“You Don’t Have to be Fearful to Celebrate Your Body”
An interview with a photographer about embracing nudity.
Libby Cooper is a London-based photographer, and her favorite thing to photograph is nudity. Finding inspiration during lockdown, she was already on the hunt for a new project when she started exploring nude photography.
Libby was first drawn to photography at ten years old, taking inspiration from her mother, who was also a photographer in the 80s. At school, she studied film and media production and continued to hone her photography skills. Through collaboration with her models, she realized what her goal was: to look at nudity in a non-sexual way and create a space where nudity can be celebrated.
Nudity is something to celebrate.
Why nudity? Why is this an important message?
My goal is to break the taboos surrounding nudity and to create a safe space, especially for women, to be naked. There is something powerful in being naked and being exactly how you want to be - without anyone sexualizing you.
I want to hold a safe space for people to feel like they can celebrate their bodies. I want to show people that you don’t have to be fearful to celebrate your body.
How do you navigate Instagram censoring nudity?
I actually mostly dislike Instagram. While it is a perfect platform to share your work - I don’t think I would have my career without it - it’s really sad how strict and inconsistent they are with censorship.
I have censored my work on Instagram, but even if I censor the photo completely, Instagram still takes them down, and it is not clear which violation is committed in that instance. I am looking into launching my own platform on Patreon, where I can share the uncensored versions of my work.
To what extent do you edit your photos?
I will never edit what someone’s body looks like. I’ve had models requests for this after the shoot, but this is obviously something I would not do.
The only thing I’ll edit is the colors: to make it a little warmer, make everything a little more rich, so it pops a bit more. And I will go to my mum and ask her for her opinion - because her opinion is the best thing in the world - and she will tell me that she does not think it needs editing, but after, when she sees the difference, she’ll tell me how it did need it and it does need it: it comes together a bit more.
How do you approach or ensure intersectionality?
Showcasing diversity is always something that has been on my mind. I’ve struggled with eating disorders, and I think it would’ve helped to see more varied body types on social media.
It also depends on who reaches out to me because to reach out to someone to do a nude shoot is a very personal thing where they have to be sure they want to do it, so it is better if the choice is entirely theirs. I find there is generally a huge variety in the different models that reach out to me because it is dependent on whether they’re at that stage to do a nude shoot and then be happy for it to be published.
It is really important to have everyone’s body type represented when photographing nudity.
What do you think the most challenging part of a nude shoot is for the model?
It depends on the person and how confident they are.
Before I start the process of a shoot, I will always communicate with the models that they need to be sure this is something they really want to do. It is a lot to be naked in front of a camera, and for those photos to be put in magazines or on social media it’s a big deal. It is something you need to be sure of and comfortable with.
The process of doing the shoot can be an incredibly vulnerable yet validating process, where it also depends on the person and how confident they are. The aftermath can either be incredibly validating in accepting and appreciating your body, or it can be a more intimidating concept that these photos of your naked body will now be shared in print or online.
What are some of the different concepts projected onto women’s bodies?
Whatever you do as a woman will be sexualized by someone. You can do anything, and some weirdo can find a way to sexualize it. It’s all quite fucked up.
For example, even as a teenager, you are sexualised for wearing the school uniform, and it’s not for anyone to determine to sexualise us. It is about our bodies and how we choose to represent ourselves, and it’s not for anyone else.
I think every woman has experienced some form of sexualisation that has had a negative impact on them. One of the things I love about the photography shoots and projects I’ve created is that there is this space for women to connect and talk about these kinds of things. It is important for women to uplift each other. This is one of the things I like about Instagram - there are female and non-binary health spaces where everyone is sharing ideas about feminism and lifting each other up.
Acknowledging the negative sexual stigma of taking solo nude photos, to what extent are there benefits to exploring nude photography on your own?
I honestly think it is something everyone should do. It’s a tough thing to do - I’ve struggled with myself and had a really bad relationship with food - but exploring nude photography has helped me come to terms with my own body.
There doesn’t have to be any intent to share the nude photos with anyone; it can just be a way to document your body over the years and to acknowledge what your body looks like naked. It is really nice to sit and be naked with yourself and not be afraid.
Working with all the incredible women I work with, I’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t matter what my body looks like; it is keeping me alive, and it is beautiful.