Several weeks ago, Photothon was the place to be. Photothon is a school-wide event sponsored by Photo Club. In talking with Colin Nollet, a current art student here and a main organizer of the event, I learned that Photothon is meant to “give artistic opportunities that aren’t normally given out.” What might this mean? Photothon gives all students—not just art students—the chance to come out and make art together. Besides that, Photothon is an event that presents an opportunity unique to most others—it’s an occasion to get naked with your classmates.
I’m not sure you’d find this many places other than Guilford—most schools don’t even allow their students to model nude for drawing classes let alone for a camera. So, why does Guilford? When I first looked into this question I determined that nudity in art is a controversial subject. Every person interprets nudity differently and there is a hazy line between work that is considered to be obscene and work that is undoubtedly art. As artists working in a small community like Guilford, we need to be sure we are presenting our subjects in the best possible light.
What makes an event like Photothon possible and successful at Guilford is contingent upon several factors: respecting each other’s privacy and having trust in each other. I believe that together these components create art that both the models and photographers are proud of. So, to get a sense of collaboration that is involved I interviewed both a photographer and a model that participated in Photothon.
Hayden Young, a first year student and passionate photographer, first explained that Photothon was set up for privacy. There were two rooms—a clothed room and a nude room. Anyone could go into the clothed room, but the nude room had limited card access at the door and the windows were blocked off so no one could peek in. Phones were also collected upon entering to make sure no pictures could be taken and uploaded online. From there though, the safety and comfort of the space was left up to the students. As a photographer, Hayden explained that the #1 rule is to NEVER touch the model without their permission. Along with that, Hayden is reluctant to edit the bodies of the models, and he doesn’t need to. Through his lens he has turned each and every one of his subjects—no matter their size or shape—into a work of art.
A neat aspect to this event is that every model has a chance to see their bodies from an artist’s perspective. Several of models made the point that although the photographs represent the photographers artistic take, they are still accurate representations of what the models look like. It is not so much that the photographers made art of their body, but that their body is already a work of art. Vanessa Madonna, a senior at Guilford and a model at Photothon, expressed that this event emphasized not only being comfortable in your own skin but also to take the liberty to say I am beautiful. Although we are often told that it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside and it’s the inside that counts, there is still vulnerability to being naked. A comment Vanessa made is that when you are naked there is nothing to hide behind so no one sees you as anything but yourself. “If they saw me naked I feel like I can trust them with my life,” Vanessa said, reiterating this point. Exposing yourself in this way builds a community and connects people you would never imagine together. I say we forget icebreakers entirely and just get naked with each other.
Everyone I spoke with agreed that Photothon should be bigger. Not only should it happen more often, but more people should be involved. This event is a powerful way to build community right on the spot and could therefore be a useful tool in breaking down the barriers that set us apart. No matter your size and shape or whether you are an athlete or an artist, the more diversity there is present at Photothon the more opportunity there is to see that we are really all the same.
As grand and fun as this idea is, it will not work unless it is taken seriously. Vanessa mentioned that at one point during Photothon she slipped on a fur coat to take a phone call outside. Although she was covered up when she stepped outside she felt awkward and threatened, which is a stark contrast to the feelings of safety and comfort she felt towards the room. This makes me wonder, what is out there that makes us so uncomfortable? Often times, I do not think it is that we have something to hide but that we are hiding from someone. What impact would be made on our community if we stopped all our hiding? Would we get the respect that we deserve?
This question is not answered easily. It would be unreasonable to propose getting naked with each other as a means to find out, so instead I will suggest one thing; be bold. Expose yourself one way or another, whether that means taking your clothes off or simply sharing your favorite song. You be you.
Thanks for keeping it real, Guilford!
Wondering what’s up with all the blank boxes?
This article has been published twice. The first time, in the spots of the blank boxes there were photographs taken at Photothon by Hayden Young. The photographs featured Guilford students in the finest light. Despite their nakedness, when I looked at them I saw nothing inappropriate; I saw art. The images were prime examples of the community that was created and the beauty that was captured that night.
Soon after the article was posted, I was asked to take some precautionary measures before the pictures were posted for the whole-wide web to see. Although the images had been posted with the consent of each model, they had not signed model-release forms. An understandable hurdle, I immediately wrote up model-release forms. Hand/Eye is a student-run blog; it’s from the students and to the students. We post what we want to share. Throughout the process of writing this article, I had been getting the sense from the students that they wanted these pictures to be seen. Not only did Photothon participants want the opportunity to share the art they had created, but they also wanted to share their positive experience.
After posting the article and then taking down the article and even after the release forms were written, I still felt troubled and concerned. What struck me was an issue of liability. What if something bad were to come of these photos? By posting these pictures onto our blog we are giving them to everyone, not just members of our small community at Guilford. They will be interpreted in every way, and their original intention might be lost. Although some of these pictures have already made their way onto the internet by the choice of their owner, as an outside blogger reporting on this event I was left a choice, too. If anything came back to haunt these models in the future, whether they signed a waiver or not, I would undoubtedly feel responsible. So I have made the choice to be safe and insert blank boxes where pictures used to be.
I want Guilford to be cutting edge. I want to be able to show this event for all that it is. However, I am not so sure that the world that is watching is as respectful as I am sometimes fooled into thinking. Guilford might be keeping it real, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is.