How do you define erotic photography?
I believe that erotic photography, as a genre, is overtly knowing in its intention to arrest the viewer’s attention and to also send them towards a far more sexual train of thought. The subject of erotic photography, whether overt or merely alluded to, is sex.
At what point does a nude photograph become erotic?
That is surely subjective, but I think that it is easy to tell when a photographer has deliberately set out to create an image which is overtly sexual. It is rarely ambiguous. If the photographer presents an image of the human form purely as an object or a sculptural form, I would not consider their intention to be one of creating erotica. Similarly, nudity is not necessarily the defining element in erotic photography; just as reportage photography may often show the subject unclothed, or partially dressed, the intention will in no way have been to arouse the viewer.
How do you rationalise the difference between what is erotic and what is pornographic?
(The wise-guy answer is) that might depend on your definition of pornography – and this has differed in various historical, cultural, and national contexts. The word is so embedded in popular culture today that we think nothing about celebrating snaps of our lunch as ‘food porn,’ or images of what we are currently reading as ‘book porn’. One could even argue that porn is no longer even a dirty word.
The real answer though, might simply be the intention of the photographer when creating the image. Whilst it may be fun to debate the various subject elements that overlap, and are shared between the realms of erotic images and pornographic images, I presume to think that we all have enough common sense to correctly point out a pornographic image. I am certain that none of the contributors to this magazine would enjoy being labelled pornographers.
What are you trying to achieve in creating erotic photography?
I like to try to find the balance between an image that is sensual and beautiful, and one that goes ‘too far.’ I like to play with points of view that lead to an image which should shock the viewer, and yet delivers an end result that is not confrontational or shocking at all.
Do you see yourself primarily as the photographer, the model, or perhaps both in equal measure?
Most definitely the photographer. My images are certainly not self-portraits in the traditional sense. I am not trying to capture any essence of my personality in the pictures – I am just the most convenient model. I look at my images with a critical eye towards the photographic elements in the picture. I find it easy to forget that they are of me, because they are not of me – to the viewer they are simply an anonymous figure, a model. But that all goes out the window when I allow my quest for an image to push me beyond my comfort zone. Whenever I create photography that is explicit, I do find myself really quite nervous. This is probably because I can’t control the way people will react.
What prompted you to commence a self-portraiture project in the first instance? What are the benefits of photographing yourself, as opposed to photographing a model?
The self-portrait project was an accident. I wanted to create these types of images but didn’t have a model. So, I used myself and thought, “Ha ha, no one will ever know it’s me!”
I should have the balls to invite people to model for me, but I find it terrifying to ask. I have though rather grown to like the dynamic of being both the photographer and the model. It makes things a bit more tricky, and it seems to amuse people. I am always fascinated now to see self-portraits by other photographers.
Do you pose for other photographers?
Most of the photographers that ask me to pose for them now, and there’s not many, assume that I am quite fearless in front of the camera and happy to pose in a sexual manner. This is not the case at all! When I shoot myself there is nothing whatsoever sexual going on. Mostly I am just jumping about and pulling some very bad dance moves.
However, I certainly would consider it if I trusted them, respected their work, and felt that I was going to be collaborating towards some shared goal.
I am working with a very well known photographer at the moment, posing for his project of figurative nudes. I trust him completely and can see and understand what it is he wants to achieve. It feels more like I am just helping out a friend.
To be honest, I’m not very good at modelling. It is hard work!
You achieve a great range of camera angles in your image making, is this technically difficult?
No, it’s not technically difficult at all. I use a tripod and a remote timer, and occasionally will use a reflector, or some odd arrangement of random mirrors.
Obviously I am unable to see what I am shooting, so the challenge is to be able to compose a good image without being able to look through the viewfinder. I find that I am experienced enough at this now to visualise the image quite accurately, and likewise with regards to positioning myself relative to the camera.
How do you choose locations to shoot in? And how important is the compositional setting in achieving an effective final shot?
Have I not mentioned that I am quite lazy? I don’t spend much time looking for locations, I shoot most of my images at home. I don’t use flash or studio lights so I often shoot next to or near a window. I like the harsh shadows that this light creates.
If I have access to a good location though, I will take advantage of it. There are a few photographs, for example the shots taken in the bathroom and when I am jumping on the bed, that work well because the hotel where I shot the images was so lovely.
You photography suggests that you enjoy supreme body confidence. Is that, and has that always been the case?
No, and I’m not sure that my photos do suggest that I enjoy supreme body confidence. Perhaps you just assume this because I am naked.
I was thirty years old when I first stood naked in front of a camera. At that time I was quite hung up about my figure; but to my great surprise, I saw that the girl in the photographs was totally normal looking.
I’m pretty sure that the reason why most people take self-portraits is not for any narcissistic reason. I think that they are more likely caught up in exploring one or another aspect of themselves and their personality.
Your photography suggests both reportage – with you as the story – and offers a fine art sensibility, but you also occasionally showcase images that clearly have the capacity to ‘push buttons’. What are your thoughts when you decide to make such an image public?
I am mostly terrified and worried that I might offend people!
But if I think that a photograph is good, and recognize that as an image it has merit, then I would rather offer it for others to see, than hide it away because it is a bit rude.
Is there, be honest, a part of you that occasionally enjoys your capacity ‘to shock’?
The question suggests that being shocked by an image is a negative thing. I don’t want to shock anyone by offending or upsetting them, absolutely not. But I am intrigued by the idea that my images can have the capacity to arrest a viewer’s attention.
Are there images of yourself that you shoot that you don’t add to the collection online? If so what and why?
There are three reasons why an image won’t ever be shown. The first is simple, because it’s a crap photo, or I look goofy. The second is that it might be too explicit, and freaks me out. The third reason is when I have captured an expression on my face that I clearly recognise as being me. When this happens I simply can’t look at the photo without thinking, “Argh! It’s me!”
Some of your photography clearly explores sexuality generally and, I presume, your own sexuality in particular; but to what extent is there a conscious or overt relationship between the two?
My photography explores nudity. I am not consciously exploring my own sexuality. I guess I may be sub-consciously asking the viewer to contemplate their own sexuality or attitudes towards nudity.
Is it difficult, or strange, to think of others viewing you in an erotic sense?
They don’t view me, they view my photographs. I wonder if it is hard to understand that the two are separate. The model in the image is not someone that the viewer knows. I look at most of my photos and don’t register them as being pictures of me.
But are they erotic? It would be difficult and misleading of me to suggest otherwise of some of them.
Funnily enough, once I started displaying the work publicly quite a number of supporters have made contact with me and I’ve carried on a dialogue with a few of them. I often find myself wondering though if I live up to the expectations that they might have projected on to me prior to a ‘real’ conversation beginning. Probably though it’s even more simple than that; most of them simply want to tell me that they like my photographs or the larger project and that is wonderful. Everyone likes to receive recognition for the effort that they’ve put into a project after all.
Do you play on the theme of voyeurism intentionally in order to heighten the eroticism in your photographs? Do you think that by sensing that we are seeing something that we shouldn’t, it is a more exciting experience for the viewer?
Any sense of voyeurism that is present in my photography probably stems from me simply trying to make images that do not look like self-portraits. I want the images to feel natural, rather than staged or posed. I also want the viewer to have the capacity to feel that they are present in the scene, that they may be somehow complicit, or rather that I might be aware – or even unaware – of their presence.
This is going to sound really naff…; but if I took a photograph and no one ever saw it, I may as well not have bothered – the image has no purpose or life beyond its moment of exposure. I am not shooting documentary images, or reportage: I am not saying to the viewer, ‘This is what my face looks like’ – they are not portraits. In order for my photographs to work, or be successful, it is important that the viewer has an opportunity to react to them and to have a connection with the picture. I absolutely do hope to provoke a reaction from the viewer and that may be the reason why my images have a voyeuristic feel – the viewer is essentially a necessary part of the imagemaking process. Without an emotional reaction, an erotic image is entirely redundant.
In your mind, what is the distinction between a naked photograph, and an erotic photograph? Do you consciously address this in your photography?
There is every distinction. To suggest that nudity and eroticism are synonymous is nonsense. People are naked at some point every day and almost always there is nothing sexual about their nudity. Being naked doesn’t mean that you are being sexy.
And to be sexy, or erotic, you don’t need to be naked. I think a lot of photographers make this mistake, they assume that the mere fact that their model is naked is enough to create an erotic image.
I am very conscious of this when taking photos.
There are some fabulous essays of photography in Issue One Katherine, but you seem to have decided not to showcase your own work.
I can respond to this in many different ways, but in reality a number of factors have combined to dictate my decision not to include the essay that I had shot for Issue One. Firstly, all of the incidental imagery throughout the magazine, all of the images accompanying articles and interviews, is my photography. Likewise, the cover photograph – even if it is a homage to a Mert & Marcus’s portrait of one of the Downton Abbey girls – is an image that I am actually very pleased with.
Incidentally, the model for the cover photograph is my colleague Alice who, along with Simone, is one of the designers of the magazine.
The truth though, is that I was struggling to fit so much great work by other photographers into the magazine – and some photographers already not having their work showcased until Issue Two – that it seemed only right I make the sacrifice to ensure that we include the work of those that have been good enough to support the launch of the project.
So, what has happened to your essay? Will we get to see it?
Definitely! I think we shall either print it as a stand-alone monograph, perhaps in support of a Kickstarter appeal that we’re considering, or perhaps to accompany Issue Two.
You work alongside a highly regarded graphic design agency, you are commissioned to work on photography projects professionally, and you are also now the Editor of a luxury erotic or ‘adult’ magazine. Where does your energy come from, and where do you see your future career-wise?
I was made redundant from a ten year career not so long ago. I enjoyed that job very much but on reflection it was the people that I loved, not the role itself. It was also very easy, and ‘safe’, by which I mean that once I went home every day I could totally switch off. I never pushed myself, or questioned or doubted myself. I was not fulfilling my potential. Above all, the creative part of me was not being developed, in fact, it felt as if it was fading away. If I hadn’t been made redundant, I suspect that I would have found myself always looking back and wondering why I did not have the balls to try something different and, more importantly, given myself a chance to immerse myself in something that I could be much more passionate about.
Future wise? I have no idea. If I could curate a photographic exhibition of this type of photography I would be very happy.
In wanting to better get to know Katherine Wood, tell us what you do with your time when the camera’s back in its bag. What are your other interests?
The camera doesn’t go back in the bag! If I want time off from work I will photograph birds, insects, wildlife etc. A couple of years ago I probably couldn’t imagine a more dull subject to photograph than birds, but after buying a large zoom lens, combined with a lack of wild cats in Wiltshire, I am very excited by small birds and moths! Having a camera gives me a reason to spend the day outdoors, walking, or if I’m honest, as I don’t have children, a respectable excuse to go to as many zoos and wetland parks as possible!
Otherwise, I will be out running, or cycling. Running is the perfect way to empty my head. It is also the only time that listening to 80s music is acceptable.
Clearly The Quite Delightful Project must come from an interest in erotica and, of course, in photography, but tell us about the evolution of the project and where your head is with it immediately prior to its launch?
The interest in erotica stems from the fact that I love photography that has the capacity to provoke an emotional response from me.
At the moment I am continuously uplifted by the positivity of the contributing photographers. I also feel very trepidatious, akin I’m sure to pre-performance nerves. I just want it to launch and see if people like it. And, above everything, I want the photographers, illustrators, and writers to see the publication, and be proud to have contributed their support. I hope they find themselves surprised, pleased, impressed and above all excited to be a part of it.
Last question, what do you find erotic?
Track-suit bottoms and flip-flops. God knows why.
Another answer to that question is of course to look at the pages of the magazine!