Grace Vane Percy: The Art of Nudity
FREE! Magazine met recently in the lobby of a hotel in Helsinki centre with British photographer Grace Vane Percy, one of the most well known names in UK when talking about nude photography, while she was visiting the Finnish capital.
Grace is planning to move to Finland in the near future this year due to the studies and work of her husband, who collaborates with the Finnish opera designing stages, so our talk is a double opportunity, firstly for us to get to know more about nude photography and secondly for her to get to know more about Finland and Helsinki.
“I cannot believe that it is already 10 years that I have been doing this job!” exclaims Grace, who comes from a very strong classical art foundation, having studied at Central Saint Martin’s in London and in Florence; a classic influence which really can be spotted at first sight in the amazing and beautifully balanced compositions of her photographs. “My father asked me at some point what I wanted to be, if I’d pursue being an artist or wanted to focus on photography, so if I wanted to be a photographer I had to come back to the UK “and get on with it!” and so I did!”.
Grace has been primarily based in London in the infamous neighbourhood of Notting Hill but also travelling around the world to meet her clients. Grace has built a strong reputation as one of the most refined photographers specialized mainly in female nudity. Working exclusively on black and white medium format film, she finds that it makes the colour less distracting and adds a layer between the reality of the flesh and the image.
Not just as a journalist but also as a man, I find curious where is the limit drawn between a photo being considered just artistic or erotic. Grace explains her views: “For me an erotic photo is more about the meaning behind the picture, is not about the woman being objectified but more about showing provocation. You can see in many of my photos as the model looks disconnected from the viewer, but if I want to achieve something more erotic, then I play with the attitude. So the model engages more looking at the camera and in a way being more ‘inviting’ to the viewer”.
Recently she has taken a departure from her standard female subject matter and tried her hand at photographing male models and in some cases with couples. Grace mostly prefers working with women.“I think women definitely feel more at ease with me being also a woman. They do not feel the pressure to be judged and they are often surprised by how easy and natural it becomes to be naked around me. Being physically naked also makes them feel more emotionally naked and they face this kind of photo session as a release and a way to confront an anxiety, because in the end everybody wants to feel appreciated. Usually when couples come to have their photos taken, men are more much shy and hide behind their women.”
I feel curious to know what kind of clients get in contact with Grace. Being the cost of a session with her 575 (GBP), I wonder if usually the people portrayed belong to high class. But Grace thinks is not like that: “There are photographers who do similar job, but charge much more. Also many work digitally so their costs are far lower, you have to discount from my rate the cost of the materials, the film & processing etc… Clients usually always love the results because they end up with something more like you can see in a gallery, they understand the quality and recognise it is art, something which they could even display in their living room. So the person becomes a subject, an inspiration enclosed in a work of art. I like having a variety of clients, and I find with this price range it is attainable for a wider variety of people, which is also more interesting for me. But then when coming to Finland, I have to see if I need to rethink the prices”.
And Grace has already being doing some research about how the market could be in Finland: “I have heard that now here is an interest in Boudoir Photography, which has a different feeling to what I do, so that shows a certain curiosity about nude/semi nude imagery. I have seen a lot of pretty girls walking around Helsinki. Sometimes I feel like a teenage boy, cause I would love to walk to them and ask them if I could photograph them naked, but then I do nothing!” says Grace laughing.
Although soon moving to the coldness of north Europe, this seem to be a hot year for Grace, preparing the release of her book “Venus” after 4 years of work behind it and looking forward to future challenges.
Finland prides itself on producing some of the most strong, independent and beautiful women in the world. Now is an excellent chance to enjoy having one of the best nude photographers in the world here in this country and maybe be part of a photo session that will leave you a memorable set of photos to remember forever the exaltation of the female body as the sublime elevation of beauty to be displayed and worshipped.
By Antonio Diaz
Unconventional Midlife Crisis
Tim Hutchins, amateur IronMan, marathon runner and self confessed gym nut, visited me earlier in the year for a shoot, read what he had to say about his motivation for the shoot and his experience:
This time last year I turned 40, the prospect of which, with its obligatory bouts of self reflection on becoming old, over the hill, past it, blah blah blah, simply terrified me. But I didn’t want to be another midlife crisis of the red sports car, brown hair die and blonde au pair cliché. If I was going to have one, I wanted mine to be less obvious and more challenging.
Grace Vane Percy is one of the country’s foremost photographers of female nude portraiture. She and I had discussed the possibility of a nude photo shoot for some time. Grace’s motivation was to develop her incredible talent for photographing the female nude and all its curves and beauty, on a male subject with all its angles and ugliness. My motivation had midlife crisis written all over it (albeit a sidestep away from the sports car, hair die, au pair cliché). I wanted to capture an image of myself as I looked at 40, complete with 6-pack and pecs, to show that not all 40 year olds have to give up on their bodies and accept midlife decline as inevitable. Something to reflect on now as much as look back upon in future years.
I’m quite young and very fit for my age (an earlier health check showed my metabolic age to be 23, when I was in fact 39). I train fives times a week plus a weekly yoga class, I run or cycle to and from work every day, and throughout the year I compete in endurance events including Ironman triathlons, marathon running and open water swimming. I’ve never smoked and consciously eat well. And although I have grey hair, a fissured brow and a few wrinkles, my healthy and active lifestyle (and I dare say, the absence of children) have endowed me with a shape that is better than most guys my age. So, when the conversation came up about having nude photos taken, I thought “why the hell not?”.
One of Grace’s talents that I hadn’t considered before the shoot, was her ability to treat the situation with such normality that I actually forgot what I was doing. Standing fully naked in front of a woman who I wasn’t about to have sex with, or be examined by, was far from normal. Yet it didn’t feel abnormal. We were both there to do a job, and although she was the only professional in the room, I did my best to match her standards. I knew about Grace’s training as a fine artist in London and Florence, before she moved into photography. I imagine it was her fine art training that inspires her work as a photographer. The way she worked with light and shadows, the positioning of the human body and the framing of each shot, while managing to avoid any unsightly “cock shots”, was truly impressive. Especially when she told me that she was shooting on film and not digital. This meant the need for accuracy in every shot was much greater (there’s no delete button on a conventional SLR camera), and gave a level of artistic authenticity that today’s post-production trickery simply can’t match.
A few days after the shoot (a period that felt like the grown-up version of waiting for holiday photos to return from Boots as a child), Grace and I met to review the contact sheets, and I was genuinely shocked. They were incredible. Even at thumbnail size, the untouched, black and white images were really captivating. I couldn’t believe that these were photos of me, a 40 year old, not a model or sportsman. Grace is a talented photographer and a pleasure to work with. She produced images of me that went above and beyond anything I had imagined when I had the idea to confront my midlife anxiety through nude photographs of myself. Here are some of the shots:
Harper’s Bazzar ROYAL BABYWATCH: WEEK 31
Recent new mother Rebecca Newman has been following the course of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy with week by week advice on what to expect when you’re expecting.
As the Duchess of Cambridge approaches her due date, so Royal Babywatch draws to its close. As Kate prepares for the last push – forgive me – Royal Babywatch concludes with a round up of the last details which will help her ease stylishly and confidently into motherhood. We wish her, and her infant, every happiness.
The lissom Grace Vane Percy works transatlantically, specialising in the female nude; her granular black and white signature style is especially suited to the pregnant form (gracevanepercy.com).
Sunday Times Style Magazine March 2012
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.
Grace Vane Percy creates artistic and atmospheric, beautiful timeless black and white female nude portraits. Photography meets fine art, these nude images are so beautiful and evocative without being overt. The quality of the archival prints is just beautiful.
Celebrate your natural feminine beauty with fine art nude portrait photography. It’s about creating a really nice portrait of you.
A Naked portrait the Perfect wedding gift, first anniversary gift, birthday or luxury gift for discerning women.
Did you know that your first wedding anniversary is paper? Making one of Grace’s beautiful archival hand prints the perfect gift. Surprise your husband with something he would never have expected an artistic nude portrait.
Having nude portraits taken is something I’ve always wanted to do, I just never knew how to go about it. When I heard about Grace and saw her website, I thought “perfect” now is the time! I felt much more at ease knowing that I was going to see a female photographer. The actual session was much easier and more enjoyable than I had anticipated. My husband was so thrilled with the results, he had seen and exhibition of beautiful black and white female nude and thought that it would never be something that I’d do, especially without telling him!!
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.
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.
Notting Hill’s Naked Photographer – Kensington and Chelsea Times 2008
Established Notting Hill photographer Grace Vane Percy is in demand. Nude female portraiture has become her niche market and her signature atmospheric, flattering lit portraits are fast becoming the ultimate must have for discerning women both in London and New York.
Grace Trained at Central Saint Martin’s, London, 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 Czech photographers. Her work was internationally recognised, when, in 2004 Grace was invited t 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 explains: “As women, we all have so many hang-ups and issues with our bodies (I’m no exception) but I think people really do find the experience quite cathartic. Women learn to look at their bodies in a completely new way and my clients really do walk away from the whole thing far more assured and with a better and more ‘positive mental image’.”
The trend for nude female portraiture is rapidly developing in the UK as women are becoming more confident and proud of their figures. Grace explains the trend: “Often they’re wedding or engagement gifts, birthday, anniversary or Christmas presents. Quite often it’s a big culmination, for example losing weight or celebrating a certain birthday. Pregnancy and post pregnancy are also recurrent themes, and make for beautiful portraits. However, many women have simply seen my work loved the classical look and simply thought ’Why not?’ I believe it’s something that most women have secretly always wanted to do and it’s more a question of finding a photographer who they actually feel comfortable with.”
Grace’s work is now in high demand from an array of professional and elite women, with a desire to be captured in the nude maintaining a tasteful and dignified style. Her studio, based in a converted Victorian Dairy in Notting Hill, is buzzing with successful and confident women who want to capture themselves in a beautiful way. Those who are luck enough to book a session have high praise indeed. It seems the combination of Grace’s calm reassuring personality and the beautiful classical images she produces are a winning one. As one of Grace’s clients Taryn De Clerico puts it: “The hardest part of the entire process was to choose the photographs I wanted to print – they were all so stunning, it was impossible to decide!”
Established London based photographer Grace Vane Percy has added a new string to her already impressive bow, with the launch of a new website www.gracevanepercy.com, nude female portraiture has become her niche market. Her signature atmospheric, flatteringly lit portraits are fast becoming the ultimate luxury must have for discerning women both in both London and New York.
Grace trained at Central St Martin’s, London, before going on 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 Czech photographers. Her work was internationally recognised, when, in 2004 Grace was invited to join the ‘Women In Photography’ Archive, Yale. She has been featured on Daily Candy London & NY, Fashionwire Daily NY and LBC Radio London, enabling a lot of the women find Grace. “Mostly my work is just about the celebration of the female form. It really is about beauty, sometimes I think it’s almost like a miniature therapy session! As women we all have so many hang-ups and issues with our bodies (I’m no exception) but I think people really do find it quite cathartic. Just making the most of your body and learning to look at it in a completely new way. They really do walk away from the whole thing far more empowered with a better and more ‘positive mental image’”
The concept of having your portrait photographed naked seems to be a relatively modern phenomenon. It’s recent rise in popularity and acceptability arguably stemming from our modern day obsession with physical perfection. Having been featured on the cult show “Sex and The City”, when actress Kim Cattrall’s character Samantha decided to immortalize herself in this genre, it was brought to the forefront of public awareness becoming far less taboo. Women no longer had to go about getting photographed on the quite, and those women that had always secretly wanted to, realised that they were not alone in the desire to preserve something of their youthful glory they slaved so hard to achieve and maintain.
Grace explains the trend ‘Often they’re wedding or engagement gifts, birthday anniversary or Christmas presents. Quite often it’s a big culmination, losing weight a certain birthday or a landmark. Pregnancy and post pregnancy are also recurrent themes. But then many women have simply seen my work whatever their initial reason, loved the classical look and thought “why not?” it’s something that most women have secretly always wanted to do it’s more a question of finding a photographer who they can feel comfortable with’
Vane Percy’s clients are predominantly professional women spending their money. Professions range from finance, law and banking, to PR and film producers. – But of course she can’t drop any names! “The age of my clients varies greatly. I often have new clients coming to me saying they don’t expect as good as the “models” on my website – not realising that the women in my portfolio and featured on my website are by no means all models or have perfect bodies.” Nikki 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.”
Having begun photographing Female Nudes in London she soon found through the spread of her reputation that there was demand for her portraits in New York, which, she admits has been “truly a fabulous experience”. Her work is now in high demand from an array of professional and elite women, with a desire to be captured in the nude maintaining a tasteful and dignified style.
“The women I portray are of all sizes, women are naturally so critical of themselves, it’s good to step back and see yourself in a whole new light. I do try to flatter of course,
it’s not meant to be stark reality, just more working with what’s there. I use light and shadow and positioning to make the most of what they’ve got.”
Those who are luck enough to book a session have high praise indeed. It seams the combination of Grace’s calm and reassuring personality and the beautiful classical images she produces are a winning one, as Taryn puts it: The hardest part of the entire process was to choose the photographs I wanted to print – they were all so stunning, it was impossible to decide!”
The session lasts about 2hrs and is strictly one on one, clients get a set of contacts sheets to keep, and as part of the service, in a post session meeting Grace guides her clients through the print selection process and an array of printing and framing options. Often a client has a specific spot in their home in mind, be it in the bedroom or over the fireplace.
In the words of Julia “An exquisite gift for someone you love… including yourself!”
Grace Vane Percy is currently showing at ‘Gentlemen’s Tonic’, Mayfair for more information please refer to www.gracevanepercy.com
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.”