The female body is a very complicated and paradoxical subject for me. I don't think I've ever met a woman who is entirely 100% satisfied with every single physical element to themselves and I have battled most of my life with insecurities about my own physicality.
When Diva magazine told me they wanted me to spearhead their Body Issue for them, and create a nude portfolio of real women, I found this to be not only an amazing platform for these ladies, but also therapeutic for myself, and to learn a huge lesson in self-acceptance.
Diva asked me to cast New York women with a range of bodies, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds. Casting was actually a really fascinating process, and I found 12 amazing women all in the tri-state area who all happened to be some how in or attached to the arts.
In total, I ended up casting a producer, RnB singer, ballet dancer, celebrity cake-maker, bellydancer, contortionist, burlesque performer, lawyer/activist, Dj/yogi, stylist, comedian, and model.
I made the decision to shoot them all on the same day and although i staggered the call times, i wanted to make sure they were all on set together at some point during the shoot day. This was either going to go great or blow up in my face in a major way. In the end, it was a great call, as the women fed off each other's energy and ended up bonding in a way that I wasn't expecting.
It is rather hypocritical of me, but I don't know if i would be able to come on set and pose naked for a photographer and place my trust in his or her hands.. That is the control freak in me i suppose, mixed with my own body issues. To have these women leave all their insecurities at the door and succumb, trusting my direction was an amazing experience. Many of these ladies had never been shot professionally before, let alone sans-clothing. Every detail was planned to try to make them feel comfortable, and one of these ladies writes about her own experiences at the shoot here .
One of the women I photographed was the singer and star of RnB Divas, Monifah. Mo was insanely amazing on the day of the shoot, and one of my favorite memories of the shoot, was her belting her well-known songs live at me while I was shooting. The entire studio went quiet, listening behind the curtain to her singing, with full range, seated naked in front of me. I will never forget it.
Another special story was that of Omyra, who was so unbelievably shy about the shoot, and even backed out twice before finally committing. She told me on the day of the shoot that she had struggled with her weight her entire life, and finally made a life choice to get healthy and fit through diet and exercise, and in the past year or so had managed to healthily lose over 100lbs. She had never posed naked and carried with her a lot of body image baggage, but in the end her photograph remains one of my favorites. I covered her in black lace, to make her feel more comfortable, and when she lay upside down, the lace slipped on her body slightly and I asked her if she would like me to cover her up again, and she said "no". She felt liberated and beautiful in that moment, and that is the photograph I ended up choosing. It was her completely comfortable in her skin and for that I am eternally grateful for her time posing for me.
This remains, in a decade of working in the industry, my absolute favorite shoot to have been on as either a photographer or creative. The only reason for this is really the women themselves. They created everything that was genuine and beautiful on that day, and I will remember it always.
Photography - Sophy Holland
Makeup - Shirley Pinkson
Hair - Keiko Hamaguchi
Studio - Pier 59