Photographing the Nude in the Landscape

kids bathing in river, high country, BaliCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 IS lens @ 105mm. Exposure Details: 1/250 second @ f4.

I visited Bali during early March 2011. It was basically a last minute decision after becoming very ill in southern India. I just didn't want to end what had been a series of great journeys to Thailand, China and India on a bad note. So, once I was fit enough to travel, I headed to Bali for a week or so of relaxation. And it worked. I recovered quite quickly and was ready to finish the trip with a few days of photography.

Bali is a lovely place with a tropical climate. Many Australians head there for the party/nightclub/beach scene. I wanted to be as far from that scene as possible. I'd first heard about the cultural centre of Ubud years ago and had long wanted to visit. This was my chance and, not long after my plane had touched down, I was in a taxi on my way up to the highlands.

The Balinese are a lovely, gentle people and the island is full of great photography opportunities. Add to that the freedom of a relatively uncomplicated life for those living a traditional village life and you have the elements that came together in the above photograph.

The people of Bali are known for their gentle and shy demeanor. That is not to say they are unwilling to be photographed. In fact I found the reverse to be true. Of course the way you approach and interact with potential subjects is all important. As is the motivation underpinning your photography. And that's particularly true when your subjects are children.

Fortunately adults, situated out of frame, were present during the making of the above photo. All were aware I was nearby photographing the kids. I'd wavered my camera in the air and pointed towards the kids as a way of asking permission from the adults to photograph the kids swimming. The kids were also aware of my presence and were really hamming it up for the camera with all manner of aerial acrobatics.

I could have moved closer, but I wanted the kids to be just elements within the larger landscape. The photo is as much about an idealized bath time and the innocence of childhood as it is about anything else. That was my motivation for making the image. But, I'm no dummy and I understood that, to retain the purity of my intention in the final image, I'd need to keep my distance.

There is a definite difference between the nude and being naked. One is a study of the body or of innocence (before the fall, if you like), while the other shows vulnerability and may suggest abuse or sleaze. Please don't confuse the two. They really are poles apart in the intention of the artist. Let's not allow political correctness and fear of undesirables to take away our right to celebrate the beauty of the human form and the innocence of childhood. As always I welcome your comments on this issue.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru