Story, Photos + Art By: Regina Vargas
Rare yet personal interactions with certain people or objects can often lead a change in the way one perceives a particular topic. Some of these topics include those that are considered controversial in society. In my case, art changed my perspective on the human body. Art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching my mother lose herself in her art, turning a white canvas into abstract images using warm and earthy colored paint. She would incorporate small objects found around the house like loose pieces of metal or plastic in order to add texture. Sometimes she would even send my two older brothers and me to the park to find seeds and snail shells to be included in her latest masterpiece. Thanks to my mother, my creativity was born.
I spent my summer between my junior and senior year of high school in Brooklyn, New York, taking art courses at Pratt Institute. As I walked into the foundations class the first day, I was taken aback by the confident, nude woman standing in the middle of the room. The free spirited art professor that somewhat resembled Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter, informed us that this naked woman would be our subject. This assignment was unlike any other I had ever done. Other than the fact that it was observational, I had to paint this exposed woman who was a complete stranger to me, examining every inch of her bare body for the next four hours. I was sitting only a few feet from the subject, giving me a perfect view. I could see every light, curve, and fold in her body. I shook off my temporary feelings of discomfort and began to paint. I incorporated every light and shadow that hit her in various angles, causing me to mix and create colors I never knew existed. Apart from pale pink and tan, her skin consisted of purples, greens, reds, and blues. I was observing this woman as an artist, discovering the true beauty of the human body in the ways I have been reading artists describe for years but never fully understood until I experienced this opportunity. I found myself not being able take a break, my mind was devoted to perfecting my newly developed techniques while painting her body. I was experimenting with every color on the color wheel and, since I was using acrylic, painted over every part that left me unsatisfied. As the weeks passed, my skills immensely improved and my knowledge and perspective of the human body had changed.
We live in a society that shames and sexualizes the naked body. This viewpoint shaped my initial feelings on the assignment, but as I switched my mindset to one of an artist, I was able to appreciate the female body for what it truly is: a part of nature, the source of life, and a work of art. Art opens up the mind of the creator and the admirer, allowing them to have an insight on the subject that seems almost exclusive in comparison to how society views that exact same object.
I was able to appreciate the female body for what it truly is: a part of nature, the source of life, and a work of art.
I developed a great admiration for nude models during my summer at Pratt Institute. The amount of confidence, acceptance, and self-love that it takes to stand naked in a crowded room filled with people observing your body is something to be celebrated. I believe that every single person, male and female, should strive towards this level of self-esteem in their every day lives. I reached out to Jenny Woods, model and photographer living in Brooklyn, to talk about her experience posing naked, her own work, what it all means to her, and how it has affected her life.
How and why did you get into modeling nude for artists and photographers?
JW: I started taking nude self portraits at the age of 15, when I first got into photography. This was before I ever had a Flickr account or knew of any other photographer’s work. I only just started taking it seriously and showing the rest of the world my nude work, when I broke up with my first boyfriend at the age of 20. I finally felt all the freedom I had been longing to feel as an adolescent.
Have you ever had any bad experiences while modeling for someone?
JW: I had a really bad experience once with a male photographer about 4 years ago, and that’s when I decided I would no longer work with strangers. I only let those I’m closest to, such as my boyfriend, photograph me in an intimate way.
What is it like to have so many people studying your body at once?
JW: I find it very invigorating. I love sharing that part of myself through art and knowing so many people are dissecting it and admiring it.
Has nude modeling changed your perspective on nudity and what it means to be nude?
JW: I have always been very open about my body, from the very beginning, since I was a child. I guess I don’t ever remember feeling like nudity was wrong. So, my perspective hasn’t changed much. I still find the same freedom in it as I did when I was younger.
Did you have to overcome any self-esteem issues in order to begin modeling or has modeling helped you overcome those issues?
JW: I’ve struggled my whole life with body issues. I was teased a lot about how petite I am when I was growing up. I always wanted to be curvier and taller. But that’s just not who I am. And photography has really helped me with a lot of those issues. Taking self portraits has really helped me to see myself and my body in a different light. I’ve come a long way, but I definitely still struggle with body dysmorphia.
What specifically draws you to photograph the human body?
JW: Simply put: it’s fucking beautiful! I always thought clothing was so distracting in a photograph. I love getting to know someone when they’re in such a vulnerable state. There has to be a lot of trust between a model and a photographer. It’s fun breaking down that wall with someone.
Have you ever received any negative feedback about your work because the subject is nude? If so, how do you deal with it/how do you respond?
JW: I get a lot of negative feedback about my models being “too thin”. I personally think that’s a load of bullshit. I’ve photographed a lot of different women from many ethnicities and countries and they’re all beautiful in different ways. They’re all different shapes and sizes and heights. But I definitely have a certain aesthetic that I’m more attracted to and maybe that’s why to a normal person my subjects all seem alike.
Is it difficult to find models willing to undress completely for a shoot?
JW: It hasn’t been difficult for me at all, but I have shot with a few favorite models that have been underage. I don’t strictly shoot nude bodies; I love photographing faces as well. And I think the same concept of vulnerability and trust applies when just shooting someone’s portrait.