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 Vane Percy: The Art of Nudity

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”.

Grace Vane Percy: The Art of Nudity

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.


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:

A-15 B-8 D-2 D-6 D-10 F-19 Grace Vane Percy G-7 H-11

THE OPÉRA Annual Magazine For Classic & Contemporary Nude Photography Volume II

The Opera v.2The Opéra logo

Nude photography: the most direct portrait of a person is once again the focus of the second edition of “THE OPÉRA magazine” – and presents the body at once as performer and stage. In numerous intimate encounters, international photo artists document and direct the wealth and individual aesthetic of the human body. They retain the histories of the people depicted in the images in an almost physically palpable way. In this second edition, editor Matthias Straub gets a step closer to these people without losing the deferential distance between object and artist.

Artists (among others):
Olivier Ameur, Olaf Breuning, Hannes Caspar, Alexey Dubinsky, Bill Durgin, Trude Fleischmann, Luis Gispert, Torkil Gudnason, Nicolas Guerin, Li Hui, Andrea Hübner, Rachel de Joode, Ilja Keizer, David Leventi, Jim Mangan, Shinichi Maruyama, Stefan Milev, Anouk Nitsche, Yves Noir, Polly Penrose, Grace Vane Percy, Carla van de Puttelaar, Neda Rajabi, Pascal Renoux, Brian Riley, Christy Lee Rogers, Sam Scott Schiavo, Fridolin Schöpper, Michael Taylor, Jessica Tremp, Spencer Tunick, Igor Vasiliadis and many more.


Published in November 2013

Available at Amazon

edited by
Matthias Straub

Matthias Straub

graphic design
Yuan Peng und Jakob Wessinger

ES Magazine Dec 2011


Grace Vane Percy ES Magazine 2011

Grace Vane Percy ES Magazine 2011

“No pants or bra today” Grace Vane Percy instructs me over the phone a few hours before our shoot. I’d like you to exfoliate and moisturise, and then you can’t put on any clothing that will leave marks, so that your skin will be in perfect condition to be photographed.” So I am obliged to go commando. How nice, Grace has studied the techniques of the Old Masters in Florence and I feel like a piece of clay she is going to sculpt. I obey her instructions and leave my flat with an inward shiver.

This Christmas the ultimate present to a loved one as a black and white picture by a photographer who specialises in the nude, and Grace is the best in town, if not the world. I ask which famous bodies she’s photographed, but she is reassuringly discreet. She even has legal agreements not to discuss some of them.

Being a burlesque dancer, I’m used to people looking at my body, but I’m done up onstage, covered with body makeup, a spangley merkin, nipple pasties and chunky costume jewellery. Today will be interesting because I’ll be in my most natural, raw state.

Her Notting Hill flat-cum-studio is at the top of a spiral staircase and she’s waiting for me with the door open. She would be the perfect model, willowy with long cascading hair, but prefers to be behind the lens. Inside, the studio is open plan with high a ceiling of wooden beams suspended fro which is a black backdrop, rolling out into the room. She makes me a camomile tea and we chat about the shoot.

As I lift my cup Grace notices my 1930’s French manicure, bright red with a white tip. She shakes her head and hands me a bottle of nail varnish remover. “In black and white photos those nails will come out black, and we don’t want any distractions from your body. I work in black and white because it simplifies the picture and helps the eye to see structure, rather than being overwhelmed by the colour of flesh. It emphasises light and form.” She notices my sad expression so we try some shots with the nails and jewellery first, before removing it all.

“People like to be appreciated, and having your body admired is the biggest compliment going,” she says. I agree, realising that this is why I enjoy performing burlesque. I disrobe and brush out my curls, feeling comfortable in Grace’s presence. I apply basic make-up and ask her what it is about the body that inspires her. She recites her favourite quote by Kenneth Clark: “The naked body is in itself an object upon which the eye dwells with pleasure. For us, the human body is the most sensual and immediately interesting object.”

She then goes through the basic posture requirements: lengthen the core; don’t sink into your chest; flick out the hands to make them appear natural, not placed in a contrived pose; stand with your weight on one foot and the other resting nect to it to crate a curve in the hips; lift the face towards the light and keep a neutral but pleasant expression.

Grace only works with film, rather than on digital, with only 15 shots per roll, so every pose is arranged slowly and precisely, much as a painter would position a life model. Between clicks I ask about her clients. “They’re ordinary women in the best possible way: without the toned figures of models. I love that. I love the softness of flesh. It is far easier to find something beautiful about a woman with a bit of meat on the bone.” I agree. I’ve always been proud to be a woman and I’m glad that I’m able to celebrate it through burlesque.

But, like burlesque, nude photography is sometimes placed on the porn spectrum. I ask Grace whether she thinks there is more than a sexual pleasure in looking at the naked body. “The beauty of the female form is compelling in so many ways,” she suggests, “it’s a visual feast.”

We go through a variety of positions: standing, lying, sitting; in some poses I cover my nipples with my arms and hair, and others are more free, with my arms over my head. Lying on my side, head propped in my hand, I feel like a Pre-Raphaelite vision. Who has been her main inspiration? “Czechoslovakian photographers from the 1093’s such as Rudolf Kopitz. It was a time when athletic, Spartan style body was of fascination. Europeans also got into exercising naked”.

After the shoot we have another tea. Why does she think women choose to be photographed in the nude, I wonder. “They want to experience their body and feel good about it. There is always something beautiful about someone; it’s my job to show them.” I can’t wait to see what she found in me.

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