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
A Baby on Board Blog Feature Sept 2013
Freelance digital PR consultant, community manager, writer AND young mum Gillian Crawshaw posed this question to her readers:
“Would you pose nude when pregnant?
Did you take lots of bump shots when you were pregnant? I was thrilled when I finally started showing mid-way through the second trimester, took loads of my own photos and even had some taken for Pregnancy & Birth magazine. I’m fully clothed in all of them though, and looking back now I do think I would like to have a record of what my actual bump looked like under all those winter layers.
How about you; did you take any photos with a lot less clothes on when you were expecting – or would you be tempted to next time round?
I’m writing about this – fully clothed and happily not with child at the moment – because it’s the question that sprang to mind when I was contacted by the lovely Grace Vane Percy, a London-based nude female portraiture (how’s that for a job title?). She works within the classical tradition of the nude, aiming to produce portraits that celebrate women’s natural femininity and beauty. She specialises in pregnancy photo shoots; her black and white photos of pregnant women are beautiful, and have even featured in Harpers Bazaar.
Grace’s email got me thinking, and I took to Twitter to ask a group of my favourite mums what they thought about posing nude when pregnant. It’s a question that generated a lot of strong opinions, ranging from the no, never in a million years, to maybe…next time, to no, but I really wish I had.
The more I think about it, the more I’m in the maybe…next time category. I do think I’d like to have a proper record this time, especially not taken by myself after lots of faffing around with my iPhone self timer (although I doubt I’d put the photos on the wall or post any online). And if I love my pregnant body as much the second time round, why not?
So, what do you think…would you?”
Practical Parenting Jan 2012
“It was very liberating,” says Lea 32, proud mum of Louis, “I felt beyond special. When you’re pregnant you have a different sense of your body, you want to celebrate it and every curve. And the biggest is of course your bump!”
Nude Portrait studio sessions, £575 plus prints from Grace Vane Percy nude female portraiture gracevanepercy.com
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.”