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Grace Vane Percy specialises in artistic Female Nude Portraiture. Her flatteringly, feminine portraits focus on the beauty of the female form and have proved a hit with clients in both London and New York.

London based photographer Grace Vane Percy has made nude female portraiture her niche. Her signature atmospheric, flattering lit portraits have made her name in this field.

Grace Trained at Central Saint Martin’s, before going to study fine art and the techniques of the Old Masters in Florence, she sees her work as directly influenced by classical art as well as the work of mid 19th century English and 1930’s European (especially Czech) photographers. Her work was internationally recognised, in 2004 when Grace was invited to join the ‘Women In Photography’ Archive at Yale. Grace’s work celebrates beauty and the female form and is about empowering women to think differently about their bodies.

Grace is based in Notting Hill but has clients who come to her from France, Italy, Sweden, Holland, Greece and Monte Carlo as well as the Sates. She also travels to New York to photograph women, she has had the great honour of shooting many times in Mathew Brady’s original studio at 359 Broadway. Her clients are professionally diverse and independently successful, women.

Grace’s work is a celebration or their natural femininity and unique beauty. She works within the classical tradition of the nude, aiming to produce nude portraits that are more art than simply naked photographs. A glorification of the body, as with countless works of art in the past, the inspiration is ordinary women.

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Photographing the Female Nude

 Modern art shows us even more explicitly than the art of the past that the nude does not simply represent the body, but relates it […] to all structures that have become part of our imaginative experience. The Greeks related it to their geometry. Twentieth-century man, with his vastly extended experience of physical life, and his more elaborate patterns of mathematical symbols, must have at the back of his mind analogies of far greater complexity. But he has not abandoned the effort to express them visibly as part of himself. The Greeks perfected the nude in order that man might feel like a god, and in a sense this is still its function, for although we no longer suppose that God is like a beautiful man, we still feel close to divinity in those flashes of self-identification when, through our own bodies, we seem to be aware of a universal order. [1]

Grace Vane Percy’s oeuvre is a celebration, and exploration, of the nude female body in its fundamental sculptural form, drawing from the rich history of the female nude as depicted in art since the beginning of visual representation.  Vane Percy’s work is presented through the medium of black and white 120 film photography, using archival silver bromide hand-prints. Primarily using natural light for her photography, Vane Percy is constantly looking to describe the volumes and textures of the female form through the distribution of light across it. The monochrome format is a stylistic choice, rendering volumes of the body more abstract, and heightening the timelessness of her work. Black and white also serves to bring the forms of the body together in an elegant manner, recalling the poses and smooth texture of Classical sculpture. Being a female photographer, Vane Percy is proud to be continuing the line of women photographers who are internationally recognized as innovative, daring and driven exponents of the genre, such as Lee Miller, Eve Arnold and Imogen Cunningham. As a heterosexual woman, Vane Percy’ work is devoid of the sexual objectification and voyeurism of the male gaze, which is inevitable in photography of women made by heterosexual men. Instead, Vane Percy’s work is less about passive sitter versus active art-maker and more about female comraderie and collaboration.

After specializing in photography at St Martin’s College of Art in London, Vane Percy received a fine art training in Florence at Charles Cecil’s Art School. Vane Percy’s time spent in Florence – a city famously passionate about the knowledge of anatomy since the Renaissance – was to become a formative period for her artistic career and working methods. Indeed, the influence of classical sculpture, painting and architecture, permeated Vane Percy’s vision of the world and artistic curiosity, technical know-how and, ultimately the essence of her oeuvre. Vane Percy was attracted to the heroism of the powerful male nude, and to the delicate beauty of the female nude. During her training she made charcoal drawings and sculpted from casts of Classical and Neo-Classical nude sculpture of various sizes  (fragments and entire pieces). Alongside this, Vane Percy worked from the life model. When not in classes, she was visiting the churches and collections in Florence (the Medici Collection in particular), absorbing the Classical nude in both painting and sculpture, as well as the harmony of form and line intrinsic to Renaissance architecture and design. Vane Percy has spent extensive periods of time in New York City, poring over the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s vast Classical sculpture collection. She has also drawn inspiration from the The Wallace Collection and the Sculpture Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Individual Old Master artists famed for their depictions of the female nude whom she returns to for inspiration and guidance include Botticelli, Bronzino and Boucher. However, while such artists, and the artists of Antiquity before them, sought for their representations of the female nude to appear human[2], Vane Percy’s photographs show women who appear unreal: sculptures with a marble-, alabaster- or ebony-like skin. This eeriness in Vane Percy’s work is beautiful, but at the same time shows us that we are considering work that is far more complicated – conceptually and technically – than we might initially realize.

There is a sense of mystery and haziness to the photography that Vane Percy most admires: English 19th-Century photography and 1930s Czech photographers (such as a great hero of Vane Percy’s, Rudolph Kopwitz). A similar ethereal quality is an important aspect in Vane Percy’s  work, accentuated by the slightly grainy texture of her photographs, removing the viewer from the fleshiness of the body, and introducing the body as a beautiful, elegant and refined thing. The relationship between photography and the nude is thus described by Vane Percy:

Nude portraiture harks back to the beginning of photography – initially recreating popular romantic or whimsical works of art, heavily loaded with references and symbolism.[3]

While Vane Percy’s work is influenced by early nude photography, and deeply rooted in the Classical style, she also cites the 1930s early fitness body as a starting point in her work. However, she has modernized these genres by rejecting the use of props – traditionally a way to express allegorical sentiments and attach iconographic identities to the women depicted. Instead, Vane Percy approaches the nude as end in itself, stripping away symbolic justifications for the presence of a nude woman in art. In Vane Percy’s work the female nude is powerful and has no need for any supportive narrative. Thus Vane Percy presents us with intimate images, with refined simplicity and powerful compositions. This is a pure exploration into the potential of the female body in its movement, angles, and forms. Clark’s description of the attraction to these very forms seem appropriate, as he writes of the female body’s ‘analogies with satisfying geometrical forms, the oval, the ellipsoid and the sphere’[4].

Vane Percy is attracted to both the mechanism of the body – the way it moves and the parts interact and connect – as well as the unified, formal entity of the body as a whole. The intense focus on the body in Vane Percy’s work is heightened by the lack of props, and dramatic chiaroscuro created by empty backgrounds. A central theme in her work is the question of how the beauty of the naked female body can be elevated from human, earthly status, to a presence that transcends time and place. She achieves this by capturing images where the body expresses more than just anatomical study, but where there is drama and emotion in the poses. Indeed, the power of the poses can be understood as physical manifestations of inner concerns, thoughts, memories – mental states become concrete and visible. Or, as Clark describes,

Apart from biological needs, there are other branches of human experience of which the naked body provides a vivid reminder – harmony, energy, ecstasy, humility, pathos.[5]

While the macrocosm in Vane Percy’s work is that of a unified whole that conveys a certain spirituality, there is a microcosm too: this is represented in the subtleties between the surfaces of the body– soft tissue, tense muscle and angular bone. Vane Percy captures the intrinsic beauty of the female form, which can be found in the breasts or a knee, buttocks or nape of a neck, waist or an ankle. Showing a body that works in harmony, that is like a beautiful machine. Simultaneously, she does not wholly shy away from the reality of the body – with sharp elbows, irregular curves and asymmetry of the body and its proportions. The work is about an ephemeral moment, where the perfect light and pose are captured, and, with nude depictions harking back to the beginnings of art itself, we can see that such expressions of humanity encompass the essential.

© Alma Zevi, 2013.

 


[1] K. Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (London 1956), p. 357.

[2] As most famously described in literature by the Pygmalion story.

[3] Grace Vane Percy in conversation with the Author, 2011.

[4] K. Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (London 1956), p. 344.

[5] Ibid., p 6-7.

 

ARTISTIC NUDE PHOTOGRAPHY:

The artistic depiction of the nude female form in art, harks back to the very origins of art itself. From the moment that man could pick up a stick and use it to create marks on a surface he has depicted the human form. The deification and glorification of the human body, especially the female nude, is a strong and recurring theme throughout the story of art. By transforming subjects into Gods, Goddesses or later providing them with biblical and allegorical references, through heavy symbolism, the female nude has infiltrated every facet of art. The aggrandising and ennoblement of the nude has made it a worthy and acceptable subject for generation upon generation of artists. Transcending voyeurism and fashion through art, the nude holds firm as a point of human fascination. Through this association nude female portraiture has been made acceptable and worthy as an art form.

Nude portrait photography is a genre that hails back to the birth of photography. Victorians who suddenly found they had a whole new world to explore through the creative and artistic lens of photography. Almost instantly early photographers began to photograph the nude. Initially recreating popular romantic or whimsical works of art, heavily loaded with reference and symbolism. Early photographers constructed their new photographic pictures as an artist would a painting. Many early works were in fact copies and replicas of popular paintings, sculptures or interpretations of classic artistic themes, myths and allegories. Borrowing composition and structure from these preceding works, again adding to acceptability of these now almost tangible nudes. This is where nude portraiture finds it’s roots.

 

NUDE PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITURE:

Artistic female nude photography has held a fascination for humankind since photography was invented. The female form makes for a very pleasing study, subtle curves, soft movement of light and the tension of muscles all contrast in the creation of a fine art nude. The art of nude photography is a delicate one, striving more for the ennoblement and powerful representation the nude body than something tawdry. Artistic nude photographs are full of mystery and there own light, showing off the inherent sculptural nature of the body.

Grace sees her work as an art form: “I work within the classical tradition of the nude, aiming to produce portraits that are more art, than simply photographs. I see my work as a celebration of the female body through the artistic use of camera and light.”  She works in a very traditional style, still using black and white medium format film, which it must be said, adds a certain atmosphere and charm to the whole process. The end result is a unique look. Beautiful silver bromide handprints end up in albums, boxes or most often framed on walls in hand-gilded frames. “The aim is to produce a portrait that retains an air of timelessness and does not give the effect that it was taken only yesterday.”

Many clients choose to incorporate large, framed prints into their home interiors. Beautiful, timeless images honouring the tradition of the classical nude are perfect to adorn the walls of bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms even private yachts. “Through my work I try to offer the chance for every woman to be captured and immortalised in their natural beauty and the classical tradition of the artistic nude.” Albums, books and archival boxes are also available, making a fabulous keepsake or an unusual gift.

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