistake to think they are just bombshell beauties fit for Playboy or tall and thin teens fit for modeling Calvin Klein on the runway.
Editorial models for example, can be plus sized, grey haired, petite, etc. It’s great that I can get such variety easily from an agency or local talent management.
By the way, I’d love to do a new candid nude study of a well known celebrity. The media is always focused on them and I think they wear layers of masks that ordinary people never have to create in their lifetime. I’d love the challenge.
I hope they'll hear you ! Kiran, a large majority of photographers feel tired after a shooting, sometimes sad to have finished, exhausted... And you ?
I am always sad. I think like most photographers, I stay close friends with many models. They come and stay at my place when they travel to Philadelphia for other photo shoots. I meet with several at least once a year for drinks and catch up on their activities.
Then there are others that I know I will never see again, especially if they are not from North America or Europe. I consider myself lucky to have experienced what I did with them and carry it with me always. If you point at a photo, I can tell you a long story about each and every model. That is part of the reason I love what I do.
All is a question of Love ! Except to shoot a well known celibrity, behind her public mask, have you some challenges you're dreaming about in a near future ?
I want to take the new candid nude to the next level as soon as possible.
I intend on documenting a person or couple’s life from morning to night on still photo, motion picture and audio recordings. I will call the series “Slice of Life” and I am hoping to interest a gallery to exhibit a mixed media presentation of my work from that session. Though, only the photographic prints will be for immediate sale.
I wish you the best ! Any message you’d like to end ?
Be the best at whatever you do
and don’t anguish over being the worst.
and don’t anguish over being the worst.
Nice advice for all the perfectionnist artists ! Thanks a lot Kiran, it's a very rich interview. Thanks for your support and your friendship.
published in 2008. Updated in october 2018.