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The Full Body Project Review
"The women in these pages are proudly wearing their own skins. They accept and respect themselves, and I hope that my images convey that feeling to others." ~ Leonard Nimoy
Shekhina was considered controversial because of the way the photographer combined feminine nudity with traditional Jewish male garments. I won't be surprised if his new book, a collection of photos of naked plus size women, causes a little friction as well.
Leonard Nimoy, 76, is an actor, author, director and photographer. He is best known as the pop culture icon Spock from the television series (and movie franchise) Star Trek which also starred William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig. Nimoy has had a life long love of photography both as an observer and a creator. He studied photography under the late artist Robert Heinecken, best known for the development of "para-photography" at UCLA. Nimoy has lectured on photography and has his images widely displayed in homes and museums.
In the preface of The Full Body Project, Nimoy discusses how this project differs from his previous projects and how the professional models he's photographed in the past were not individuals with personalities but a representation of an idea or theme he wanted to portray. The Full Body Project has been a new and exciting learning experience for him and his wife Susan who often assists him on shoots.
During a showing of some of the images from Shekhina, a robust woman walked up to Nimoy and asked to be included in his nude study portfolio. When those photos were eventually put on display he received interesting reactions which led him to do further research about the plus size form. Eventually he was led to Heather MacAllister and her crew from Big Burlesque and Fat-Bottom Revue (plus size performers from San Francisco) and these women became the main focus of this collection.
The Full Body Project is a collection of fifty black and white photographs dispersed through black and white pages resembling the blink of an eye making a total of 196 pages. This nude study appears to challenge the media ideal and demonstrate it is possible for the women, bigger than a size 0, 4, 8, 10 and beyond to be comfortable in their own skin. The only approval these women (and those viewing) need, is their own.
These are not glamor shots. You won't find any body makeup here. The pictures are real and raw, but definitely not distasteful. The black and white images have strong shadows that highlight curves, lumps, bumps, stretch marks, and facial features but the most potent aspect of the majority of the images, after you get past the nudity, is the eyes. Regardless of their body you can't help but go back to the eyes. Natalie Angier, author of Woman: An Intimate Geography, mentions this in the Forward and it is so true. According to Angier most nude studies have the model looking away while Nimoy's models take the camera, photographer and viewer head on. She likens the model's shapes to the Venus of Willendorf figurines we are so familiar with and explains how archaeologists have new information on the creators of these pieces.
The cover is adorned with a group shot inspired by a famous 1989 Herb Ritts' photo of a group of nude supermodels (Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour and Tatjana Patitz) clustered together on the floor. This is not the first time that Ritts's photo has been used for plus size inspiration. Anna Bertalli also photographed a group of plus size women in a similar pose. Other less obvious pieces of inspiration include Helmut Newton's (Dressed) & (Naked), Henri Matisse's La Dance, Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase and Raphael's The Three Graces.
Several images from Nimoy's original encounter appear in this collection; although, to me, they seem to segregate the final shots from the beginning of the book with their obvious difference in tone and structure. I'm not saying they are bad photos. They are interesting in themselves, they just feel out of place.
The forms within The Full Body Project are not body types commonly used by many modern photographers or the fashion industry. A lot of the hype will go towards the body types but I want to add another milestone. I'm guessing not one of these women is under the age of thirty. Something else that is ignored or often tampered with. They encourage discussion about our concepts of beauty, cultural stereotypes, health, and more.
Could these women pose for better, more flattering pictures of themselves? Sure. They could even be Photoshopped, duct taped and every other trick there is but these women are real, they are beautiful, they are proud and they are happy in their skins.
One of the first pictures that made an impression on me was on page 4. A group of women stand, two with their backs to a wall and two with their backs to the camera looking over their shoulders at the photographer (and viewers). I call this one "private club" because it looks like we've interrupted a private moment or clique. The next is on page 56. Six women, hands joined are dancing around in a circle. Their round curves are an interesting contrast to the square tiles on the floor which to me represents the culture that is trying to contain them. On page 62 and 63 is a diptych of four women. In one they are dressed in their performance costumes and in the other they stand in the same pose naked. On page 90 is an alternative to the formal staircase shot that appears earlier in the book. The women are each striking a girly pose, none looking at the camera but all looking happy they exist. And my absolute favorite is the closing shot on page 92 where six women are standing grouped together laughing their butts off.
If Nimoy wanted to convey a sense of self-acceptance and self-respect about these women and how they feel about their peers I think he has succeeded in his goal. He has taken the pictures in this book with the attitude that the female body is an art form in all its shapes and sizes and he has used compassion and realism to keep his female subjects' dignity intact. Something, society as a whole needs to work on. In the afterward, Anne Wilkes Tucker says something that I think sums up this book, "This is also a book about sisterhood and women finding strength and pleasure in each other's company".
I would have liked to have known more about the women in the photographs and each image taken. Perhaps a blurb on the image and what the Nimoy was thinking when he took it and why he chose to include it in the collection. I guess this is open to the viewer's interpretation but we are after all buying the image not only because of the content but because of the artist taking them. Tucker does discuss Nimoy's life experience with photography and provides some perspective on the inspiration behind some of the photos. But for me this and the preface is not enough. I was left wanting to know more.
Who is this book for? It is for the fat activist; the nude photographer; the nudist; the fat admirer; the fat chick looking for representations of her own body; for anyone, man or woman trying to teach self acceptance and body image to others; for the Trekkie fan who collects Nimoy's works and for anyone else who is brave enough to experience real women.
Five Ties Publishing, 2007
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