The Female Gaze: Polaroid Nudes by Kirsten Thys van den Audenaerde (NSFW)

All Polaroid photos by Kirsten Thys van den Audenaerde. Used with permission.

Not so long ago, we got in touch with Brussels-based freelance photographer Kirsten Thys van den Audenaerde to share with us her insights on Polaroid as a popular medium today for fine art nude photography. Since discovering Polaroid accidentally three years ago, she found it the perfect medium for nude photography, especially for the authenticity that it imparts into her work. Her artsy Polaroid nudes are indeed a testament to the dreamy aesthetic that the medium has become well-known and loved for; but above all, she sees each photo as a one-of-a-kind piece of art. We’re sharing the full interview below, in case any of you have been interested in what she has to say about Polaroid nudes, the response to her work, and the role of social media in her decision towards this very specific genre. And of course, more of her dreamy nude snaps!

Strike a pose

Despair

Phoblographer: Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?

Kirsten Thys van den Audenaerde: I am a freelance photographer based in Brussels, Belgium. I picked up my first camera, a DSLR, in 2011 and started working with amateur models straight away. Before long, I had my first art nude shoot and the tone of my further career in photography was set. These days I try to combine my love of travelling with my passion for Polaroid photography. Over the past 3 years, I have been returning to the America of the West, road tripping and shooting with models in Utah, California and Arizona. When I’m on the road with just my camping gear and my cameras, I’m at my best. I finished a 3-month artist residency in Bombay Beach in April, working and creating art with other artists from around the globe for The Bombay Beach Biennale. That was without a doubt the most fantastic experience of my life and I can’t wait to go back. I am forever grateful to my gallerist in California, Stefanie Schneider, who introduced me to Bombay Beach early 2018 and included some of my work for the 2018 Bombay Beach Biennale. She has put so much effort in selling my limited edition prints in her online Instantdreams galleries on Artsy and 1stDibs.

 

 

Support network

Spiked

Phoblographer: How long have you been shooting Polaroids? What made it your medium of choice for shooting nude photography?

Kirsten: I discovered Polaroid quite by accident 3 years ago, when I read about The Impossible Project and their I-1 camera. The design really appealed to me, so I thought it would be a nice gadget (even though I’m not a gadgety person at all). I remember unpacking it, inserting the first pack of film, and being hooked from the moment the first (blurry) picture came out. From then on I started reading up on the history of Polaroid and buying vintage cameras on auction sites. I organised a nude shoot just to see how it would look on Polaroid and fell in love with how the pictures came out. Prior to discovering Polaroid, I had been feeling very fed up with my own photography and our obsession with perfection. I had gotten into retouching and was producing the smooth images the industry was expecting of me, but I hated how they did not represent reality anymore. Polaroid gave me back that feeling of authenticity. I love how it captures a moment exactly how it was. I particularly like the way it captures delicate skin tones. They often have a dreamlike look. It makes me feel a bit like a ‘voyeur’ when I capture nudes on Polaroid. I very often just leave the model to do her own thing, with as little instruction as possible on my part.

 

Bath time stories

“I had gotten into retouching and was producing the smooth images the industry was expecting of me, but I hated how they did not represent reality anymore.”

Changing every day

Phoblographer: What challenges do you often encounter when shooting nudes with Polaroid films, given that the older emulsions can be fickle?

Kirsten: Shooting Polaroids is always a challenge, one that only increases when you are dealing with expired film. Although the film is quite stable now thanks to the hard work of Polaroid Originals, it is still very easy to get an over or underexposed image. At the start of every shoot, it’s always exciting to take that first shot and then wait for 15 minutes to see whether you got the light right or not. Polaroid shooting is slow shooting. It takes time to frame, to focus, to think about your shot, to retake it if the first one doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it. The expired films are even more of a challenge. There’s always a sense of excitement when shooting expired film. You never know how it will turn out, sometimes the film is so old, it’s completely unusable. But those moments when you get the perfect imperfections are priceless. It is a totally different mindset from shooting digital. I have an uncle in the US who shoots landscapes, and when I visit he is always blown away at how calm I remain when yet another shot goes wrong or a whole pack of film turns out to be useless. It’s something you learn to live with. It would also be my first piece of advice to anyone considering instant photography: learn to love those imperfections!

Dressing up

Thursday’s child

Phoblographer: Does Instagram and social media in general have a role in your decision to do nudes on Polaroid?

Kirsten: I think it’s quite the opposite. If I had known 3 years ago how Instagram and Facebook’s policy towards nudes would evolve, I think I would have picked a different subject. It makes me sad that the two biggest social media platforms seem unable and unwilling to appreciate nude photography as an art form, forcing me to censor every single image, and even then run the risk of being banned. As much as I understand that some people or cultures are sensitive to this type of content, I also feel that Facebook is powerful enough to play an educational role. It would be extremely easy to design a NSFW button so people could choose whether to see content or not. Instead nudity is vilified and some artists are shadow banned so their work remains invisible. I love showing my work on social media but it comes with a fair amount of frustrations at the people who are running them ( Yes, Mark Z., it’s you I’m talking about!).

Red

Phoblographer: What has the response has been like to your work, given that nudity has become overused and abused even in the film photography world?

Kirsten: My own impression is that people really like my work for two reasons: I offer them ‘the female gaze’ on nudity, which is different from the traditional male view of the female body. And the fact that it is Polaroid seems to be very much appreciated by the people who like my work. I think they like the softness and authenticity Polaroid offers and the fact that I don’t retouch my images. I have shot some more explicit stuff and it remains much less hard on the eye compared to shooting that type of work with a digital camera.  I also think they have an air of intimacy about them that people love.

Phoblographer: Why do you think nude Polaroids have become popular today, to the point that some models and photographers have been selling them on various platforms?

Kirsten: Like I mentioned before, I think people really appreciate the authenticity of Polaroid. Maybe like me, people are fed up with all these perfect images and they like the simplicity and intimate atmosphere of nude Polaroids. There’s still something innocent about them. When people buy an original Polaroid, they have a one-of-a-kind piece of art, and I think they like that.

Amazing grace

Phoblographer: Lastly, how do you think this specific genre of instant photography will fare in the next decade or so?

Kirsten: I think instant photography as a whole is on the rise. Polaroid is hot, there are a lot of new developments and a lot of new markets. Pack film is being brought back to life by Supersense in Austria, which is a huge accomplishment. Instant photography seems to be everywhere. A lot of people are using it in different ways. Some on a professional level like me. Young people are using it more and more to document their lives, to take pictures with their friends, instead of selfies. If we are talking nude photography specifically, I do worry that it will become difficult to show our work. If we can’t show our work on the two largest social networks anymore, where will we go? Nudity is getting vilified again, nipples are deadly weapons of mass destruction, pubic hair a public enemy. I wonder sometimes whether nude art will have to go more underground to find a place where we can create and display it freely.

Visit Kirsten Thys van den Audenaerde’s website and follow her on Instagram to stay updated with her work. Her originals are also for sale on Artsy and 1stdibs.