Full-Frontal Photo Shoots
The first time I posed nude was in a Park Slope kitchen with a woman I'd dated. And by posing, I mean for lesbian porn mag On Our Backs (the October/November 2000 issue). We boiled dildos on the stove and made out. She exhibited her thigh-harness strap-on and licked ice cream off my stomach. I left feeling surprisingly sexy and empowered, probably because I was told repeatedly that I had a great ass while being encouraged to bend over. A few years later, I bared my bod for my friend, indie porn maven Lux Nightmare, formerly of thatstrangegirl.com. Her easygoing manner relaxed me as I teased the camera with my zipper partly undone. She captured every step of the process as I slowly undressed.
These are people I knew and trusted, but my recent naked photo romps have been with relative strangers. While looking to spruce up my online image, I met local photographer Paul Sarkis (paulsarkis.com), who agreed to shoot me in his home. In front of Paul and his wife, I dropped trou, held a cupcake between my breasts, and tried to look sultry. Some shots came off light and silly, others more intense, but in the moment I had no idea what to expect and had to trust Paul to guide me. I couldn't second-guess what they were seeing or I'd lose track of my modeling duties.
A few weeks later, Celeste Smith (killerbeauty.com) strolled up at a burlesque show and said she was looking for models to expand her portfolio. It sounded suspiciously like a come-on, but Celeste proved her sex street cred with her website vibereview.com and her work for porn director Andrew Blake. However, our shoot was slightly stilted. I didn't know how to act or where to look, despite her attempts to set me at ease. I realized then that no matter how gung ho I am before a shoot, live, in the moment, all my fears can easily rush to the surface.
Recently, I was approached by Brooklyn duo Delta Hunter and Aeric Meredith-Goujon of DA Photography (daportraits.com), who specialize in erotic photography. I jumped at their offer to shoot me, prepping with a bikini wax and pedicure, but arrived at their studio sweating and harried after taking a wrong turn. I was excited but also nervous; often I find that I'm much shier and more self-conscious than I'd like to be.
Eyes wide shut
photo: Courtesy of DA Photography
They started me in a gray low-cut top and magenta thong, writhing on a tabletop. I tried to look sexy even though I felt a little ridiculous. After a few minutes, Delta stopped me. "You need to get into yourself; whatever you're thinking about right now, it's not working," she said. I swallowed, suddenly feeling like a huge failure. I'd brought a purple blindfold, which they deemed too bulky, so Aeric fastened a small strip of latex over my eyes. Unable to see, I felt more comfortable in the unfamiliar setting.
Suddenly I was able to ignore the camera's clicks and tap into the reasons I wanted to pose in the first placeto feel sexy, to show off my body, to project the best image of myself possible, the sultry, anything-goes me who's the perfect foil for my more uncertain, doubting side. I'd been lazily running my fingers over my breasts and hips and was finally ready to get down and dirty. I pushed a finger into my mouth, then rubbed it over my nipple, peeling down the lingerie to reveal my breast. I flirted with the camera, hooking my fingers into the lacy edges of my thong before edging it down. I called up the fantasies I use when I'm alone, letting the occasional smile, aroused grimace, or slackened jaw peek out. Rather than just pretending to touch myself, I let my fingers brush against my clit, making my body shudder in arousal.
Eventually, they removed the blindfold, but I still had trouble staring directly into the camera. "Won't it look unnatural if I have my eyes closed?" I wondered, then realized how silly that sounded. Of course people fuck with their eyes shut. Later, they dressed me in a sheer black bra and fishnets, and I vamped some more, between giggling at the situation's inherent absurdity. It takes both hubris and a sense of humor to harness one's sexual energy in a room with two strangers. For me, the nerves don't come from contemplating others seeing my naked image; I've already had someone tell me he jerked off to my photo. Putting the real me out there requires setting aside every body image woe and believing, wholeheartedly, that I'm worth photographing, worth having my curvy, imperfect, rounded body captured forever on film.
Delta and Aeric were gentle and supportive, working to maximize my comfort and allowing me breaks to get in the mood. They're used to snapping women, specializing in maternity shots that put Demi Moore's Vanity Fair cover to shame. Delta tells me they're trying to capture a look that says, "Love me, fuck me, I am beautiful, I am yours," and acknowledges that revealing one's erotic self on camera "requires a profound vulnerability and faith."
Having someone else see me so closely, with every nuance, flaw, and marking visible, isn't always an enjoyable process. If I had to pick one adjective to describe the shoot, I'd say challenging, though Aeric says that's atypical. "It's much weirder to think about doing it than to do it; just about everyone is surprised at themselves."
Looking at the results (daportraits.com/rachel_kb), I'm pleased, but I'm also a little disconnected from the images. Am I that girl in there? Yes, and no. They managed to capture the goofy grins, contorted faces, the hot moments, and the in-between uncertainty as I shifted around. It's not all artifice, but a combination of reality and fantasy, who I am and who I wish I were. Someone asked if my photos are meant to titillate, and I'm not sure. In a way, yes, but first and foremost they're meant to make me smile, to make me remember, especially on the days when I feel most cranky and lonely, that I can tap into the energy embodied in those photos. And that, no matter how anyone else reacts to them, makes every heart-pounding moment worth it.
Please visit rachelkramerbussel.com
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in New York.