The Age of Consent — And Beyond

Donna 8-9

[This is a coordinated posting: Iris Dassault on her blog (now removed) is addressing much the same topic today, but from the model's viewpoint.]

I start this post by a return to Donnatella, who I believe is the youngest girl-woman I’ve ever photographed, being at the time of photography mere weeks beyond her 18th birthday. If a photographer new to fine art nudes doesn’t know it already, he quickly learns that in the U.S. the magic age of “consent” is 18. Younger than that and, even were you to have parental consent and the purest of intentions, you court censure and worse. Just consider the travails of Jock Sturges. (He teaches nude photography workshops for Santa Fe Workshops, albeit in Mexico.) Photographing an underage model nude with only her consent? Does the term “jailbait” mean anything to you?

For myriad reasons photographers and videographers of the female nude (fine art and otherwise) are drawn to these “barely legal” girl-women. So much so that the phrase “barely legal” has been implanted firmly in the pornographic lexicon. These young women are fresh, virginal (at least in popular myth), beyond babyfat and as yet free of gravity’s inevitable erosions, and toned with bodies not yet subjected to a sedentary lifestyle. Much as I admit that I too am drawn to such models, however, I frequently find greater pleasure and fulfillment in photographing their seniors.

And that is the real subject of this posting.

By “senior” I mean women in their mid-twenties and beyond. To date, I’ve not photographed anyone older than thirty-eight, although I came close to working with a dancer who was in her late fifties. Women in their thirties who are drawn to fine art nude modeling almost always go to great lengths to remain in shape. They are energetic and highly dedicated. As opposed to the very young model, for whom posing nude is often a thrill or satisfaction of curiosity, the older model is posing nude out of dedication to art and a belief in the beauty if not perfection of the human body — hers.

Variety of the female body is endlessly fascinating. Variety increases with age, so the possibilities and challenges of fine art photography increase, too. But what photographs never disclose is the intelligence behind the body. If bodily variety increases with age, intelligence, wisdom and wit do, too, even more so. As a photographer with a liberal education, some age myself, and some experience with life, working with a model who brings all that to a shoot makes for rapport and a fascinating repartee. They are interested in the process. They really want to see how they look. They often want prints and invariably love how I have portrayed them — usually of course an idealized version of the person they see in the mirror. They are interested in the music I play, or even bring some themselves. If they’ve posed before, I’m always slightly curious how I stack up against other photographers for whom they’ve posed. They are often women who want to wrestle life to the ground and suck the marrow from its bones, and being photographed is part of that. (Not to mix a metaphor or anything, mind you.)

One recent model who sought me out at age 31 said the reason she wanted to be photographed was, as a yoga devotee, she thought she was in the finest shape of her life and wanted to document her conditioning. And she was.

Another model sought me out at age 24 as she was about to undertake a master’s degree program. She is currently dating a European opera conductor. Goodness but that highly intelligent woman and I have had some fascinating conversations. She had a drive to be photographed artistically; I satisfied that need.

A model of thirty-eight only then came to nude photography. She had new breast implants and a well-toned body. The results have a tinge of glamour, but really, really show her well. You’d never guess she was that old. She knew what she wanted, knew her limits, but was unafraid of experimentation. You’ve already seen her in my postings — can you guess which are her?

How do those who buy my fine art prints view the situation? The statistics (ages are measured as of the date I first photographed the model; derived from a list of 40 models): the average age of models prints of whom I’ve sold is 24, the median age is 23, and the age of the model having the median number of prints sold is 23. Finally, if I list the first five models in order by number of prints sold per year of age (e.g., if 40 prints of a 20-year-old model sell, that model rates 2.0), their ages are 22, 18 (Donnatella), 26, 23 and 20.

None of this is dispositive of whether I work better with a younger or older model, since so much depends on personality, ability and drive of the individual, but give me the appropriate older model and I’m pretty sure things are going to proceed swimmingly for both of us.

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