Body of work: Russ Flatt's response to the Orlando shootings

by David Larsen / 10 February, 2017
People to watch: Russ Flatt - Photographer
Public nakedness is legal in Vermont, but only if you leave your house naked. “I couldn’t get my head around it,” says Russ Flatt, whose exhibition of a series of nudes was shot there. “Someone told me when I first got there and I thought they were being funny.

But it’s true. Nudity’s fine, undressing’s illegal. By having people strip off out in the woods, I was probably breaking the law.”

In 2016, Flatt spent three months at the Vermont Studio Centre after winning one of the Wallace Art Awards, international residencies given annually to New Zealand visual artists. The judges decide which winners receive which residencies: Flatt might have been sent to San Francisco, Solothurn (Switzerland) or New York. Instead, the 45-year-old went to Vermont, the second-least-populous state in America. “I wanted to come away with a body of work I could show here in New Zealand. Going somewhere remote and isolated, I had the idea of doing male and female nudes within landscapes.”

Flatt’s previous work has been highly narrative and constructed, framing carefully posed figures with a strong sense of an underlying story. “Very preconceived and structured and micromanaged. With these ones, there was a visceral sense of finding the image in the moment, letting the work just happen. That was actually really freeing.”

The photos are a utopian response to the Orlando nightclub shootings; it was important to him not to exclude anyone, and to let his subjects self-select. “Male, female, any size, any colour, any race ... I put an ad on Craigslist when I got there, and a few of the writers at the centre put their hands up. There’s always an element of casting people when you pick your own subjects. I wanted the people who were interested in the project to come to me.”

Is it difficult helping people to feel comfortable in nude portraiture? “It was about being straightforward, saying what I wanted to achieve and being clear that you can show as much or as little as you like, and you don’t have to show your face, if you don’t want to ... A lot of the women who started a little bit apprehensive and a little bit nervous, once they were naked, they actually didn’t want to put their clothes back on. They were like, oh my god, this is really liberating.” 

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER,
NEW PHOTOGRAPHS BY RUSS FLATT, TIM MELVILLE GALLERY,
FEBRUARY 10-MARCH 4, TIMMELVILLE.COM

 

This article was first published in the January- February 2017 issue of Metro. Follow Metro on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the weekly e-mail

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