After I finished my entry for yesterday’s post, I felt unsettled, as if something had been left unsaid. These weren’t feelings of forgetfulness; these feelings nagged me to process and reconsider my words. I know now what was bothering me; what was not discussed: the question of anonymity.
Photographer Helmut Newton once said “an anonymous nude is a dishonest nude.” I’m not certain what he meant, or the context in which it was said, but his words have stuck with me. Perhaps this is because much of my work keeps the model anonymous. Often this is by design, as models sometimes ask to remain unidentifiable. Most times, it just works out that way. When I visualize my images, they often don’t include the model’s face. It’s how I see. It’s how I work.
And Mr. Newton, I don’t see my work as ‘dishonest.’
But to the question of anonymity, and Mr. Newton’s statement: why does anonymity bother some people – and why do some insist upon it? In my entry yesterday, I wrote briefly about the dominant views of nudity in our culture and society. In my opinion, the desire for anonymity is rooted in these cultural beliefs.
In the context of these ideals, anonymity allows all participants in the art to be active, to let go, to be immersed in the artist’s vision. Anonymity is a safe haven. No one will know we find pleasing lines, textures, and shapes in the bodies of others, that we can see beauty in the bodies shared by those of our own sex, even ourselves. We can remain a face in the crowd. Anonymity protects us from us.
Of course, there’s a real world side to anonymity and figure modeling. It’s sad and it’s silly, but it’s true. Anonymity allows the school teacher, the lawyer, the police officer, to express their creative side, to share their beauty with the audience of the art and at the same time, keep their jobs.
How does the muse feel about anonymity? I don’t know. We don’t talk about it.
It doesn’t enter the discussion unless the model asks for it, and I often prefer they didn’t. Keeping a model anonymous is sometimes difficult for me as it changes how I think; how I see and visualize. Instead of simply seeing, I have to think about not seeing. If I ask you to not think of apples, what do you immediately think of? If it isn’t mentioned, if I allow the shoot to flow as it will, if I shoot as I see, then the nature of the work will take over and anonymity will happen. Most of the time. And if it doesn’t? There’s always post production.
Don’t believe I’ve never asked the muse to share her thoughts on anonymity. I approach; she keeps her distance. Always present, always hidden in shadow. Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen her face. I’ve only glimpsed her body. To me, she’s remained anonymous. For everyone that sees my work, she stands to face them.