Photographing the Nude in the Landscape

A  group of kids at play  in a river in rural  Bali , Indonesia.

A group of kids at play in a river in rural Bali, Indonesia.

I visited Bali after becoming very ill in 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, on a positive note, with a few days of photography.

Bali is a lovely place with a tropical climate. Many Australians head there for the nightclubs and beaches, but 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.

Are Your Intentions Pure?

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.

This Is Not A Particularly Candid Image

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 consider the making of this photograph to have been very much a collaborative experience.

Context Is Everything

I could have moved closer, but I wanted the kids to be just elements within the larger landscape. I wanted their identity to remain largely hidden. 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. It's certainly not about one or more individuals. But I'm no dummy and I felt that, to retain the purity of my intentions in the final image, I'd need to keep my distance.

I originally noticed these kids after getting out of the car to photograph a landscape. After making a few frames I waved to the kids and their guardians and climbed back into the car I'd hired and asked my driver/guide to continue onto our next adventure.

Words Are Important. Words Have Meaning.

There is a definite difference between being 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/or the innocence of childhood. As always I welcome your comments on this issue.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru