Nude Photography – Sex and Art and Love and Lust

An artistic photograph of a nude woman

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A close friend of mine, a photographer in Vancouver, with well-developed skills and a wonderful eye, is struggling with a major conflict between his intimate relationship with a long-term woman partner and his even longer term artistic exploration of the female form through nude photography.

I think it’s important to define both – what I mean by an intimate relationship with his partner, and what I mean by nude photography.  They may both seem pretty self-evident, but trust me when I tell you that neither is as simple as it seems.

My friend is struggling because his wife of about a year is absolutely mortified that her husband wants to take pictures of naked women, and spend time in intimate situations with naked women who are not her.  This is despite the fact that her husband, before marriage, was one of the best known local boudoir photographers in Metro Vancouver.

In fact, they met as a result of his portraits of several of her very best girlfriends.  They were introduced  because her girlfriends thought that this guy was the real deal, a gentleman and a decent man and this woman had recently gone through an unpleasant breakup with someone who wasn’t such a “good guy.”  Her friends felt certain that he would treat her well, and if in fact they became a couple, he wouldn’t do any of things her earlier partners had done that had undermined her, and made her feel so threatened by men generally.  She was introduced to him at his photography studio in Kitsilano, in the midst of his work, by several of the models whose photographs adorned the gallery.

To be fair, my friend’s wife made it clear early in their relationship that she wasn’t comfortable with him continuing in his earlier career as an erotic, nude or boudoir photographer.  She let him know that it creeped her out, triggered all sorts of awful anxieties, etc.  With some naiveté he agreed to not doing these types of shoots in the future, thinking that once she was more confident of their relationship that she would relent, and understand how fulfilling such work has always been for him.

He now realizes that it is never likely going to happen.  She isn’t getting more comfortable with it at all.  In fact she feels betrayed by his wish to return to doing it. In a curious way, however, for both it has become an avatar for a whole range of other issues in their relationship.

As I said earlier, she made her objections to it clear from the get go.  He failed to tell her how much it really meant to him, and as a result is now being perceived as going back on an agreement on something she feels is fundamental to their marriage.  They have both agreed to be faithful to each other, without exception, until “death do them part.” He feels that taking photographs has nothing to do with fidelity or his commitment to monogamy. She doesn’t agree.

To her, his want to return to his nude photography and his shooting of nude models is a serious threat to their monogamous relationship, and while she says that she believes his promise of faithfulness to be sincere, nonetheless also feels that the process of meeting the model, engaging in an intimate act (photography), and being alone with a succession of beautiful women, would somehow destroy her sense of trust and intimacy as something precious that the two of them share, alone and with nobody else.

She also feels that his trying to back out of his earlier agreement represents a breach of trust and a significant decrease in his level of commitment to that “state of intimate grace” they share.  Even the thought of the subject is profoundly disturbing.  “If he feels this way after only a year of marriage, how will he feel a year from now, or ten years from now…” she says.

“If he only understood how all of this makes me feel, how small, threatened and unloved, he wouldn’t even dream of doing it!” she seems to believe.

But still, despite hearing all of this, my friend is heartsick. He didn’t really believe that marrying his wife would mean the end to something that had been a big part of his identity for years.  His promise was a stopgap, a means of comforting a new, pregnant wife who was feeling unattractive, indeed fat and ugly.  She was almost frantic in her anxieties about her attractiveness to her brand new husband, who she had only known for a few months before settling down, getting married, and having a child.  He agreed to put his photographic career on hold to help her cope with her feelings during a particularly difficult time in a woman’s life.

Now, however, the baby was now born, many months had gone by since she was pregnant, and in fact her found her to be as attractive as ever, and his interest in her heightened by their mutual parenthood of a beautiful baby. At this point in their lives together he feels that she should feel confident enough in their marriage, and certain enough in his commitment to her and the baby, to be able to let go of her anxieties and recognize that his want to shoot models and create art is a fundamental expression of him as a human, and as an artist.

“If only she could understand how I feel, how threatened by her lack of trust, how belittled by how little she believes in my integrity, how small in my love for her.” he believes.  “If she knew how her point of view diminishes me as a man and as her husband, by attacking that “state of intimate trust”  “She would never ask this of me if she know how low this makes me feel.”

In a way the whole thing just makes me grateful that Katherine and I are a lot older.  I won’t say that we don’t face the same sort of issues in our lives together, because I think every couple struggles with similar types of possession, trust and intimacy problems.  What I do say is that she knows in her soul that no matter what happens, as long as I’m breathing, I am committed to being her husband.  I have a ton of flaws and she’s had to deal with a lot in the thirty-five years or so we have danced together.

I am a photographer too, and have shot many pictures of beautiful women, both clothed and nude, over the years.  It’s actually a small part of my portfolio as a photographer, but I wouldn’t want to have to give it up.  I find it rewarding to work with models, male and female, and get a few precious shots that work out of a shoot .  My wife has never said no, even though I know that it is not always easy for her.

She knows that I am committed to her, and she also knows that I am good for my word to her.

Nude Model

It has taken trust on her part, but it has also taken trust on mine.  My wife has never let me down in all the many years we have been together. But what worked for us may not work for someone else.  Each person in a relationships needs to set up for themselves the boundaries to their behaviours, to enable themselves and their partners to enjoy whatever it is that allows them to keep the magic in their relationship.

9 comments
  1. Very sad story. Jelousy. Same can apply to a doctor – specially gynecologist, and many other professions. Either you trust someone and accept he will act responsibly and not betray your trust – or you don’t. if you don’t trust your partner – give it up asap. If you trust your partner – work on yourself to control your jelousy, because it is YOUR problem, Your anxiety – something YOU should try and control. It will make you a better, more tolerant person if you can handle that. If you can’t control it – you will create hell for yourself and for the loved one. is it what you want in name of your love?

    Gosh. I used to be a jazz musician, and toured different cities with concerts, had lots of girls younger than me meeting me after performances, lots of women friends in various parts of my country. I was with my woman already – she never ever made a scene, created hard time – although, as much later she told me – it was hard on her. She trusted me. That was it. And, she know I am a touring musician, because we did meet at one of my concerts. we are totally happy until now – 25 years later. I have nothing but respect for her, as i realize she worked hard on herself not to show any jelousy. It actually improved our relationship over the years, i think – increasing our trust both ways.
    Sure, everybody is different – but if one is to make regular scenes because jelousy can’t be controled – it is life in hell for whole family, children included, and it can’t be a solution created in the name of love. Or, can it be all ok?

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  2. Strictly speaking this isn’t actually about simple jealosy, but rather about making space in your heart for the things that matter to your husband or wife. I don’t think that either of them has an easy road to follow, in order to be who they are and explore their lives together, they have to find a way to compromise that doesn’t harm either of them, or their sense of the poetry in their marriage.

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    • You are definitely right – i simplified it a bit. Totally agree with your point of view.

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    • But you admitted that abandoning nude photography was a “stopgap” (a lie) until your wife became comfortable with your needs. It sounds to me like you lied to each other and neither had any intention of changing the behavior. These issues should’ve been worked out long before marriage was even discussed let alone bringing a child into an uncertain, fundamentally flawed relationship. It’s a shame that these issues were not dealt with sooner and in complete honesty. Just my thoughts.

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      • It was my friend and his wife, not me and mine. She and I had other issues. However, the point you made is valid. People are often thrust into marriages they aren’t really ready for, especially when an elderly unplanned pregnancy pushed timelines faster than desirable.

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  3. Holly said:

    I like your articles! Definitely not your every day POV!

    It sounds like there “a little bit of him, a little bit of her” to this dilemma.

    From the what you’ve described of her, it sounds like she’s had quite a history of emotional and possibly physical/sexual abuse. Usually if someone has these issues in their adulthood, it’s because they viewed the abuse as “normal” to them: they were used to it, they thought they deserved it… And that means it’s likely that these same or similar abuses visited her first in her childhood. If you’re abused by someone who is supposed to love you, and you are a child, you do believe you are only an object, you do believe you are garbage, you do believe in order to survive and to be loved that you have to endure torture. So if she’s spent her entire life like that, it’s probably not reasonable for her husband to expect that, after some magical period of time, she’s going to suddenly be cleared up of all her insecurities, lack of self esteem, and automatically feel trusting towards her husband. On that respect, the husband didn’t have much of an understanding about mental health.

    On the other hand, if they haven’t had marriage counseling, or if neither have tried therapy, I know from experience that it helps. I also find my anxiety/depression more manageable while I am on medication and combined with therapy. Studies do show both work better than just one or the other. I hope the wife does consider helping herself out in this manner.

    It sounds like they got married because she was pregnant… Not sure if that is the case, but it sounds like the marriage was hurried or impulsive. But if the two of them had taken more time before they were married, they may have worked out this deal-breaker before they tied the knot.

    It might benefit them both if they both attended either drawing or photography classes/courses together wherein there would be nude models. If it was okay to ask questions of the models that would be nice, too.

    I don’t suppose he could invite her and a friend to one of his own nude photography sessions. Maybe if the model was willing to answer her questions, or if she could ask her husband questions about what he is doing… Maybe he could start out with a model who is more dressed than nude and they could work their way up to him going back to fully nude photographs again.

    I don’t know if she’d agree to that if he suggested it, but maybe she would if her therapist or one of her girlfriends suggested it…

    Sorry, I’m a knee-jerk problem-solver, but I need to remember I can’t solve everyone’s problems. I don’t even know if this blathering of mine is useful.

    I’m terrible at being succinct and to-the-point. lol

    But, hey, thanks for following me! And I’m following you now, and it’s because your writing is intriguing and makes me think. Sometimes out loud or in writing, unfortunately for you and my husband… lol. TTFN

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  4. It can be quite challenging maintaining a relationship and remaining true to yourself. What is the solution? Sure, having a trusting bond with your partner with see you through a lot–but it’s not a perfect situation. Going it alone is ideal in a lot of ways but also not perfect. You do the best you can! When push comes to shove, I think then you see where your priorities really are.

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