Grace Vane Percy by Richard Dennen – Tatler April 2008
Grace Vane Percy has no problem getting people to go naked for her. In fact, she’s virtually fighting them off. She’s the ‘Nude Snapper’ to go to if you want to throw caution to the wind – and bare all. “Yes, I photograph ladies in the nude,” laughs Grace, “but it’s always an artistic portrait – it’s certainly not ‘glamour’ modelling – it’s a fine art thing.” And many of those who peel off their clothes do so to have their naked self hanging up on a wall at home. “It’s about female beauty,” she continues, “and I photograph more for women. Most often it’s a gift from a wife to a husband.”
In her trade you expect your subjects to come in all shapes and sizes – and Vane-Percy is unshockable. One client walked into her studio four weeks after serious plastic surgery. “She had an enormous scar – really nasty.” But mostly it’s well-heeled professionals pitching up and stripping off. “Many of these women spend their own money on flashing their flesh. They’ve got the car, the bag, the shoes and now they want to bare-all. I don’t tend to get trophy wives sent in by their husbands.”
Getting ready to head to the Nude Snapper’s studio is all part of the process too. Grace’s subjects have to get down to fully exfoliating and moisturising their entire bodies the night before. Then the next day – when heading off to see her – her clients have to go sans-bra and commando. “So they’re walking along down the Kings Road and thinking to themselves ‘I’m not wearing any underwear. ’ When they turn up they’re already in a different mindset. Already committed to doing it.”
“I have everything set up,” continues Grace, “But I always leave a little something to do so I don’t have to stand there and go, ‘Drop it.’ I just ask them to take up a position on the cloth. It’s better to just get on with it quickly.
After a year at St Martin’s, followed by 2001 spent life-drawing in Florence, it all kicked off the year she got back from Italy. Grace shot a nude picture for a friend from university who was putting on a play. Then was asked by a woman who had seen a baby portrait she’d done to shoot her naked. And it just snow-balled. She’s now helped expose 80 women to expose themselves.
While her parents – interior designer Christopher, and Lady Linda Vane Percy, are cool with her job, it’s definitely not something any of her relations would necessarily have got stuck into. Granny – the Countess of Wilton – was one of the four Yarde-Buller sisters (one married Prince Ali Khan, one Earl Cadogan and the other the Duke of Bedford) although her great-granny was a ‘Gaiety Girl’ who became Duchess of Leinster. It’s all a far cry from what the nuns at the Catholic prep school she went to, followed by Oakham, then Cambridge, would have expected. But perhaps it’s her background – she grew up between Mayfair and the family pad, Island Hall, outside Cambridge – all part of her secret and gentle charm that puts her subjects at ease.
But why do they want to do it? “Often it’s because they have been through some kind of life changing experience. Or they’ve just divorced. Or been on a massive diet. Or simply because they’ve turned a certain age.” Age also seems to be a defining factor; “I think that as women get older they get more confident and carefree. When you are in your 20s – although you had a better figure – you just don’t have the right mind set to do it.” Going through the process with Grace is also a sort of expulsion of all thoughts of body hate; an American-style of learning to love oneself. That once they’ve done the deed – taken their clothes off and spent time talking to Grace about what they don’t like about their bodies – they’ve been through a kind of therapy. “The thing about the body is that its errors actually make it whole; that when you’re naked as an object, as you were designed, everything fits into place.” And Grace, one feels, should know.