Years ago, I started my photography career because of a ministry that my wife, Mayra, started. We were having trouble finding good, trustworthy photographers to work with during the many fashion shows that Mayra would put on with the hundreds of girls who went through her program. I quickly realized that growing as a photographer was going require me to shoot… a LOT. I plunged right into it, buying equipment and setting aside time to shoot. That would later lead into building my own studio and doing hundreds of photoshoots over the span of more than a decade.
Many of the shoots were with models who needed photos for their portfolio. As a pastor and Christian, I stayed away from risqué shoots, sticking to lifestyle and modest fashion shoots. But, as a Florida photographer, the moment was bound to come when I would have to shoot swimwear. That moment happened very early in my career, and it was always a dilemma. As a Christian man, I had been conditioned by my religion to feel that what I was doing was wrong. But, internally, I loved the art and business of shooting models. Men and women - I loved it. To make matters worse, I was pretty darn good at it! But, that struggle would last for years, and was eventually a leading factor in my decision to take a break. Well, that along with the fact that I just absolutely hated the rat race of studio photography and delivering hundreds of my most mediocre shots in the 1-2 weeks people expected them.
Coming Back Through Fine Art
Several years later, I would rediscover my love of photography through fine art. Of course, the nature of fine art demanded that I confront and finally conquer the indecision in me about modesty, bodily exposure, nudity, sexuality, and many of the issues that seem to have a very simple yet baseless answer in church theology. In the years in between, I had faced many of those issues, studying them diligently, searching for peace. What I discovered gave me exactly that.
Biblically speaking, there isn't a real basis for an anti-art, anti-exposure, anti-nudity stance, especially not for Christians. Historically, much of the classical nude art in the world was commissioned by the Church and individual Christians. It seems that society, even Christendom, didn't always associate the topic of nudity tightly with indecency. Throughout the centuries, the understanding of human exposure, art, and religion has wavered back and forth, struggling more about the issue of excess versus moderation without realizing it. Society would go crazy, experience a "correction" from a more modest viewpoint. That modesty would become legalism, which would become an extreme polar opposite and an excess of its own. Liberal thought would come to the rescue and "correct" society towards the middle again, leading to excess all over again. And so the cycle continues.
The Real Problem
Let's be honest with ourselves. The problem Christians have with nudity is that we are sexual people who are taught to equate that sexuality with being sinfully lustful and carnal. Sure, we parade ourselves as "redeemed saints" who have experienced transformation through "the renewal of the mind". But, it's just not true. God loves us. He's forgiven us. He's made our lives new. But, we still carry the same sinful baggage as always. We carry the memories of our excess, and fear a relapse into hedonism. We preach from pulpits with sweat beading down our foreheads, struggling not to look at the pretty legs of the new lady in the church, who has not yet learned the dress code of "holiness". We govern our spiritual lives like Pharisees, still unable to be trusted with the Garden of Eden, in spite of Jesus being our new Adam.
The truth is that if we were who we say we are, nudity would not be an issue. It would be welcomed. The Church would be the SAFEST place for it. If our minds were truly transformed, we would see that there is a wide gulf between exposure and sexuality, casual admiration and ravenous lust. We whip ourselves, punishing our side-stares and carnal desires instead of embracing how God has created us and finding sustainable moderation. We wake up every day praying that today won't be the day that the world finds out who we are in private. Leaders are taught to hide their weaknesses and parishioners are encouraged to acknowledge their failings in order to be led by people with the same inner struggles. Women are trained to cover up to avoid "making men lust". Men are taught to protect themselves from themselves instead of conquering the way they have been made to see and objectify women as targets for their sexual fantasies.
Don't Suppress. Overcome.
But, what happens when we let all of that go? Photographing nudes has become a specialty of mine. It has changed the way I view people, and even the world itself. I've seen timid, self-conscious people overcome their fears in my constructed world of shadows and shed tears when they see themselves as art. Finding my own expression through the capture of their raw emotions and unbridled beauty has transformed me and destroyed my fears and apprehensions about seeing them nude. Why in the world would anyone see that as evil? It's because we have no idea. We live in fear instead of fact.
We are sold a bill of goods that is based on an assumption of evil intentions. We are convinced that we cannot possibly find beauty without wanting to take it for ourselves. While I acknowledge that in this world there are in fact people like that, I simultaneously attest to the fact that I am not one of them.
I'm a finder of beauty in things that are usually hidden. Like a secret treasure… I uncover, capture its essence, cover it up again, and place it where it was before I arrived. It's not mine to have and someone else's art to enjoy. Only the transforming experience remains… one that only increases my respect and love for people from all walks of life.
What's the True Value?
Am I referring to their nudity? Not one bit. I'm referring to the vulnerability and unedited feelings that come as a result of it. Nudity is the background and pretext for the core message… the story of who my subject is when all is stripped away. Away from society, norms, and obligations… in my 12 x 12 world… I discover what God has created and what we have tucked away.
As a Christian, fine art is the perfect avenue for my continued exploration of this life. Like my recent fondness of hugs, it's allowed me to experience people in a different way. It's made me love stronger. It's made me appreciate my wife in a more profound way. It's made me a better human being, and an even better Christian.
Shake Loose. Find Freedom.
Today, there is no struggle with this topic. It's a closed case. Even Christian friends of mine find it fascinating, wishing they had the abandon to step in front of my camera - or for their wives/husbands to. Some have, which makes me feel honored beyond words. I have even given it a try, allowing a dear friend of mine to capture some shots, some of which I have published. It was as empowering as everyone says it is.
Friends, life has so much for you. Don't allow anyone to place rules on you that prevent you from enjoying the freedom Christ has given you. Don't fear your own sin. Overcome it and see the world open up, like a treasure chest full of beautiful shiny new things.
… and THAT is the butt naked truth.