Photography

Photos

Getting over shame through nude photography

I do a fair bit of nude photography, and almost exclusively of women, but the below story shows how it relates also to men and couples.

A friend of mine, Eva, was complimenting some of my photos in a series of clay covered nudes and since I mostly shoot friends, I remarked that it could be her in those photos. She chuckled, declined and said she had a lot of body image issues. Stunning as she is I was not surprised since this is unfortunately all too common.

To combat one particular body image issue and taboo I have also been working on a coffee table photo book called 101 Vagina, a collection of 101 photos with a message from each of the women. When this arose in conversation I again asked if she might be interested in participating. Again she declined.

But her compliments kept coming and I suggested she might appreciate seeing herself through fresh eyes. In the end it was her boyfriend who emboldened her, saying it might help her get over some of her negative body image. So she got in touch to participate, in both projects no less.

Most people are a little awkward in front of a camera at first, but Eva was almost inconsolable. She was visibly struggling, so I went to give her a hug. I was stunned. Her whole body was shaking, from the inside, as if some massive tectonic plates were shifting in her character, dislodging old and strong patterns of shame. I had never witnessed anyone confront such massive fear, and have the courage to go ahead in spite of it. Massive kudos to her!

As it turned out it didn’t take long for her to relax into the shoot and we got some great images. She could hardly believe that the images were of her, seeing herself through my eyes allowed her to see the beauty in my beholder’s eye, rather than the critic in hers.

The next day Eva wrote to me that she looked at herself in the mirror naked for the first time ever!

More recently she shared this about how it affected her relationship. “It certainly has changed our relationship, firstly I was so amazed and felt so loved when he [boyfriend] told me to go ahead with something that I thought most guys would discourage. When I sent him the pics I was really nervous, and I was so happy to hear that he loved them. I’m much less shy around him now, and find it slightly easier to talk to him about my body.”

Witnessing such shifts is the reward for the conscious nude photographer. But it was not always so.

My journey with nude photography began many years before I ever took a nude photograph; in my mind. I dreamed of doing it ever since I became sexually aware but there was a huge barrier in the way. That barrier was shame.

My mother was a fairly strong feminist and the message I inadvertently internalised was that male sexual desire is the root cause of all evil in the world, that nudes are degrading and people who take them akin to murderers. And yet I loved the images.

Perhaps fittingly it was a woman who finally invited me into the world of nude photography, and that first experience, and all that followed, have worked to reverse my inhibitions. It was a healing process for me, an affirmation that my appreciation of the female form is not only tolerated, but appreciated. Further to that, it was often a healing experience for the women also.

Any shame we hold around our bodies and sexuality will always impact on the way we share ourselves with others. Shame is a powerful hindrance to happiness and it does not dislodge easily. If it’s easy to talk about it’s not shame you’re dealing with. Shame is the last thing we want to talk about, ever. But it’s the first step to really being honest and connecting with ourselves and others.

 

Why I organised what became Melbourne’s largest peace march of recent times.

777801-120931-jill-meagher

There’s me, the bald dude with the orange Indian shawl. “Choosing peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women!”

So I’ve suddenly been thrust into the media limelight for having organised the Peace March for Jill Meagher. The response was beyond all expectations and I have since been receiving supportive and kind words from many friends and random strangers, people who all believe in the message of peace, hope and non-violence.

I figure I might as well use this space to tell my story, perhaps it’s all related.

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

To be perfectly honest, when the images first started going round on Facebook about Jill Maegher’s disappearance I took little notice. I guess it was care fatigue mixed with a question of why random strangers suddenly care about her disappearance rather than the many other victims of crime.

However, early on Friday morning when I saw the news that her body had been found the physical violence of what was done to her really struck me and I felt deeply, deeply sad.

But first some background:

Violence against women is an issue that has concerned me for some time. I built the website for http://sisters-for-sisters.com as a donation to this loose collective who organise events to raise money for women’s charities. A close friend runs http://theart2healingproject.org, a charity that works to heal the wounds of sex trafficking, and helped organise her fundraiser http://www.celebratingwoman.com.au. I have signed up to http://whiteribbon.org.au and http://onebillionrising.org, two campaigns specifically to end violence against women and girls and am hoping to run a V-day event in February. [Jan 2014 Update: I ended up being one of the organisers for One Billion Rising in Melbourne in 2013, and support team in 2014.]

Please check them all out, I believe one of the most important messages to come out of all this is the difference one person and one simple action can make. There is so much we can do.

On a more personal level, I have a friend who was recently hospitalised by her boyfriend’s violent outburst, and beyond that have heard so many stories from women of their abuse, rape, harassment, etc. One very dear friend was subjected to truly horrific abuse for years as a child by a cult, abuse that goes far, far beyond what most people think humans are capable of, think Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but with children as victims, not adults. The hell realms really do manifest in the human realm, as do the celestial realms.

Of course it must be said that violence does not only affect women. Violence is violence, regardless of gender. That is very important to remember. Though as a whole, I personally believe that violence against physically weaker parties is worse than between equals.

Then there is the issue of sexual repression, genital mutilation of girls and boys (circumcision), body image shame and the taboo and shame around our bodies in general and sex organs in particular. A few years ago I read Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and was incredibly inspired by the awareness that she was raising around these issues and the foundation, V-Day, she created to combat them. Then there was Greg Taylor’s exhibition of hand crafted sculptures of vaginas simply called Cunts. These two projects in particular prompted me to create 101 Vagina, a coffee table photo book project to smash the taboo around our bodies in general and vaginas in particular. This has been ongoing for two years and I have just launched a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds required for a first large print run that I’m self publishing because publishers are afraid of vaginas. I have also planned the 101 Penis book, because I believe that penises are surrounded by just as much shame as vaginas, but I want to finish this project first. Another friend of mine runs http://sexcamp.com.au and her partner runs sexual awareness workshops through http://tantraislove.com. All these projects are part of the growing “sex positive” movement.

To even mention the words sex or vagina in these circumstances seems horribly jarring, but I believe we need to look at the underlying issues of why rape occurs in the first place, rather than simply lament it’s occurrence. Our culture carries such deep shame around sexuality that we cannot heal without looking it squarely in the face, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

My mother was quite a strong feminist, as a result of which I perhaps have a better understanding of women’s issues than most men. It also inadvertently resulted in me growing up with the unconscious belief that men, especially male sexual desire, are the root cause of all evil in the world. Most of that belief has healed by now, and my photography was part of that process, but that’s another story. My parents were both members of their local peace initiative back in the 80’s and we would go on peace marches every now and then. This was during the cold war. I have also spent a lot of time meditating (Vipassana mediation), which certainly helps cultivate peace, compassion, non-violence, etc. There are fantastic documentaries about the effect of Vipassana in prisons (Doing Time Doing VipassanaDhamma Brothers and Changing from Inside), great examples that reform is possible through deep self reflection, more so than through punishment, very poignant in this case. I believe that violence will not and cannot resolve the issues resulting from violence.

I guess all that background contributed to my decision to take action.

I decided that a peace march was in order in to show a quiet, peaceful defiance against fear, hate and violence etc. To show that, as a society, we believe more in peace, love, forgiveness, hope and solidarity than their opposites. So, I made this poster straight away and sent it around to a few news organisations. I chose to call it a “peace march” very consciously. I figured something would need to be done quickly to catch the spirit of the day and make a strong case for peace and love to counter any messages of hate. That evening (Friday) I also went to the candle light vigil and handed the flier to a few news crews and stuck the poster up on a few power poles.

The poster I made for the march.

 

I was nervous about whether I was doing the right thing though, because I had gone to the police earlier and of course they spoke of all the (valid) concerns they had, including consulting with the family (which I hadn’t done) and whether it was appropriate for another poster with her photo to go up in the neighborhood. Was I doing the right thing? I was suddenly not so sure. But I had already sent it out and the media knew about it as did some Facebook friends, so I had not real choice but to ride it out and see what happens.

The next day (Saturday) it seemed the mass media had run with the story of the march. It was on. I don’t have a TV, believing that it rots your brain, especially commercial TV, so I had no clear indication of what kind of coverage the march had received and the Facebook page only had 200 likes. But someone I met at a wedding that evening said her sister was going. So I had some idea that the word was getting out, but still I thought it might just be a hundred people or so at best.

Sunday morning it was apparently on various news reports.

So, my housemate Ben and I made a couple of signs, printed out 10 spares in case people liked them and headed off. On the way we saw people heading the same way we were and I had a sense that they were not the usual Sunday morning Brunswick crowd. My sign read “Choosing peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women”, his read “I won’t close with fear. I’ll open up with love.” Ben being Ben, he selflessly gave all his signs away to people in the crowd and didn’t even keep one for himself. (His beautiful message ended up being carried by a woman at the front of the march all the way along. She had her own story of violence in Tunisia, violence is obviously an international issue.)

We arrived and I met the police to check in with them at around 11:45am, already 2-300 people were there. They had closed off one lane of Moreland road for people to gather in preparation for the march. The officer in charge said it would be great if we could march down the sidewalk to minimise traffic and tram disruption and the danger of people being struck by cars. I said I thought it would be great if we could walk on the road. I love the way that marches and festivals can close down, or rather open up, a public road, give it back to people on foot.

A few hundred people waiting for the peace march to begin. About quarter to 12.

Within minutes it was clear the footpath idea was quaint. People kept streaming in, waves of people arriving with the rhythm of the trains from the nearby station and trams that were still running. The police, as overwhelmed as everyone else by the response, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone safe, marshaling the traffic etc etc. Very supportive bunch of men and women. (The officer at the front of the march got a huge round of applause as we reached the end, everybody showing their appreciation of a job well done under overwhelming circumstances.)

They asked me to address the crowd before we marched off so I spoke of my belief in peace, love, hope, non-violence, and off we went.

The rest is history.

Ben’s beautiful sign carried by a woman at the front of the march.

In hindsight the whole experience feels very ephemeral and yet powerful at the same time. All these souls, beings of light, came together, marched in a silent, peaceful show of the strength of hope, non-violence and love, and then vanished again, taking with them a brighter flame than with what they came. Like a wide, wide river that chose for a moment to channel itself through a ravine, running slow and very, very deep, before spreading out again over the land, refreshed and charged.

30,000 angels descended on Brunswick to show us all that love overcomes hate and that hope overcomes fear.

I believe that Jill was one of those angels.

 

2013 annotation:

The following quote expresses my sentiment for the peace march perfectly:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. … The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Eyal and Emma

Eyal and Emma

Tantra teachers at http://tantraislove.com

The Studio Brunswick
Melbourne. September, 2012.

Second week in Tjuntjuntjara – More country and taking stock

After the first week of big things happening one day after the next, the second week has been more about slowing down and taking stock.

A few things had been getting me down.

Even though the role I’m effectively standing in for is fairly clearly defined, my role as a stand in for that person is not. That has left me scratching around for work to do at times which is not a nice feeling. To not have work when you’re supposed to be working feels worse that not having a job at all.

And my mind was naturally inclining towards all the problems here in the community and trying to come to grips with them. The place looks like a dump, hygiene is really poor, as is diet and there appears to be a general apathy which hangs like an oppressive cloud over the entire place. Essentially it’s the apathy which I feel to be the problem and I’m baffled that more hasn’t been done to address it.

In my role as relief Community Development Employment Project officer, I may actually be able to do something to get the place cleaned up a bit, by allocating clean up tasks to be jobs. However I am warned that there is considerable resistance to boring clean up jobs, understandably. Since it’s really a cultural issue anyway, that is the area that I am most interested in affecting anyway, rather than applying a band-aid to a continuing problem. I’d like to figure out if or how the community people themselves want to change things and then help them achieve that.

I’ll see what scope I have to do some comprehensive community consultation and see where that leads. I think I’d really appreciate that process actually.

Those issues had be a bit down for a while.

On the up side, I went out to the local salt lakes about 15kms north on the weekend and was touched by the simple beauty of relatively untouched land and the profound silence out there. Only some birds and some wind make sounds out there and they add to the silence rather than detracting from it somehow.

My mind stretched to imagine what it would be like growing up your entire life never hearing any other sounds than that of the country, animals and a few people. And never seeing or touching anything that wasn’t entirely natural and of the earth.

That’s what we’ve lost.

I guess I had “thought” about it on many occasions in the past, but to be sitting there actually looking at and feeling the reality of the landscape and the knowledge that I was living in a community of people who actually used to do just that changed something. It’s not just theory anymore. It’s something that I think is incomprehensible while sitting in a technological hub like Melbourne.

Somehow, being out there on the land and appreciating it’s beauty and thinking those thoughts made the problems in the community feel far less important. Perhaps it’s a bit like heroin addicts letting everything else turn to shit, so long as they can have their hit. Perhaps the country is so important to the people that the crappy community is just a slight inconvenience endured for the sake of being in the land.

But I don’t buy that completely. How can only the land outside the community be valued? If you love the land, how can you at the same time trash it like they do?

Nevertheless, the profound beauty of the country gave me perspective and also inspiration and I guess a cause to fight for or reason to fight.

The other awesome project going on here is the art project. Every day several old folk sit around for hours and hours and work on their paintings dot by dot by dot by dot. Brad pointed out how similar the earth actually looked to some of their art. No wonder. It’s just just hanging around where they are painting. It’s very peaceful. And the paintings are stunning.

So, here are a few images, mainly of the land.

Tjuntjuntjara – First week

Less than two weeks ago, out of the blue I was asked if I might want to go work in the WA desert on an aboriginal community. “Tell me more” I said. I don’t get excited easily, but when it was put to me that they wanted me to fly out the following day my heart ran amok for a while. As it turned out, a week later I was on a plane.

The first flight was to Kalgoorlie via Perth and the following morning a 2.5 hr flight from Kalgoorlie to Tjuntjuntjara, in the Victoria Desert, another 700km east of Kalgoorlie. At the Perth airport it’s readily apparent via the advertisements where the money is; mining. There are lots of miners at the airport, many of whom might be fly-ins, two weeks on, one week off, half of them are still or already wearing half their safety gear.

Kalgoorlie airport again is full of miners, gold around there according to the taxi driver.

The next morning, after a spa suite overnight in a hotel, the spa of which I unashamedly used considering that I was facing a few weeks of not much water at all, it’s back to the airport for my flight with the mail plane (single engine, 12 seats) to Tjuntjuntjara, apparently Australia’s most remote community!

I had had a brief look at a couple of websites but confess that I only read the orientation manual while waiting for the fog delayed flight out of Kalgoorlie. Only two aboriginal women, two kids and an electrician were on the flight with me.

Google Tjuntjuntjara and you’ll find two or three sites. Google maps also locates it and you can zoom right in to see the airstrip and cluster of buildings that make up the community.

http://tjuntjuntjara.ngurra.org/
http://www.tjuntjuntjara.crc.net.au/

Eventually, after a couple of hours in the air, I was fascinated to see a straight, bare strip of land came into view ahead, the dirt airstrip of Tjuntjuntjara. A few mail bags and other items were pulled off the plane and onto a 4wd ute, someone brusquely greeted me and the sparky who was being flown in to do a day’s work, and off we drove after watching the plane take off again. We drove into “town”, dropped my stuff at my accommodation, and went straight to the office to drop off the loot, have a cuppa and meet Fiona, the general manager of the community (not sure of the official title, but that’s what the signature on her email says).

Before I knew it we were off in the 4wd to go check out the water bores because something was wrong with the water supply system, it had stopped pumping water into the main holding tank. A serious issue when 150 people are relying on it to survive and the nearest town is hundreds of kilometers away. Fiona said if the issue was not resolved within a couple more days they would have to start planning evacuations!

Enter the engineer :) … that’s me, by the way.

By checking the operation of each bore in turn I found that one of the bores was returning the compressed air used to power the bore pumps rather than the water they are supposed to pump. And since air is easier to push than water, this one faulty bore was overriding all the other bores efforts to push the water back to the main holding tank, a few kms away. So, we isolated that one bore and withing a couple of hours the water was flowing again and had saved a trip from the water service company to find this fault. Of course the faulty bore still needs to be addressed, but in the mean time the community can breathe (drink) easy. The next day I replaced a faulty safety switch which had half the office on power leads, again saving an expensive trip out by an electrician from Kalgoorlie. Chuff.

Part of my role now is the daily operations check of the water and power service. The community is powered by three diesel generators, any or all of them running non-stop according to demand. There are two 27,000 litre diesel tanks, which are filled every few weeks by tankers that presumably drive out from Kalgoorlie. The main water holding tank of roughly 100,000 litres and the header tank roughly 10 meters high and 30,000 litres are in the same fenced compound as the diesel generators a few hundred meters removed from the edge of the community, far enough away that the community itself is delightfully quiet.

I could not help think about the completely unsustainable nature of the community. The only thing not shipped in is the water and the few rabbits and kangaroos that are hunted. Everything else is flown or driven in. All the diesel, all the food, all the money. Not only that, there is no industry or livelihood here for the people in the community. There are a few odd jobs that community members do, but all the essential services are staffed by white folk. Everyone is on the dole and there is no incentive for them to work. Far out! Not only that, but the place is strewn with rubbish everywhere, not much care for the land at that level at all.

So, my problem solving mind gets busy thinking up all sorts of solutions to this and that, an experience I assume most new arrivals share. At least there is no alcohol allowed in this community and many people say that this place is better than most. After a couple of days it occurred to me that this town reminds me a LOT of a little Indian village. The people look similar, their language sounds similar, the land looks and feels like some parts of India, there is trash everywhere, people sitting around doing nothing, the family and community bonds are very strong, most things are ramshackle, but the clinic is spick and span. The only and significant difference is that fact that there is no industry, people aren’t working. In India there is no welfare for people without work so people find ways to make money and survive.

A couple of days later some boys roll into town from a grammar school in Albany for a bonding session with the Tjuntjuntjara community and a footy match. So, I got Friday afternoon off to go watch the footy, only the second footy match I have ever watched. I didn’t think I’d be pulling my camera out for at least my first couple of weeks on the community, but I could not resist the sun setting right behind the came on the dusty field.

Next day, turns out half the community is going camping a couple of hours north near an ancestral water hole. My awesome new boss gives me the afternoon off and says it’s a great opportunity, if I’d like to join them. My eyebrows are half raised, prevented from a full vertical by me trying to keep my cool in an “I understand everything you’re telling my but I have no idea what I’m in for” situation. I figure Fiona understands since she laughs knowingly.

A couple of hours later I’m packed and squeezed on the front passenger seat with Grant, who I know from 5 rhythms dance and was randomly standing on the airstrip when I landed (!!!). The back is full with the rest of our drivers family, a puppy and much food. The party ain’t starting without us!

However, after about an hour or so driving we notice that one of the swags is missing, fallen off the roof. Oops! So Trevor leaves the rest of us by the side of the track to turn around and look for it. Can’t be that far back since he only checked about 20 mins or so previously. An hour and a half later and I promise to myself that I will never allow myself to be deposited at the side of the road in a desert many kms from anywhere as I wonder whether we should start walking. But with us is one old fella, a mum, four kids and a puppy. The kids build a shelter for fun and I figure that we’d probably make it though the night ok.

Finally the 4wd returns and we continue on the way, sans one swag, which someone else had found, taken back to the community, and radioed it in.

About 100kms we turn off the main “road” (sandy track over the sparsely vegitated dunes) into an even smaller track which slowly gets worse and worse until a couple of hours in we are basically just making the tracks as we go, or, in our case, following the tracks that had been made by the 4wds ahead of us.

It’s near dark when we stop by the 4wd bus which is being left there since the tack is getting too impossible for it to navigate. We already passed one of it’s punctured tires on the side of the track which they must have changed and left there to pick up on the way back. We get out to have a break and pick up some stuff from the bus that was being left there. Already there are three fires burning and I initially thought this was our camp, but as it turns out this mob just lights fires anywhere they sit down for more than 5 minutes. Eventually some more 4wds come and we continue for perhaps another 45 mins winding through the countryside.

It’s long dark by the time we arrive at the designated camping area and there are many fires dotted around the place, at least 10 or so, with a few people camped around each fire. On top of that kids were running around just randomly setting fire to any old trees and shrubs that would burn. Having lived in bushfire danger country for many many years this is a big eye opener and eyebrow raiser. However, none of the fires spread. So grant and I found a little patch of dirt, pulled out some dry grass and collected some dead wood for out own little fire. By this time someone else arrives who brought Grant’s swag along from town and everyone is settling in for a nice bbq feed (I attempted to eat a sausage, but failed after one bite) followed by a few hours of muted campfire conversation.

We lined up some logs that we could easily reach from our swags to push further into the fire during the night. I woke a couple of times to pee and stoked the fire. Grant was happily snoring away. At some point I woke to the more gorgeous band of gold on the pre-dawn horison. I looked for a while but decided that it was still way to early, so turned around and slept some more.

The next day after breakfast we all gathered and the elders told the story of this watering hole, the story of the seven sisters and the old man who was chasing them. They passed through this place and stopped at the water hole. It had filled up with sand and we all proceeded to dig it out.

I collected a few different types of rock and asked some old men about them and if I could take them home. Of of them in particular looks like shards of crystal, they told me it was used to cut the men in initiations, one of them showed me his scars. Larger pieces were also used to cut open kangaroos and smaller ones were put on the end of spears. I have always loved rocks and stones and they will take a proud place in my little collection.

Grant and I also walked up a little hill a few hundred meters away from the hole to have a look around after asking permission. There were lots of rabbit droppings and also camel tracks. The wild camels are apparently a pest in these areas. From the top we could see a few kms each way. I went and sat with the old men again when I came back and noticed they paid very close attention and nodded when I started to describe the land that I saw from up there, the different shades of green in the different areas etc. The sharpness with which they suddenly listened took me by surprise, suddenly they here very interested in every word. I didn’t even say that much much, but it highlighted for me that knowledge of the land would have been the difference between life and death for them and so nothing is as important as any information about the land.

And I am falling in love with it.

Model Tori Hume

Beholding milk and honey
Smooth, pure and sweet.

I do not need to think
My mind can rest in the perception of beauty and innocence

Peaceful and divine.

Model Tori Hume
http://www.modelmayhem.com/2521427

The Studio Brunswick
Melbourne. June 2012.

Canon EOD 5D Mk2
EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
1/125sec at f/9.0, ISO 200

Clay & Nudes – Eva

Clay nude figure study with Eva.

The Studio Brunswick
Melbourne. June, 2012.

Ayla Maya – Stockings

That which we cannot define

Has power over us; like

Life,
Light
and Love

And yet, we can see them each, clearly defined

Defying definition.

Model: Ayla Maya
The Studio Brunswick
Melbourne. May,2012.

Valeriya Zhukova

Valeriya Zhukova

The Studio Brunswick
Melbourne. May, 2012

The lines and curves

The lines and curves

Rope them as we might, they will not bend to our will

But follow their own delight.

Model: Ayla Maya (www.modelmayhem.com/2419560)

Canon EOS 5D Mk2
EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

The Studio Brunswick
Melbourne. May,2012.