The Dutch photographer’s series BODY, which captures 46 women nude, is a testament to the beauty of the female body and all its supposed imperfections
“I never thought I would shoot nudes,” says Dutch photographer Lotte van Raalte of her latest series, turned exhibition and now book, BODY. Spanning 160 pages, BODY celebrates the visceral beauty of the female form, capturing the embodied experience of being a woman – scar tissue, stretch marks, wrinkles, and all – in its resplendent glory.
With an already successful career working in fashion for the likes of adidas and Stella McCartney, BODY marks a major turning point for the 30-year-old photographer. The idea came to her in early 2018, when she was shooting a beauty campaign in Morocco. Van Raalte’s eyes wandered from the model’s perfectly smooth skin to that of her producer’s, whose birthmarks and smattering of freckles quickly caught her attention. “The sun was shining and I asked to do some close-ups of her instead. One thing led to another and she was unclothed. I thought, this is so beautiful. It felt so liberating to have no styling, no nothing, just a pure human being.”
Over the course of the next 16 months, Van Raalte photographed 46 women – ranging from girls in their teens, to women in their eighties and nineties – in their most natural form. “I posted a shout out on Instagram and Facebook saying I was looking for women of all ages and sizes to pose nude,” she says. “I was overwhelmed with the response”. The resulting images provide an intimate documentation of these encounters, capturing the women’s individuality, and the beauty of their vulnerability and strength. “Most of the time when shooting, it would be a surprise to see the women’s bodies for the first time,” she says. “There was one lady in the book who is 94, her body has shrunk 15 centimetres in older age. You could see this wave on her belly, her body just became smaller, and I’d never seen that before, it was beautiful.”
Shot at low angles and bathed in light, the photographs focus on normal bodies, celebrating things that society at large deems unsightly. “The replies and discussions have been so interesting,” says Van Raalte. “There’s one really beautiful 84-year-old woman I photographed. My friend wanted to hang this image in her apartment, but her boyfriend said he didn’t want a pair of ‘old tits’ on the wall... It can be frustrating, and that has given me the drive to create more work. I hate the notion that you need to be perfect, that bodies don’t grow old. I’m very much against that.”
Similarly, Van Raalte has found pushback on social media, where many of the book’s images have been censored, disregarding the nuance of her work with their ‘no nudity’ policy. “It’s quite ironic that I can’t post my own images or book cover on Instagram,” Van Raalte says. “Instagram have shadow banned me. It’s scary. They delete my old images and report new ones. Others can repost them, but I have to be wary. I tried to share a story of a woman’s stretch marks and was told by Instagram immediately to take it down.”
But Van Raalte remains positive: “Everything is constantly shared nowadays,” she says. “So maybe it’s better BODY is seen mostly offline, in the book, in real life – it makes the work more valuable.”
“I want people to see the beauty in imperfection and impermanence,” she continues. “This is something we are all scared of and don’t really understand. What we mostly see is not reality. I want people to get a freedom from BODY, to celebrate our bodies instead of constantly judging and criticising them. Our bodies are an incredible instrument, without them, we would be nothing.”
BODY is on show at Gallery Vriend van Bavink, Amsterdam until Sunday February 2, 2020. The book will launch on February 20, 2020 at Photobook Cafe, London.