Arty bullshit about why I shoot nudes the way I do. It's about letting the self (the model's self) be sovereign.
The modern understanding of sovereignty, following Carl Schmitt, is 'he who is sovereign who can create the state of exception'. It's not the power to make law that identifies the sovereign, but the power to unmake it, or to set it aside. Giorgio Agamben calls that the creation of a state of non-Law (he shows it as the word Law with a cross through it). It's the basis of emergency legislation such as that which creates a Guantanamo, where the law against torture, or detention without charge, is suspended; Agamben shows the connection between modern emergency legislation and the emergency legislation by which the Reichstag was stripped of its authority in the early years of the National Socialist government in Germany (and the state of emergency lasted until 1945). The historical roots of it are in the Roman institution of 'Iustitium' whereby the Senate, in times of crisis, would suspend all law: citizens could take matters into their own hands with no fear of legal consequences.State sovereignty based on these principles is presented in the 16th Century in Europe, after a horrific period known as 'The Wars of Religion', in which several million people died. It’s classic statement is in Jean Bodin’s Six Books on the Commonwealth .. Hobbes’ Leviathan picks up where Bodin left off, right after the English have beheaded their king. Bodin’s ideas helped to underwrite a collective standing back from the kind of church-state connections which contributed to the Wars of Religion, and with that came the beginning of 'secularisation' .. the removal of church courts from what we would now call 'civil' matters. The person who did most to clarify the new conception of the absolute sovereign state (the kind of state that can create a Guantanamo or dissolve a Reichstag) was Jean Bodin, and one of the most important areas in which he saw the sovereign's right to suspend law was, in counter to Guantanamo or the Third Reich, the granting of pardons. The setting aside of law could happen in the interests of justice and mercy. There is a beautiful example of that in Shakespeare's Henry V, where in Act II, Henry confronts traitors, but with the scene opening on Henry's decision to 'enlarge' (set free) a man arrested the previous day for cursing the king. The man was drunk, didn't know what he was doing (Father, forgive them, they know not what they do') and there was no malice in him .. unlike the deliberate malice in the traitors (who are all for the drunk being executed on principle, until their own treachery is revealed). Shakespeare's Hal has put in the time in brothels and ale-houses so he understands what a drunk man can get up to whose heart is free of malice.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, a modern academic, looks at sovereignty in the light of these issues, and explicitly considers sovereignty at the level of the state, but she also considers it at the leve of the self. Sovereignty and 'authority' are closely related, and patriarchy is a conception of sovereignty which applies at the level of the state but is derived historically from the authority of the father over the family: kings are patriarchs because they rule as fathers rule their families (so the story goes).
When a model stands naked before a photographer there are big issues of who is in charge, who is paying, what are they paying for, how much is the model being directed. The model's sovereignty is constrained or compromised. But she is sovereign in her choice to do this (we hope .. we hope she is not coerced in any way). I shoot professional models because they have made the choice and become used to standing naked in front of a photographer. They have become used, in effect, to setting aside the 'rules', mostly unwritten, about how bodies should be presented to others .. particularly how they should be presented to people other than our sexual partners. Nudie models are breaking the rules .. and I thank God for them doing that .. they are creating the state of exception: I decide how my body is presented, and the rules, written or unwritten, of a bourgeois, middle-class, 'respectable' world (which is often not very respectable at all under the surface) can be suspended. I suspend them.
I tell my models I am asking the hardest thing of them, that is, to be their selves; I want them to set aside their notions of genre (glamour, art nude, fetish) and to set aside the persona (the word 'person' or 'persona' comes from a classical word for mask. The persona was, literally, the mask the actor used on the classical stage, to hide the self in favour of the dramatic role) behind which models hide. Models hide behind a role or a genre or a persona for good reason: it is protective of the private self. Models have limits for the same reasons: photographers who push against the limits are making a mistake and models rightly avoid them. Not all models manage it, but when they do, the results are wonderful. There is usually a calmness about the image, a sense of the presence of the person (in the modern sense of person - the 'true self'). It doesn't happen out of the blue: it happens when there is an established discipline of control and craft from both the model and the photographer. There are lucky moments, especially when a photographer and model are working together who are also partners in a relationship. But to create the space within which the model is sovereign, in which she can safely create that state of exception, can safely break the rules and present a true self, that is the deep joy of photographing the nude. It is what I want to do. I call my nude project 'The Sovereignty of the Self' partly because I've been to art college and what art college teaches you is not how to make art .. you learn that for yourself, a good college simply creates the space where you can teach yourself .. art college teaches you how to do the bullshit. The bullshit, in the professional art world, is more important than the art itself. The most commercially and criticallly successful art is the art that wears the bullshit on its sleeve, or puts it in your face quite apart from the pseudo-academic words in the exhibition notes.
But that is what I want to do, to make the model sovereign, to give her that space in which she can be herself, if she chooses. In a sense, then, I'm saying that a good nude portrait is always a self-portrait, even if the photographer chooses the model, pays her, creates the setup, chooses the costume and props, and then directs shot by shot in great detail (and I do all of that). I think a good wedding photographer is doing something very similar, though he or she is being paid.
I want to make the model sovereign, to allow her to enjoy the sovereignty of her self. Plus, of course, I'm a straight bloke who loves to look at naked women. But of all the kinds of women there are to enjoy naked, the best model is not the slim or the full-figured, the 'natural' or the one with the boob job, the unmarked or the tattoo-covered; the best model is the model who can be her sovereign self and who can trust you to let her see her as sovereign.