March 2012

Sunday Times Style Magazine March 2012

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Style Magazine

How I Make It Work

Grace Vane Percy, 30 is a photographer specialising in nude portraits. She live in her studio in Notting Hill with her husband, a freelance stage designer

HOW DID YOU GET INTO NUDE PORTRAITURE?

I started out doing children’s portraits, then one day I got a call from a woman asking if I would do a naked shot of her pregnant. She’d had a terrible time with her first pregnancy, so this one held special significance. I realised that being photographed in your most vulnerable state can really help a person work through their issues.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF IT?

I’m very interested in people, so I find the way nudity transforms us is fascinating. I’m also trained in classical art and really enjoy the aesthetic nature of what I do, and o love to show my clients something beautiful about themselves.

WHY DO PEOPLE WANT TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED NAKED?

When I started out, I worried I’d get lots of husbands wanting to celebrate their trophy wives’ plastic surgery. But usually it’s regular women, commissioning portraits of themselves wanting to celebrate a landmark birthday, for themselves or their partner, losing a lot of weight or something like having a baby. The picture hanging in their home reminds them to feel great about themselves and their body.

HOW DO CLIENTS PREPARE?

They have to exfoliate and moisturise the day before and on the day I ask them to wear loose clothing and no underwear, as it leaves marks on the skin. I also think the less hair and make-up the better. Too much make-up looks really odd when your face no longer has to compete with your clothes. They normally disrobe behind my giant reflector, and there’s always that ‘jump into the pool’ feeling – but once the clothes are off, feelings of awkwardness pass quickly.

WHAT DO YOU TALK TO THEM ABOUT?

I sometimes feel like my work is a mini therapy session. Once somebody is comfortable about being naked they tend to open up, and will chat to me about all kinds of problems and issues in their lives. They often tell me they leave feeling lighter.

WHAT DIRECTION DO YOU GIVE?

A lot! I’m really bossy! But seriously, capturing somebody in 2-D really exaggerates bad posture, so I ask my subjects to work on a ‘ribcage tilt’. Your breastbone moves upwards when you take a deep breath – your tummy tightens and your shoulders drop back, which gives you at least and extra inch of height.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT WOMEN’S BODIES FROM YOUR WORK?

I go to yoga twice a week because, through my observation, yoga bodies age the best. It tones in a feminine way, and keeps your skin taut.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO TO STAY HEALTHY?

I’m a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat at boarding school because it always looked so disgusting, deciding I would only eat what I called ‘happy meat’, which would now be called ‘organic’. And then the more you don’t eat it, the more you don’t want it.

WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR ARTISTIC STREAK?

Probably from my Dad (the interior designer Christopher Vane Percy). He’s a very aesthetic person and loves symmetry – Christmas and birthdays were always very beautiful. He also taught me a love of classical art and Greek mythology.

HAVE YOU EVER POSED NUDE YOURSELF?

I photographed myself naked for Tatler a few years ago, and my husband and I were going to do a double portrait after our wedding when we were both in really good shape. But now he’s decided he needs to get to the gym again first!

HAVE YOU HAD MANY MALE CLIENTS?

A few, although I vet them heavily first, because a random guy getting naked in my home is a bit intimidating. Men tend to be a lot more vain self-conscious and self-critical, which surprised me.  Also, if a man doesn’t have any muscle tone in his arms and chest, it’s hard to make a decent image, whereas a woman, irrespective of size or shape, always has feminine curves to work with.

YOU USE FILM RATHER THAN DIGITAL PHOTOGAPHY, WHY IS THIS?

Digital colour is almost too naked – there is more of a fleshy quality – whereas film creates more richness of tone. I don’t understand the obsession with HD. It takes the veil away, the romantic edge.

WHAT DO PEOPLE SAY WHEN THEY FIND OUT WHAT YOU DO?

Men always ask if I ever need an assistant, while generally women are thinking, “Oh God, is she imagining me naked?” It’s definitely a dinner party conversation starter.

Grace Vane Percy is exhibiting a selection of her nudes a part of Art Palm Beach 2012 until tomorrow.

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