As my search for a soulmate continues I find myself in The Keys on Yarm High Street, staring into limpid chocolate eyes as their owner tells me about the photographers who have asked her to model over the years (and there I was without a camera!) and how she ended up taking part in a fashion show.
The tale that followed was remarkable, both in the surprising background to her appearance on the catwalk, and her inspirational response. From birth she has been affected by dystonia, a neurological disorder producing involuntary muscle contractions. I couldn’t begin to imagine the impact that the condition has had upon her life, but she shared how despite her popularity with those wishing to create beautiful imagery she had been told that she would never succeed as a model because of the condition.
Years later she read an article in a newspaper that seemed to mirror her experience, attended a conference on the basis of that article, caught the eye of a neurosurgeon who had been presenting, and was referred for treatment, despite his practice being at the other end of the country. After several years of medicinal treatment she undertook the experimental therapy of DBS (deep brain stimulation), brain surgery requiring the implantation of wiring deep into the tissue of her brain (surgery which she underwent twice when the first implants were removed due to infection). What was remarkable was the way she viewed the operation. Naturally, having seen enormous benefits as a result, she is positive, but she described the 10 hour process during which she chatted to the surgeons as enjoyable!
Her recuperation led her to volunteer for the fashion show as a mark of defiance to the world and to raise funds to help others, but produced two areas of focus in her life; nutrition and religion; the first was a key element in taking her recovery seriously and her goal would be to achieve the qualifications to pursue this as a career, and the second reflected her belief that her life had been in the hands of a superior force and her role now was to inspire others in the same way.
Sadly as a “non-practicing atheist” (I’m not evangelical about it!) there is unlikely to be a romantic future with this beautiful woman, but I was struck by a coincidence, for in the same 24 hours I attended another photography workshop with another beauty, Zara Watson and Andrew Appleton whose training I have previously experienced. Zara’s home continues the religious theme, being a converted Wesleyan chapel, and she herself is a trained nutritionist. Small world.
There wasn’t much religion in the shoot; being an erotic photography workshop I’m not entirely sure that the original owners would have approved. I didn’t envy Andrew in trying to teach this; as everyone’s erotic stimulus is individual to them (I personally like this quote that I found on pinterest on the topic) this was potentially an impossible task. A bit like trying to prove or disprove the existence of a god.
The consensus amongst those of us who attended was that the lines between fashion, art nude, boudoir and erotic were far from distinct. Helmut Newton was able to produce photographs with a clear erotic message with no nudity whatsoever, and by the same token it is perfectly feasible to portray nudity without any sexual or sensual effect. Consequently Andrew deliberately produced set ups that could be taken in different directions. I’ll let you decide how the shots that follow should be categorised, but whatever you think, I can’t help but feel that my date wouldn’t have approved.