Initially I was unsure whether or not I could actually go through with it. Could I really take off my clothes and get my photo taken in front of so many people?
I was the last person to show up so I walked into a room full of 10 people, all of whom were fully naked. To my right were three smiling faces I had never seen before; to my left a friend was illuminated and contorted on the floor in a pile of dirt.
I put myself in this position for (Arthur’s own photographer) Tori Silvera’s first exhibited photo project, Limbs, premiering as part of the Spark Photo Festival. Silvera tells Arthur that the idea behind Limbs is twofold; both “to reconnect humans with nature” and “to dismantle the stigma around nakedness and dirt.”
The photos are of models posed in ways that imitate the life cycle of a plant while standing naked in a pile of dirt. Some shots are of only one model, while some involve many. Some are meant to be beautiful, while others aim to be more grotesque.
While reconnecting the often separate worlds of humanity and nature was a goal from the beginning, Silvera comments that as far as the stigma around nudity is concerned “I didn’t really consider that element until after the photos were taken.”
It became an important part of the project mainly because of the reactions to the highly unorthodox photo shoots, both from Silvera herself and from the models. “Some people felt very unsure whether they could be naked in front of someone else, especially someone else who they were not about to have sex with. Several models told me it became a huge mental breakthrough for them and that it really helped them to see themselves in a different way.”
This is certainly consistent with how the shoot affected me. Within only a few minutes of my arrival I had become adjusted to the atmosphere (read: naked) and it was my turn to go in front of the camera.
I began by curling up very low to the ground, like a seed, and slowly rose up, mirroring the process of growth that a plant would go through. My quick adaptation to the atmosphere of the shoot was not an uncommon reaction.
While the shoot was much different from any she had done before, Silvera found that it was actually less uncomfortable than average to be a part of. “In an average photoshoot I’m usually wearing something semi-professional, just to make myself distinct so that people can recognize my position as photographer, and that really separates [me from my subjects]. In this photoshoot I knew that I couldn’t be clothed while I was taking photos of lots of other people naked who were, for the most part, my friends, so we were on the same level.” To add to this sense of comfort it was also important for Silvera to “acknowledge the beautiful parts of each of the models.”
It was remarkably uplifting and encouraging to hear Silvera tell me that my poses were “wonderful” or “beautiful” when it was my turn on the stage. In such a vulnerable position (both physically and psychologically) positive reinforcement made it possible for me to continue as part of the shoot.
This also built an atmosphere in which models would complement each other as they were posing, as well. I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone I had never met before tell me “oh, that’s an awesome pose” or “look at those shadows!”
However, it is not a sense of comfort that Silvera hopes viewers will get from the photos. Instead, it is discomfort.
“I hope that people are a little bit uncomfortable and that they become aware of that discomfort, and that that helps them to understand what I’m trying to get at. … Some people will just feel awkward and that’s all they’ll take away from it, but I really hope most people take away from it the fact that maybe there’s something wrong with our discomfort around nudity.”
Another huge problem for Silvera, related to the discomfort Limbs addresses, is how we tend to sexualize the naked body and how a body “can’t just be something natural.” Silvera ran into this misconception when she was trying to find a place to exhibit the photos. She comments “it was hard to find a venue that was okay with it. I asked at coffee shops and a couple of diners. I had a couple of places tell me they didn’t think it was appropriate for their establishment.
“I do understand it in a way. Some people don’t want to be eating dinner under giant pictures of naked people … but why not? That’s the question I’m trying to find some sort of answer to.”
Limbs opens April 5 at Gallery in the Attic, 140½ Hunter St W., starting at 6pm. For more information you can search for the event on Facebook or contact Silvera directly.