Picture This by Charlotte Fielding – Bective Lesley Marsh ‘Lifestylers’ May 2008
Charlotte Fielding spends some time with London portrait photographer Grace Vane Percy.
To see a flash of a woman’s ankle or a section of delicate wrist during the Victorian era was considered very risqué. Over time we have become far more relaxed about the naked human form. Today it is not uncommon to see people clad in clothing that skims midriff, clings to the buttocks, shows off thighs and plunges down the chest. Whilst this mode of dressing has now become fairly common practice, as modest Brits many of us would still shy away from taking off our clothes for a nude portrait. Although behind closed doors many would love to have a beautiful, artistic, flattering image created of themselves, even if only to say, “I used to look like that once, wasn’t I fabulous,” but simply don’t know how to go about it.
Enter Grace Vane Percy. Grace is a London based photographer full of naked ambition. A wise head on young shoulders she has a quiet, gentle air about her which puts her clients immediately at their ease. Grace works with a cross section of women, glamorous New York socialites, women who want a keepsake of their pregnancy, women looking for a wedding present for their husbands to be, or anyone who just would like the experience. Some clients hang their portrait over the fireplace in the drawing room for all to see; others have it to adorn the bedroom wall, whilst some simply want to keep it in a box to glance at once in a while.
Grace has been producing nude portraits for over four years and it is clear from her work that she loves what she does. She mostly works in her studio but if the client prefers she will see them at their homes, although she believes the studio is a more appropriate venue for the shoot. “People appear much more comfortable in a new environment set up for the shoot.” She explains, “They seem to be more confident in a studio environment and if they have any inhibitions they shed them far more easily if they are in familiar surroundings.”
One of my fist questions for Grace after seeing her work was whether the women that she photographed had body hang ups or if there were all confident with the way that they look; after all, the women in her images are absolutely beautiful and the photos stunning. Some are reclining nudes, some are of backs and some of torsos but all are magnificently lit and art in its purest form. “Absolutely not,” she replied, “the majority of people who come to see me have an issue with one part of their body or another and I just work around that, concentrating on their best assets.” As a woman she understands women’s bodies and their potential hang ups and can help people feel more relaxed.
Due to her father being an interior designer, Grace grew up on an architectural diet and her eye was trained from a young age. She studied art at Central St Martins in London which, for Grace, was a big disappointment. She wanted a more traditional grounding in technical skill than they were able to offer. She went on instead to train in Florence which inspired her love for classical, nude imagery through the sculpture and life drawing classes she undertook.
Her inspiration comes from the work of 1930’s Czech and Polish photographers such as Rudolph Kopitz. This was an era when people were becoming more aware of the body, exercise and fitness became a part of peoples daily lives. The images that inspire Grace the most are those which are of more sculptural and athletic forms in angular poses.
During the two hour session Grace really puts people at their ease. Some clients know exactly what they want whilst others have no idea. She shows a selection of the work that she has done to inspire people as to what they might like. All of Graces work is done on medium format film as opposed to on film, so there is no question of looking at the images during the shoot. She also does not encourage any touch ups or digital reworking unless the client insists upon it. Instead she uses light and positioning to create the most flattering images.
For Grace, nude portrait photography “ticked all the boxes”. For her first commission she was approached to do a portrait of a pregnant woman, this was her breakthrough into nude portraiture and she has never looked back.