(Note: “The Housewives” was a term I fondly coined in 2006 after I started getting shoot requests from private, individual women who became my clients. Many of the women who contacted me were married and in their mid 30’s and were doing the shoots as gifts to their husbands. The folder in my archives is still called this and so I’ve stuck to it, in part just for the irony: most of these women are not “housewives” at all, but strong independent and forward thinking women who I have had the honour of documenting.
All are private commissions and the demographic has changed substantially over the years. Some I’m still in contact with, others I’ve totally lost contact with, some have become friends, some may wish not to have their real names used, others don’t mind, some may have their faces obscured for privacy reasons, others have generously shared their experiences of being photographed.)
I photographed Lynette Bester in September 2008 while I was part time lecturing in photography at Ruth Prowse Art School. Lynette is a well recognised South African artist who heads the the fine art course there as well as being a prolific creator and exhibitor of her own sculptures, drawings and prints.
We put the shoot together in two parts: The one part was inspired by Helmut Newtons “Here come the Girls”, a powerful and provocative series which we re-interpreted using the tools which Lynette creates much of her own art with. The second series of images was more sensual, lingerie based. I believe a shoot has a life of its own to some extent and I believe in leaving a certain space for spontaneousness, both in the shooting and in the post production stage.
I asked Lynette if she would put together some memories of the shoot for me, this is what she had to say:
After my first experience shooting with Leah on the Godiva project we spoke about her photographing me again, this time as one of her “Housewives” (or commercially treated commissions), a series in which she endeavours to uncover, without exploiting, the innate sexuality of her female sitters. I wanted to feel what the women in her photographs looked like they were feeling.
We arranged a photo session at the studio at work over a weekend early in the summer. I remember having my first spray tan which was a bit strange but added to the sense of preparation. I remember doing my own hair and make-up. I remember feeling really awkward at first and then realizing everything was ok.
Leah did two photo series that day: one inspired by Helmut Newton, black and white, strong, monumental and holding my power-tools that empower me as an artist. I remember not being able to take my knickers off. I was still somewhat ashamed of my body. The second series were a set of softer, demure, reclining nudes wearing the white lingerie I had bought in London at the Soho, Agent Provocateur a few years earlier but had never worn. By the end of that series I was finally nude. I think there are two or three photographs where I am completely nude but showing nothing except my dark eyes in black and white.
I look at them now and see an essence that Leah captured. An irreplaceable essence that is more than a nude and marks a timeless moment of self. Today, we are close friends and Leah has photographed me nude for another collaboration as well as candid friendship moments on our favourite dance floor, dinner parties and at the beach or expeditions to see a patch of local snow. 6 years after Shooting the Godiva project, in which she was involved and where we first met, I am 34 weeks pregnant and I am preparing for another photo-shoot with Leah.
With a difficult pregnancy nearly behind me and wondering where the bikini clad self is hiding, I look forward to this photo shoot as part of finding what can so easily get lost when your body is strange to you, and that is simply being able to look at it with awe: at its shapes, it’s architecture, it’s engineering, it’s ability to create life and to be beautiful. In the coming weeks my body will be my own again, as sure as it will also be spring. Leah would have captured yet another moment when my body is strange to me just before it becomes my own again. A photograph: perhaps an integral ritual in (re)discovering the self. In the coming summer when I dare to wear my bikini again I will be able to look back at Leah’s photographs and comprehend yet another awkward moment in my own story of acceptance and awe.
This Saturday I’ll photograph Lynette again, with her round perfect pregnant belly. The process of working with women over time and witnessing her own changing sense of self and the stages of her life is an honour. Lynette, thank you for sharing your memories of this photo shoot, they are images I am still very proud to have worked on.