Naturism is much like any other hobby expect trainspotters and Goths don’t let it all hang out. This could be why award-winning photographer Laura Pannack spent a year snapping young members of this hidden sub cult.
Us uptight Brits assume that getting naked is somehow connected to sex. As Pannack’s work is all about challenging stereotypes, she was just the right person to document the naturists’ world. Her subjects are all aged under 30 and come from variety of backgrounds, including couples where one partner loved going nude, a former squaddie who started going naked serving overseas and, surprisingly, people who suffered from low self-esteem.
Pannack spent a year following young nudists because “we live in a country where the weather is crap so I wondered why on earth people would want to be naked”.
White Cloth Gallery in Leeds has pulled together a captivating series of subtly lit and cleverly staged portraits of the youth wing of naturism. Particularly beautiful is the dreamy shot of a naked young man floating in a swimming pool.
The most striking images are those where people are looking straight into the lens – the assorted penises in shot become irrelevant as we are encouraged to concentrate on their eyes and their body language. Rightly, there is no shame here, rather a challenge to see beyond the nudity and understand why being naked is integral to their lives.
Pannack cleverly juxtaposes this with a series of stylised shots of the young naturists watching TV or eating lunch in the club house, making the point that naked people do every day activities. Underpinning this is Pannnack’s view that, without clothes to identify class or tastes, naturists have to rely on that most old fashioned of communication mediums and actually talk to other human beings.
The majority of the subjects are men. Pannack struggled to find women which she says is probably because they are more insecure about their bodies than men, and in our society it is much more acceptable for men to get naked then for woman who are all too often seen as mere objects of desire.
The real strength of this show is that is explodes the daft link between getting naked and sex. Anyone who has spent time on a nudist beach knows they are asexual places, and by exposing the banality of naked life Pannack rewards the trust her subjects placed in her.
Midway through this project Pannack was unsure of her direction so she asked her mum if the photos were working. Her mum replied: “As long as you keep photographing people and not nudity”. Mum was dead right. This fascinating show takes us beyond the nudity, forcing us to question the subjects’ back story, all of which is far more interesting that looking at a naked penis.
Review by Paul Clarke
What: Young British Naturists
Where: White Cloth Gallery, Aire St, Leeds
When: until September 24, 2013
More info: www.whiteclothgallery.com, 0113 2181923. Entrance is free.