In the early 80s I was sunning myself sans clothing on Wreck Beach when I spotted a couple nearby. They were both handsome (he, was at least). She was what in Spanish we would describe as monumental (pronounced with an emphasis on the a). While her breasts were as perfect as I had ever seen it was the combination of breasts, red hair, white skin, wide hips and an extremely narrow waist that would have made me tongue-tied to reply had she even said, “Hi.” Her companion went to the edge of the water and placed two portable tape recorders about 10 ft apart. Years later when we became friends he told me he had attempted to record the sea noises in stereo. Somehow I did get to talk to her a few years later and I photographed her many times both clothed and unclothed. I was even fortunate enough to photograph her sister Julia a few times, too. In those 80s and 90s when my photographic hormones were raging, my single ambition was to photograph women in situations where they would part with their clothes as quickly as possible. In those 80s and 90s Vancouver, did not have agencies in which you could casually call and ask for a model who would pose in the nude. There were no on-line modeling sites like One Model Place or Model Mayhem where you could instantly communicate your needs and even be able to choose between the “Brazilian” or “non-Brazilian” hirsuteness in those areas called Flandes (the lower countries) by Spaniards. At Emily Carr where I taught occasionally in the 90s the models in the life drawing classes looked like unemployed babushkas.
Those were the days when photographers would lure women into their studios (I must clarify here that I was not one of those) with the idea (a mistaken one) that if you offered the girls (we could call them that then) wine, pot and played loud heavy metal music they would go from two straps on that bathing suit, to one and from there to no strap. If you were really good the top would fly (if the girl were wearing a bikini) and the bottom soon after. My technique worked well for me and still does. I just put my cards on the table and ask. Sometimes I did not need to ask. I would get calls from women I did not know who would tell me they wanted me to take pictures of them. I would answer that I was expensive and that they best go to Sears or to Sooter’s Studio for portraits. It was at that point when these women would say something like, “No. I need special photographs.” I knew exactly what it was they wanted but most times I would not answer and allow the silence to become pregnant. The women would stutter and gasp and finally they would blurt out, “I want to be photographed in the nude before gravity takes its toll.” Since the late 70s I have indulged in this favourite pastime of mine which is to photograph the undraped female figure.
The young lady shown here is called Virve. My wife was usually quite silent of these particular photographic pursuits of mine. Perhaps she was silent but seething inside. She is reserved so I might never know. But I do know that when Virve came to my garden on sunny afternoon in late summer of 1988 and she posed in the garden that things were going to be different. Every few minutes Rosemary would open some window and call out to me that there was a phone call for me. The interruptions were numerous. I will never know what it was that made Rosemary act like this with Virve, who if you note here kept most of her clothes for the whole afternoon. No, let me clear this up here. She never did remove her clothes. Looking at this file I was struck the fact (and I have to bang on my own drum here) that as good as I think I might be in the photography of the undraped female, I am not all that bad with them draped.
And consider that in many of the pictures here I discovered the technique of using a mirror as a reflector. Through it all Virve was patient, flexible and if any insects or spiders where in her close proximity she never did say. When Virve talks, and particularly when she talks to men, she tends to go an octave higher and the sound of her voice resembles that of a cat lady talking to her cats. It is that cutsy, sort of sexy tone that is why I may have had so many phone calls on that sunny, summer afternoon.
Addendum: Looking at the Professional Colour Print proof (they drew over the proof with a ballpoint so that one could not use it) I note slight differences. I believe that that original negative has been lost and the one I scanned here is a close second.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.