We’ve all had that nightmare, you’re in front of loads of people and for no reason whatsoever you’re naked. The shame, the anger, the sweaty pall of panic and then BANG! you’re awake and relieved and disoriented. But rather than fearing public nudity, photographer Laura Pannack embraced it by immersing herself in the secretive world of young British naturists. The series she produced is a wonderfully intimate portrait of a marginalised minority, where one of society’s least negotiable standards is discarded in favour of freedom and a sense of identity.
What has always struck me about the pictures (which have been around for a while) are how utterly mundane the activities depicted therein are – there’s scant titillation to be had from someone eating cereal or playing table football but that’s exactly the point – in this world nudity is the norm.
With her first ever solo show opening in London, we caught up with Laura to revisit the images and find out a bit more…
How did the project come about?
I came across the idea when working on other projects that concentrated on youth and adolescence. I thought young British naturists would be an interesting group to look at as the idea defied the stereotype of a naturist.
How did you go about finding the subjects? Was it hard to persuade them to pose for you or were they natural exhibitionists (as one might expect)?
Finding subjects was a lot harder than first expected. Initially I went through British Naturism and met with members and attended camps they organised to naturist sites. However I found that not all members were under 30 and I didn’t want to impose on their trips. Members were often disinterested in participating so I researched through social media, people I met at camps, forums and blogs.
I contacted individuals explaining my project and visited them in their homes to take their portrait and meet them to find out how they first became interested in being a naturist etc.
I then gained access to a number of naturist sites around the UK and organised trips to bring together those that I had met – this was hard as all sites have a strong no photography policy. It was interesting to bring strangers to a camp and refreshing to see how their interest in nudity united them.
In order to understand why my subjects were naturists and gain their trust I decided to also be naked– this in fact allowed my subjects to feel like I was the vulnerable one. They were extremely comfortable and we were able to connect without feeling any insecurity or fear of judgement
It was interesting to discover that in fact naturists are not in fact exhibitionists and gaining their trust was extremely difficult. For many the world of naturism is an escape from everyday life.
Naturists have a reputation of being more mature than this, was that an impression you wanted to correct?
I didn’t aim to correct any stereotype, I simply wanted to explore the idea. I thought it was interesting that these young people were all naturists for such different reasons, they were all very individual.
“It was interesting to discover that in fact naturists are not in fact exhibitionists and gaining their trust was extremely difficult.”
Are you excited/nervous about your first solo show? How involved have you been with hanging it etc?
I’ve been really involved and the gallery have worked so hard. Rhiannon Adam has hardly slept and I owe her big time. She has curated the show in such a considered way and really gone all out to ensure every detail has been completed to a high standard. I wanted to work with someone that really understood the work and wanted to show it. When the gallery contacted me and she showed me the space I was honoured.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lots of stuff really. I am exploring some UK ideas and themes and actually collaborating with Rhiannon on a really exciting project. My main concern is that I am learning and enjoying it!
Laura Pannack’s Young British Naturists runs until June 29 at Gallery One and a Half.
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