‘Artist, nudist, environmentalist, vegan, feminist, atheist, chocoholic, yogi, trekkie’, that’s how James Grigg (31) presents himself. Having studied architecture before and being a graduate of the Contemporary Lens Media course at the University of Lincoln, James occupies his free time – off duty managing the Oxfam shop in Lincoln of course – with photography and tries to give it a nudist twist. Read here what inspires him to create his work and how he goes about it:
What inspired you to get into nude photography?
“My path into that as an interest was more a lifestyle than an artist. In my late teens I discovered nudism, and quickly adopted it as a lifestyle. I began to use art, and eventually photography, to explore myself initially. It was a process of getting to know my own body, of unlearning the taboos about nudity that society at large instils on us, by deconstructing them, and communicating my new found interest.”
Did you always know you wanted to do this?
“I’ve always had an interest in art, and particularly in photography. Because I used photography to explore myself in self-portraiture, it was quite an organic expansion to eventually wish to shoot others, due to the inevitable limitations of self-portraits. So I wouldn’t say I had some grand plan to set out down this path, it was just where my work ultimately took me.”
How has your style changed since you first started until now?
“My early work, my self-portraiture, was very experimental. I explored many different techniques, lighting styles, and looks. But I quickly found what worked for me, and settled into what I think has become a fairly consistent style, in terms of how I pose people, the sorting of lighting I like, and my use of location.”
What influences your photography the most?
“Increasingly I want my work to tackle two things: the taboos of nudity and body positivism, which I feel go hand in hand. I believe most people’s hang-ups about their bodies are because we are rarely exposed to real bodies. Sexualised bodies are prevalent in our society and they conform to a very narrowly defined set of beauty standards. Whereas the things people consider flaws and abnormalities are in fact far more normal, yet we never see them through the media selection of what is considered an acceptable body. So, I respond to that by aiming to present bodies in a completely asexual manner and trying to shoot as many different people as possible. I want everyone to be represented in my work and for viewers to be able to see bodies are diverse, normal, and good, and not something to be fearful of or feel the need to hide.”
A lot of people are scared of nudity and see it as being vulnerable, how do you as an artist get over that?
“It is a frustrating side effect of my chosen field! It varies a lot from person to person though. I feel like eventually anyone could overcome the nudity taboo, but it’s a very long journey for many and not one everyone is willing to take. I have a decent body of work at this point, so initially simply presenting my work is a good way to illustrate what I am trying to do and how the person might be represented. Most people, even those very uncomfortable with nudity as a concept, are quite receptive to what I am doing and can see the beauty and purity of my style. Of course that’s not enough for everyone to want to be part in it themselves, but for those that do show some degree of interest I simply try to explain what nudity means to me and what I want to do.”
Do you have any tips on how to deal with your models when they do feel vulnerable?
“The issues that trouble people who get as far as shooting are either: the initial act of undressing, so getting naked itself, in the company of another person at least, is a very loaded action in our society. It is strongly associated with sex or shame and so for many the simple act of undressing is nerve-wracking. Having seen this many times I tend to just calmly talk people through it, trying to understand and rationalise their fears and actively deconstruct the taboos they are coming up against. For many people there is also a period of transition where they want to stay partly dressed to ease themselves into the situation. So, there is also a matter of simple patience, waiting for someone to feel at ease. Near universally once someone actually gets fully naked and lets their arms relax from covering one body part or another, they almost forget they’re naked at all and enjoy getting on with the shoot. The other thing some people struggle with, is a particular hang up with some part of their body. Things like breast shape or asymmetry, stretch marks, scars, and other marks on skin, people being worried about having too much flesh one place, or too little another. In these instances the shoots almost become little counselling sessions, as we discuss the hows and whys of bodies, and why we feel as we do about them.”
What is in the future for you?
“For the moment I’m just shooting as and when I feel the impulse or find someone willing to model. If I made something I was especially pleased with I would probably start trying entering that work into competitions again, but for now that’s something more on the back-burner.”
If you could travel to any point in time to create your art, where would that be and why?
“I think I would actually travel forward, to a post-human era. One of the things I am very interested in is spaces that humans create that feel very unhuman or spaces we create and forget. Things like carparks, awkward service areas of buildings, and abandoned buildings. These are simultaneously the most human possible creations and yet places where humans also tend not to feel at home. So, in the future devoid of humans I would be able to shoot in the remains of our constructs, which I think would make for a fascinating series!”
And finally, which golden piece of advice would you give a photographer who’s just starting out?
“Keep working! It is very easy, as I know too well, to get caught up in some non-artistic job and let your skills and ideas fall away. My work now is produced fairly sporadically, and for a time right after I graduated university, I didn’t shoot anything at all. So just keeping producing new stuff, I think that is really important for yourself.”
If you are curious about James’ work, visit his website by clicking the link below: