Hiding in plain sight (or, lying low, naked on the internet)

One of the main concerns of any model who I work with, nude or otherwise, is what I, as a photographer, intend to do with the images. For a professional model who wants their exposure maximised the concern would usually be that I make the images as public as possible, preferably with a credit for the model’s name and a link to their website. But I tend not to work with professionals, the models who work with me are doing so for a variety of reasons and without payment either way, it is entirely correct that they should be concerned about what is done with the images.

If a model is paying me to produce images for them then I will simply follow instructions – if they want the images just for their personal use then as a professional I will charge accordingly. In other circumstances, for example as a result of a direct collaboration, then I will be rewarded by producing more art to add to my portfolio, to show the world, something which is very important to me – or crucial to the issue being addressed here, the very small part of the world that gets to see my images!

I need to highlight that from the model’s perspective, I write from experience. There are hundreds of nude images of me on the internet and I know from the statistics that they have been viewed over a period of 17 years hundreds of thousands of times by tens of thousands of people. Until 10 years ago I worked in a day job where being discovered would not have gone down at all well. I had children going through school who could have been teased mercilessly had such photos been found. But other than for the people who I told, everyone else was blissfully ignorant – that is until I chose earlier this year to put some images of me in the World Naked Bike Ride in Brighton in front of 80% of my followers on Facebook. Because I have a really rare name I now search on my name on Google and Google Images and see what comes up……

Oops! There is nakedness coming up under my name and in the image search and some of it is me. Indeed, three images of me in the first 10 rows! Fortunately I am not that easily recognisable. It’s perhaps not brilliant for attracting new clients but, since I’m not really chasing clients any more, I’m not losing too much sleep. This sort of accident is however easily prevented – just keep images away from your name, see step 1. below!

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  As a model, you are simply going to finish up getting a better quality of image if you entrust your work to a photographer who shows his/her work to the public. Why? Because that person wants to do what all good artists want to do and that is show off their best work to a whole bunch of people who will be interested in it.  It however clearly helps if at the same time the photographer is prepared to clearly understand the model’s concerns.

Although this article is directed at what the photographer does with the images, the model may well want to put images online too and the comments below are hopefully useful in that regard.

So, let’s assume that your real name is Jane Goodchild. Here are 7 steps to keeping your naked self out of the sight of eyes that should not see you.

1. Use a pseudonym

This is an obvious place to start since by far the most likely way somebody is going to find your nude self is if they search on your name, maybe alongside the word ‘nude’ or ‘model’. Stick with Jane if you wish and if you really want a low profile call yourself something really common – Jane Smith would be boring but effective. If on the other hand you do want to get attention as a model then go with with a memorable but unusual name that is more exotic.

Do not undermine this by telling people while in a drunken haze that your nude photos are online and your pseudonym is……

Do make sure that photographers you work with understand how to refer to you online!

2. Only work with people you trust

You probably do not want to work with a photographer that sends images to porn sites and the like. But as much of an issue is ‘does this photographer know what he is doing?’. I am not talking about with a camera, I am talking about with your images. This one is down to your judgement but by looking at a photographer’s online portfolio and discovering all the places online that images get posted and you can make your own educated assessment of what the outcome is likely to be.

3. Understand where images are being posted 

It’s best to use my own example here. Under the name ‘allablur’ I have posted images publicly to flickr for 7 years. 99% of the hundreds of thousands of image views I mentioned are on flickr. I understand it back to front. I know how certain images that I really do not want to be seen can be shared with a smaller group of trusted followers. I know how most people on flickr are interested in art and photography and the people who I want this to remain confidential from are unlikely to be there. (Yes, the gossips – they tend to love facebook!)

Flickr is an example of a site where nude images are not by default public. They are visible only to those who have opted in to see ‘restricted’ content, and to opt in you have to be a member. So even if your Aunt Emma is a keen photographer and a Flickr member then there is no way she will see your images unless she has opted in. Even if she has opted in, the chance of being spotted in the melee are still slim and very probably she is going to be appreciative rather than critical because she has opted in to see that content.

On a site like this, if you want to be secure then you can always put in a pre-emptive block on certain people you know or others whose behaviour is undesirable.

I also post images to my portfolio site www.allablur.co.uk and my blog on tumblr blog.allablur.co.uk. Here they are entirely public but I know that there is a tiny audience; the chances of anyone I do not want finding my images actually seeing them is minuscule.

I also post images to my own public facing image library which is published in my real name. It’s all very straight laced but if anybody digs they will find some of my environmental nude images as well as me totally out there starkers on the Brighton naked bike ride. But again, unless I tell people, they just don’t go looking. And I have taken the step of removing my full name from those particular pages.

I even post some images to facebook. I use ‘lists’ and secret groups to restrict these images to a really small audience. Never mind somebody who should not see the images viewing them, no image has fallen foul of the notorious facebook censorship because I am careful of who goes in the lists.

Stipulate where images should or should not go. See point 7.

4. Only tell people you trust

If people do not know about you being naked on the internet then they are most unlikely to go looking for you. In my experience most people choose not to look anyway.

In the slim chance of an image of you appearing in front of their eyes on a screen then if they do not expect to see you nude because they have no knowledge of your activities then they may just see another face in the crowd rather than seeing you.

5. Avoid getting featured in local galleries or press

Perhaps the biggest danger is that which does not lie on the internet. If you get photographed by a famous photographer, or a famous local photographer then you may get noticed.

Avoid fame. Avoid celebrity.  Do not go near any reality TV show – especially Big Brother!

6. A watermark is your friend

Photographs on the internet get stolen. Put simply, a watermark on an image is a major disincentive to theft and makes it less likely to be used by anyone without authority. So if a photographer adds a watermark to an image then it is less likely to be stolen and abused.

Of course the photographer should give the model clean versions of the images but as a model you may choose to post the watermarked version online.

7. Get it in writing

Model releases are really useful documents. If nothing else, as a photographer I can go back and remind myself of a model’s pseudonym, how images can be used and when and how credit should be given.

As a model you may be confronted by a photographer’s own model release. Do not be afraid to hand write any stipulations that you may have on the document. Do not waste everyone’s time by coming up with surprises at the end of a shoot – voice any restrictions in advance. Have one amended copy for yourself, signed by the photographer, making sure the same amendments are on the photographer’s version.

8. Chill

In all this I admit that it helps that I have a good understanding of statistics and chance. If you feel nervous, work with someone who you trust and knows what they are doing,

Accept that the only way to be 100% safe is to avoid having your photo taken in the first place. Most of the horror stories that you hear about are nothing to do with responsible photographers but are down to a jealous ex….

Addressing “Why?”

It’s always tricky dealing with self portraiture, exaggerated when the subject is nude. If I put up an image of another person then, although I would like a deeper response, the reaction I most often imagine is a simple appreciation of the beauty of the individual, of the lighting, of the image.

But when it comes to the self portrait, in particular if the viewer is making the first encounter with the work of a new artist and the image is isolated without a context, am I thinking too deeply when I imagine that many people will ask ‘why’?

Addressing “Why?” was the title I gave this image when I captured it three years ago.

Male nude self portrait on bed

Those who follow me, you are evidently very accepting people, for whatever reason, you managed it, you got past the ‘why?’.

Now let’s get this straight. Very few people do ever ask me ‘why?’. But I imagine the question to be there, the elephant in the room.

For people who ask the question in a positive way, genuinely interested in what is going on, I am not going to give an answer here because it’s too complicated and I have to have something to blog about in the future! But you should be able to perceive some sort of answer from my ‘about’ page and having a quick look through my images.

For people who ask the question in a negative way, perhaps with incredulity or even disgust, I am going to give a  simplistic retort. ‘Why not?’. Whether it is me or the many other artists who produce nude self portraits, you see in front of you a naked person and you probably see it because you have been looking for nude art and have no issue with looking at naked persons. Why not simply give the artist kudos for being able to present this image to you without involving another in the exercise? It is after all the total creation of the artist; no other human being has been paid, instructed, manipulated or exploited in the creation of the work. 

Perhaps the most likely thought process producing the question ‘why?’ revolves around the perception of exhibitionist vanity or something similar. This is partially right – there is some exhibitionist vanity going on here, somewhere in the mix. But there is a little (or a lot) of that in almost every model exposing themselves in front of a photographer. It’s almost an essential qualification for being a good model. But there is hopefully a lot more.