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Modelling For David Collins

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Modelling For David Collins

Andrew Ryan

I am sitting on a wooden bench which is covered in furs. Behind me, on the back of a ute, sits an ornate chair surrounded by old records. On the ground in front of me, among many, many other things, are some colourful plates, a few gypsy cushions, what appears to be a stuffed turtle, and hundreds of pages torn from encyclopaedias.

Two men and a woman have just appeared in my line of vision, one man holding one of those fancy, fucking expensive Red cameras, documenting everything. Turns out he’s filming a short documentary. The other man is beginning to set up lighting equipment, while the woman stands to the side wearing black leather shorts, idly playing a ukulele she picked up from the chair next to me. I plan on playing that ukulele after I’ve had three more of these cups of wine.

I’m out in Middle Swan, Western Australia, about an hour or so from the city, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a lot further out. This is horse country. Horse and garlic and olive and chilli and grape growing country. It is the home of
David Collins, a man I’ve known and loved for at least 10 years, a man who has incorporated my body in various states of undress in to his art works about 4 times since we were 16.

By the house there are a gaggle of women, many of whom seem to know each other (there are at least two other girls here who went to the high school David and I attended), I’d say that everyone here sort of knows each other from social situations or previous photo shoots. David is lucky enough to know a lot of good looking people; good looking people who are more than willing to get their clothes off for him whenever he has a new idea for an exhibition.

At this point in the evening, I stopped writing. I decided to have a sort-of nap, lounging lazily in the empty set to escape the nattering of the other, more sociable models. And then it was time to start the hair and make-up stuff, and I didn’t have time to write again. I also picked up the pace of my drinking. So from here, this will be recounting slightly fuzzy memories and musing on how the shoot made me feel.

David came and let me know that oiling was happening. I didn’t quite know what that meant, until I started doing it. All the models who were showing skin would have to cover themselves in baby oil, so that we would shine like meaty diamonds under the camera’s loving gaze. And so we did, oil that is, and we did our hair and make-up, all of us ladies just nude together in a tiny room, rubbing ourselves (not each other) with baby oil and wetting our hair and hair spraying it and pinning it in to place, to make it the most perfectly dishevelled hair you’ve ever seen.

I brought along my doc martin boots, and was given a Communist cap, a necklace with a scorpion on it, and a packet of coloured cigarettes. That was it; my costume. I looked at myself in the mirror, smiled, and got in to character straight away. It’s amazing how liberating it is to be totally nude, except for a few accessories which hint at an exaggerated version of your personality. So. Fucking. Fun. Also, hot. I looked hot.

But that in itself was a strange thing. We all (the 17 or however many of us there were) are beautiful young women of all shapes and sizes, covered in baby oil, and lounging around like we were in some sort of respectable harem where each woman was free to do exactly as she pleased… and yet, there was no sexualisation. We looked hot, but it was not a sexy time. That’s where the strange is. Getting enough people naked together in one space- enough maturely minded, focussed people at least- all the silliness of clothing reveals itself.

I was completely unperturbed by how many nude women there were around me, and if anything, I felt vaguely embarrassed for the girls who did not, for whatever reason, have their clothes off. Liike spending all day in bed with a lover: the moment that clothes come on, everything changes, and you realise how much you never enjoyed clothes in the first place.

It made me (drunkenly) wonder if the world could go back to minimal clothing, if we could go back to everyone wearing only what they had to for the weather, instead of the sense of shame and/or decency we all adhere to. Would it be possible for the world to desexualise nudity again? To live amongst each other free of these constructed body and sex taboos? To just be real?

After all, life is all about sex and death. That’s it. Everything exists to serve either one of those functions, and anything you think might be beyond that is only more of the same, when you break it down to base parts.

We all sit as skeletons within our casings of meat and gristle, and sometimes a photographer comes along and decides he’d rather deal with that purity of human form, freeing his or her models from the bullshit that is clothing, to get comfy in their nakedness. I, for one, revel in such opportunities. In warm weather especially, there is nothing I want more than to feel at ease enough in public to wear a light, blowy dress with no underwear, letting anything happen without any hint of fear that something might be shown to spark off a shit time. This may never, ever happen, unless I move to a nudist beach or something. Or the world changes so that this thing I crave is deemed to be a normal state of being. Sigh.

So anyway, David was a wonderful director last night, as he is every time I’ve encountered his photographic direction. I won’t give too much away about what to expect from this project, but keep an eye out, it’s going to be very, very pretty, and very, very… uh… broad.

Yeah girl/boy/life.