Apr 282016


Aussie Cyril

This photo of Aussie Cyril’s from our very first encounter at the Shanghai Art Nude group reminded me, at first glance, of one by Lucien Clergue, ‘Deux nus chez Jeff’, except that Clergue’s is actually a picture of two women (yes, the clue is in the title). To model for a photographer who can glean something wondrous from the body, who can bring out the model’s essence, his or her true self – is a sheer privilege. I’d gladly work for free with any photographer whose images I’m totally wowed by – images that don’t give me the urge to crop or change them in any way. Who has been that good? Fei Mo Di, for one.

The damp mid-January chill of Pudong’s underlying swamp-land has seeped up into the apartment block, turning it into a natural refrigerator. Bel buys two barely adequate plug-in radiators – one each for us to crouch over. We are still miserably cold.
    Monday morning. Bel trails without enthusiasm to her classroom, and I set out for Shanghai’s famous boho art quarter, 50 Mo Gan Shan, a warren of ex-factories and warehouses where Cyril has booked a studio. I expect the shoot to be an icy experience. But it’s money.
    Just inside the compound, a private photographic gallery has a poster in English advertising a course clearly aimed at ex-pat blokes: Art Nude Photography: Theory and Praxis. Judging by the illustrative examples, it’s going to be a day of photographing a drop-dead gorgeous nubile Chinese girl’s perfect body. In my case they’d have to photoshop out the varicose veins, the birth-mark, the unruly pubic hair, the mottled knees, the sag-folds, the wrinkles. In fact if I were the model, they’d ask for their money back.

    ‘My dear Suki!’
    I squirm out of Cyril’s bear-hug. The barren concrete art-space has three small electric heaters dotted around it. Could be worse.
    ‘Here – before we begin the shoot, may I confer you with this warming quasi ginger latte – i.e. Chinese version thereof – and I’d like to read you these words by the great Lucien Clergue whom you so admire.’
    I sip the synthetic drink. ‘I love Clergue’s photos.’
    ‘Well, I think you’ll agree that my own modus operandi is identical to Clergue’s. As he says, you have to be responsive to what the model brings you; models are not objects, they are real people who…’
    ‘Yes – I love that statement. Whereas so many artists just want a piece of wood.The guys who always wanted to record me like an architect’s drawing, why didn’t they save themselves the fee and just go draw the bloody town hall?’
    ‘Absolutely! Whereas Clergue says models are “real people who, with a single gesture, can convey a special feeling…”’
    ‘…Brilliant – he sees a model‘s feelings!’
    ‘As Clergue writes, “These women become my friends and we co-operate in the making of the photographs.” I think you’ll agree, Suki, that this precisely describes my relations with you…’
    Definitely not!
    Cyril clearly hasn’t noticed the look on my face. He continues, ‘Clergue also says he doesn’t like working with professional models because the clock-watching interferes with his relationship with them. What are your thoughts about that?’
    ‘He prefers not to pay them?’ (Is Cyril intending to convey that he and I now have a “friendship” that makes paying me for shoots inappropriate?) ‘Tuh. That puts me off him.’ (I must make my position clear!) ‘The thing is, Cyril, you and I don’t “co-operate”. I transform your pictures all by myself with no negotiation. I don’t ask for your advice or your opinion.’ I add, callously, ‘Nor do I care about your opinion when I’m done.’
    ‘You’ve created some truly wonderful versions.’
    ‘But even when you don’t like what I’ve done, you never put your foot down.’
    ‘Because I respect you deeply, Suki.’
    The more doting Cyril is, the more irritating. ‘You always acquiesce. Submit to my ideas.’ Oops – that was almost a sneer.
     But his eyes twinkle all the more. ‘I don’t think you know how very fond I am of you.’



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  10 Responses to “Page 22”

  1. It is slowly dawning on me just how complex interactions between human beings are. That gets one into the idea… it all happens so quickly.

  2. That has been dawning on me, too, Chris, in my later years.

    When you realise how much impact you can have on a person’s well-being / mood with only a word or a small interaction that you yourself might at the time be mentally ‘absent’ from (your mind on other things), it can be scary.

    We have such a responsibility. Well, we don’t need to take it, but if we do, we can so easily do people around us a bit of good.

  3. An interaction between two individuals can be what triggers a great creative work.

    It’s becoming clear to us here in the office that Suki finds working with a photographer more satisfyingly creative than being in a life-room. She would tell us that she always hoped in a life-drawing session that her individual input as a ‘good’ model affected the outcome, i.e. whether or not the artists produced work they were happy with/ they felt was good. But the fact was, she often felt herself to be – as she put it – “model as dumb animal” standing before the artist.

    • [A photographic artist’s response]
      I’ve never thought of a model as a ‘dumb animal’. They have mostly either been friends or friends of friends. The sessions have always been collaborations. I rough out an idea that’s in my head and between us we come up with poses to suit. With photography in particular, a good rapport is essential. The first few shots are invariably wooden and it’s important to build up that rapport to get a relaxed feeling into the shots. With art it isn’t as important but still makes for a good, enjoyable session. It takes two people to make a good life drawing/painting/photograph.

      • [An artist’s response]
        All my work is one-to-one. I think friendship with the models and their coooperation in what I’m trying to achieve is essential.

      • Hmm – interesting. Firstly, the model is the subject of the art: central, indispensable, necessary; secondly, a collaborator in the creative process: a feedback loop with the artist. And thirdly, posing is ‘performance art’ in its own right.
        Dumb animal? Errr… no. ?

  4. [A model’s response, re: whether there is a co-operative relationship between artist and model in the life-room]

    I certainly think that it is there. Life modelling is an artform in its own right and, whoever you are, spirited posing and an engaged presence will stimulate artists. I like to think I can sense when this happens, spurring me on further so that we all ascend together in a rising spiral of creativity! If one aims just to be an object to draw, then for me I don’t think there would be much point in doing it.

    • I agree with Clifford.

      • Yes there is always a relationship between artists and models. I have been told by several artists that they look forward to drawing me and that I bring out the best in their work. It is most encouraging!

        • It is nice to have feedback from artist and students. Makes one feel you are doing something right.