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Flashing Bodies / Action Nine / ‘UGLY’

5 March 2014

Pau Ros had photographed me twice previously: once for Adam James’s Mud Circles shoot, and once supporting Angelo Musco in London; but I had never participated in one of his own flagship projects. This changed on Sunday 23 February 2014, in Studio 2 of Apiary Studios.

It would be the ninth Flashing Bodies shoot from the Completely Naked ‘visual arts collaboration’:

In this new project, Completely Naked artists Pau Ros and Pablo Goikoetxea and production & producer Tim Owen Jones bring together a production team and public participants to create themed Tableaux Vivants in the only way Completely Naked knows how!

Several of my performance and modelling friends had taken part in previous Flashing Bodies shoots, but my own debut would be Action Nine ‘Ugly’. The call-out for this “closed doors performance in front of the camera (video & photography)” explained:

We want to put a special focus on this action about what it means to be a woman today. With a new wave of feminism, strong women, movements like FEMEN and Pussy Riot and new attitudes versus the old collapsing men’s world!

I was one of 49 people to declare I would be going via the Facebook event page yet, as so often seems to be the way, nothing like this number turned up on the day. In particular, given the event’s focus on the new wave of feminism, there were very few women to carry the flag. Happily quality was present even if quantity was lacking.

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So to Apiary Studios. I arrived a little before the 3pm start, at the same time as Glynis who I knew from performance work in Switzerland. We buzzed the door several times but to no avail. Finding ourselves beckoned by friends we joined our fellow performers Peter, Peter and Andy for coffee in the ‘Raizes’ Brazilian restaurant next door.

More familiar faces arrived and our numbers soon outgrew the restaurant. We returned to loitering outside the locked doors of the studio. When Pau arrived even he found the way barred, but – after some phone calls and a little patience – a key materialised and we filed inside.

With Pau and Pablo came a coterie of assistants bearing equipment and a staggering array of costume paraphernalia. A mere dozen of us, however, had turned up to pose and perform. It was nice to get the six Mudheads back together again: Chas, Clifford, Cy, Peter, Peter and me. Another performance regular, Andi, was there, together with Glynis, Michael and Janice from adventures in Switzerland. Andy, Stan and a young bearded chap whose name I didn’t catch completed us; 11 men and two women.

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Photograph by Peter Maverick.

Adapting to these circumstances, Pau came up with a plan for five separately themed shoots to make best use of the bodies at his disposal.

First, everyone stripped naked to be photographed individually. Each photo-set would start with echoes of mainstream glamour poses, attempts to be beautiful and alluring, followed by a self-conscious highlighting of features that each found ‘ugly’. Cy got us started and truly went for it, setting the standard for others to follow.

The photographers wrapped up with all but two models done; only Janice and I missed out. This was an exceptionally full-on shoot and I wasn’t too perturbed that I wouldn’t be confronted later with harsh images of my least pleasant physical aspects.

Second was an inverted tribute to Pussy Riot. The males of us, plus Janice, donned Pussy Riot’s iconic balaclavas while carrying flowers.

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We slowly stalked toward Glynis and unveiled her. She responded by straining upward with one black-painted fist. Was this a tribute? And how will history recall Pussy Riot, I wonder? For their blurred lines between art and protest, or just their headlines?

Next the balaclavas came off and tights were distributed among the men. I myself was handed a pair in fetching electric blue. This outfit was to be accessorised with a bright green curly comedy wig plus high heels in pink and gold. The most startling thing here is that the team actually had a pair of “wide fit” stilettos that fit my UK size 11 feet.

Thus attired, we set about mock-glamour solo shoots for the third piece. I went first. Being unaccustomed to wearing high heels, my complete focus was on not tottering over or spraining an ankle. Walking was a very delicate operation, but it represented another first for me so I am especially curious to see the final images come out.

We remained in costume for the fourth piece, in the style of a Vanessa Beecroft art installation. Caught on video we synchronised three simple movements before resting in a pose of our individual choosing. Being six foot four (193cm) tall I usually gravitate to the rear of group shots but this time I was asked to be front centre.

For the fifth and final piece, centre stage belonged to the magnificent Glynis…

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Four of the chaps – Peter, Andi, Michael and Stan – donned smart suits and stood behind a naked Glynis. They moved her arms as if controlling a puppet, while Glynis crooned a soulful song with a power that belied her physical stature as the smallest, seemingly most vulnerable member of the group.

It was an extraordinary spectacle that drew spontaneous applause at its close. When Pau asked for a second take I thought he’d never recapture the strength of the original performance but, full credit to Glynis, she nailed it again.

The whole sequence of shoots and poses had taken four hours. Complementary wine and crisps had maintained our strength and stamina. That, and the sheer exuberance and enjoyment of the day.

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This was creative photography in the excellent company of friends. With bated breath we now await the complete results.

In the meantime, here is the video trailer preview of PART ONE of UGLY:

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