March 2007

FT 2007

Grace Vane Percy does not photograph men. “I think that women’s bodies are more beautiful and interesting,” says the woman who for the past three years has made a name for herself taking pictures of private clients in the nude. “About eighty percent of women look better naked, whereas only 20 percent of men do,” is her considered opinion.

At 25 years old Vane Percy is younger than all her clients to date but she takes it all in her professional stride the “imperfections” that accompany her subjects often are what “make then perfect and real”. Vane Percy’s customers are predominantly professional women, or women with professional boyfriends or husbands. But she finds that they have a range of motives for posing naked. “Often it’s a culmination of a life moment – weight loss, or even divorce. It can be a present for a boyfriend abroad or an engagement gift. I get a lot of first wedding anniversaries too – as it’s paper!” Vanessa, who is 34 and runs her own PR company has posed Vane Percy. “I lost four and a half stone between January and May last year and was looking for an original 40th birthday gift for my husband,” she explains. Niki, 30, was planning pregnancy when her husband suggested a Vane Percy Session. “He wanted to capture my figure before it all went south,” she says. “He sees it as an expression of pure femininity. I’d never let him photograph me, so we found Grace.”

Vane Percy is not the only photographer tapping into women’s interest in having photographs of themselves taken, naked or otherwise. So what are the reasons behind this?

Both Vanessa and Niki say they were nervous about the photo session. Vane Percy eases any apprehension by being bossy: “You bring out a camera and most people feel instantly self conscious. If you give someone direction, it distracts from the whole uncomfortable naked thing.”

A graduate from Central Saint Martin’s College in London who has been invited to join the Yale ‘Women in Photography’ archive, Vane Percy’s approach is resolutely artistic. She uses film, not digital, as “digital is broken up information, rather than a gradation of light, so the distinction between black and white does not have the same richness and subtlety. With digital if it’s black, it’s black: you can lose information in shadow. If you want to bring it out later, it’s just not there.”

Even if digital were better, Vane Percy is too romantic to reduce her art to a mere act of digital capture. “It’s magic as far as I’m concerned. I love the immortalising moment that can never happen again.”

Niki calls her photographs “an awesome natural expression of pure femininity”. Vanessa too was “euphoric – the shots were like a Pirelli calendar. It reinforced why I’d sacrificed so much and given up the one thing I love more than my husband – food!”

With their more typical British reserve returning to the fore, these women’s portraits are hung in their bedrooms, for their eyes only. According to Vane Percy, things are different with some of her US customers: “Americans tend to be far more relaxed about hanging them in their living spaces.” This she reinforces is not tacky: “my style is quite antique, so no one will walk in to your home and say ‘Oh my God! It’s a picture of you naked!’”

Vane Percy believes there are genuine benefits to her clients. “We women are so busy hating our bodies so much, there’s always some issue – an inch here an inch there. It sounds rather cheesy but accepting yourself is a very positive thing to do, and my pictures help women do that. It’s like a mini-therapy session. It’s also great to have a memory of how you once were. When your 80, sitting around your retirement home, you can say, ‘I was really hot when I was younger.’ And whip out the pictures to prove it.”