Paul’s Place is a voluntary charity for physically and cognitively impaired adults, aged 18-59, that helps people in and around Bristol. “They had decided to do a nude calendar to raise awareness of their work. They had done all the work, they just needed a photographer to come in and shoot it for them and I feel very privileged they asked me..” writes portrait and PR photographer Theo Calmers (British Journal of Photography 12/09/2007, p.31)
A preview of all the photos for this calendar could be seen here (in Paul’s Place website) where can be purchased too, and here (in the artist’s website). Two of those photos are presented in this article, accompanied by Theo Calmer’s comments regarding the completion of this special project. The second picture (below) was also included in the AOP Open exhibition 2007.
“I used a large former TV studio, because it was easy for the models to access. Access isn’t something I ever really thought about before but doing this project really opened my eyes. The most important thing was making sure that the models were happy and comfortable. Getting naked was a big deal for many of them. They had complete control over who was around. If they wanted their carer or assistant it was fine, if not it was just me and my assistant. Each shoot took 10 minutes to an hour.
…I created the environment to fit the project. I used low watt lights – 100W or even 60W – with soft boxes plus a big bounce board to give the models a bit of privacy. I also had some music playing, and encouraged them to bring their own CDs. It was helpful for smoothing over what were sometimes awkward silences.
I used a Colorama backdrop called Snow White, which is a soft rather than brilliant white, but we achieved the colour in post production by adjusting the saturation and curves. I didn’t want it to be sentimental sepia, but at the same time I didn’t want it to be harsh. It was about achieving a balance.” (BJP)
The last comments introduce us to some of the artistic ideas behind the project. Although, Theo’s words that “they had done all the work, they just needed a photographer” leaves unclear who was the conceptual author for each of the particular photos dealing altogether with issues of disability representation.
Overall, it is so enjoyable to see such approaches dealing with and challenging contemporary social taboos.
One final thought that keeps a more critical stance, however, regards my observation that the picture at left, which was chosen for the AOP exhibition and was also published in the BJP relevant article, is probably the less challenging of all in the project and rather the more conforming one with today’s mainstream social norms of beauty, body and sexuality.
But this of course has to do not with the project itself, but with how ready or not a society is to embrace such new ideas.