Today, August 19, 2010, is the 15th anniversary of my very first nude photo session.
It was at a workshop in Woodstock, New York. Though it happened 15 years ago, the story actually begins about five years earlier. That was when I made the decision to attend graduate business school part time while I worked full time, as I saw the limitations inherent in my job at the time.
I always considered myself more of an arts and humanities kind of person, and I still do. As an undergraduate at NYU, I double majored in Near Eastern Languages and Classical Civilization. At the Yale Graduate School, I got an M. Phil. in Near Eastern studies, with a specialization in Egyptology. Despite that, I was willing to bite the bullet and attend graduate business school just to get a better job.
Back to NYU I went, this time for business studies. For four years, including the summer semesters, I went to work during the day and did school work at night and on weekends. There really wasn’t time for much else. The only time off from school was a few weeks of intersession in December and January, plus the month of August.
I majored in Finance, with NYU’s Finance program being among the top ten in the country, and its part time program being rated #1. Despite having an M.B.A. from a top program like that, I never was able to find a new job. A year of going through on-campus recruiting, followed by a few more years of looking, proved fruitless. It seems that when all of your work experience is in the public sector (like mine was) and you try to go into private industry, nobody gives a shit about you.
So, after four years of hard work and after spending about $19,000 of my own money on tuition (supplemented by a scholarship that covered about 55% of the full tuition cost), I was still stuck where I was before I started. To put it mildly, I had had enough. After four years of doing what I felt I NEEDED to do (and going nowhere with it), I felt that it was finally time to do what I WANTED to do!
That thing was photography. Most of my photography up to that point had been 35mm color slide work that I did when I was on vacation. A lot of people who had seen them thought that they looked to be of professional quality, so I decided to give stock photography a try as a way to perhaps pay for some of my travel costs.
The first thing I did was to buy a Fuji 6x7 medium format rangefinder camera, as I’d read that medium format is better for stock photos than 35mm. I had planned to get a 6x4.5 SLR system, but I just fell in love with those big 6x7 color transparencies and couldn’t imagine getting anything smaller. So, I got a Pentax 67 system instead.
Like my attempt at finding a new job, the stock photography idea went nowhere. (Does anybody see a pattern here?) After taking a couple of years worth of travel photos to some agencies, I was told that my photos were good enough, but I just didn’t have enough of them. In the stock game, apparently, quantity counts, and with just a few weeks a year to devote to photography, I couldn’t meet that count. While I could provide a few hundred, they wanted a few thousand.
So, how did I start with nudes? In the fall of 1994 –shortly after getting my M.B.A. – I went to the annual photo equipment show at the Javits Center here in New York. One of the exhibitors was the Center for Photography at Woodstock, and I saw that they offered weekend workshops in the summer. I figured that this might also be a way to get back into photography, as Woodstock is a few hours drive from me, and I thought it might be a good excuse to get out of the city for a few days.
The first figure workshop I attended began 15 years ago from today. I have written before that my first “keeper” was the eighth frame of film on my first roll of film that day – not too bad for a beginner. It’s the second picture here – the one with the girl with the bobbed haircut, leaning forward and looking off to the right – and I’ve posted it online before. You can see some other photos from that first weekend, too.
What I have never posted before, and never even scanned until now, is the very first photo on that first roll of film. You can see it at the top here, the one of the legs. Not the best photo I’ve ever made - upon scanning, I saw that it's not even focused properly! - but hey, we all have to start somewhere.
My art nude photography may have ended there were it not for some other people I met at Woodstock. I became friends with another workshop attendee who was staying at my small hotel in town, and he invited me to join him and a couple of other photographers who were planning to photograph a couple of models the following weekend at a nearby location. I accepted.
Later in the year, through these people, I was able to attend a one day, invitation only workshop with three models at a Victorian era house in Troy, New York. With their encouragement, and with my photos continuing to improve – not to mention my enjoying what I was doing – I decided to stay with it.
Fifteen years later, I am still staying with it. Sure, photographing models can seem repetitive at times, but I am always searching for that elusive “great” image among the good ones, trying to bring some beauty to the world. That - and the friendship of people like Dave Levingston, Terrell Neasley, Bill Ballard and Unbearable Lightness - is what keeps me going.
To celebrate and highlight these last 15 years, here’s a portfolio of images covering that period – one photo for each calendar year that I’ve been photographing nudes and highlighting some of the places where I’ve done it. Enjoy.
Untitled Nude, 1996