SOURCE / H & E Magazine
PHOTOGRAPHY / JASON LEE
INTERVIEW / MARK HAMILTON
American photographer Jason Lee believes the human body reflects God’s glory.
How many other artistic photographers found their vocation courtesy of a personal dare? “It was 2006,” recalls Jason Lee. “I had been told throughout my upbringing that nudity equalled lust, and that it was impossible to spend time with a naked person of the opposite sex and not be automatically aroused. I thought this was absurd, but I wanted to test myself, and the theory, and find out if it was true. So I put out an advert as a photographer to set up what I thought would be my only experience.
“Probably not surprisingly, to those who already know how benign being nude in nature really is, I found that my model’s beauty did not distract me from capturing her likeness as art. We had a marvellous time shooting together, and I found that I had a knack for capturing art nudes. What started out as a personal challenge turned into a passion for pushing back against the negative narratives of body shame and porno-prudish thinking.”
It was the start of a new career, and Jason’s company Genesis Modeling & Photography (shootwithgenesis.com) – which now offers a range of services including personalised shoots as well as workshops with both models and photographers – was born.
“The name I chose is directly reflective of the creation account in Genesis, where man and woman were made naked and unashamed. I believe this is the original intent of God and that it has never changed, despite humanity’s fall. As a Christian, I believe that by experiencing and appreciating the beauty of the human body, we are reflecting God’s glory in which we were created. Genesis tells us that we were created in the image of God and in His likeness, completely without shame. My work as an artist in creating nude photography and body paintings is a way for me to present that viewpoint to the public.”
Jason’s beliefs are fundamental to his approach to work, and life.
“I base my understanding of naturism on what I’ve read and studied in the Bible, so I have settled on the term ‘comfortablist’. Practically, this means I’m comfortable whether in clothing or without it. I definitely think of clothing as only necessary for specific purposes or decoration, and find it completely unnecessary for the protection of ‘false modesty’. I believe modesty is an attitude, not a dress code. Though I wasn’t raised as a naturist, I made the personal choice to sleep nude around the age of seven and haven’t looked back.”
Jason recounts that his upbringing was “no different to most adolescents in America who were raised in a middle-class conservative family: namely that nudity is reserved for married intimacy or taking a shower, and that it is not to be shared. Something inside me, however, never bought into this idea. I can remember being fascinated by the beauty of the human body, even as a child, yet not really having a sanctioned way to perceive this beauty.
“I was exposed to pornography while visiting a cousin when I was about eleven, and found it to be shocking and degrading. A few years later, I went to the library (this was before the internet was a big thing) and tried to search out pure forms of nudity. What I found were classical art paintings and a section of shelves that were supposed to hold art nude photography books but instead, they were empty. Apparently even tasteful nudity was too much to just leave out on a library bookshelf. The books had to be requested via a librarian and couldn’t be checked out. It seemed absurd.”
It should come as little surprise that Jason discovered naturism, although as he admits, it came a little later in life. “It wasn’t until moving to Idaho that I began to experience social naturism and incorporate it into my photography. Idaho is home to two naturist resorts and has many hot springs. I learned after moving here that it is not only acceptable, but often expected, to soak naturally in nature in these hot pools. After experiencing it for the first time, I was hooked and never wanted to wear a swimsuit again!
“Since that first experience, I have enjoyed social naturism many times and find it beneficial for building lasting friendships and promoting body positivity. I have participated in three World Naked Bike Rides, and my wife and I have visited several resorts and beaches, including one in Italy on a recent holiday.”
Of course, not everybody is as relaxed about nudity as that.
“For every one model who agrees to a naked shoot,” reckons Jason, “there are another nine that say: I love your work. But I can’t shoot nude because I have body hang-ups, I’m afraid of what my family/boss/friends will think, or my boyfriend/husband won’t allow me to. I think this is one of the toughest parts of producing artistic nude work. People are afraid. They’re afraid to participate. They’re afraid to admit they enjoy the experience of viewing or owning it.”
Would switching the gender balance make a difference?
Jason isn’t convinced. “I mostly shoot with female models, but occasionally work with males. Sometimes I have received a little negativity for not including more males in my work, but I often invite the person complaining to go and create their own male nude work. I can’t do it all by myself! We need lots of new art and lots of new participants if we’re going to change attitudes. But I’m happy to say that I work with a lot of models who are experiencing nude photography for the first time, and have developed a reputation for being a safe person with whom to shoot.”
Photography isn’t the only string to Jason’s bow – he also paints abstracts, plays music, builds furniture and restores vehicles – but he does restrict his work behind the camera to the nude.
“When people ask why, I reply because nudity is pure. It’s always my goal to present the purity and soul of a model’s personality, not a fashion show. I’m not selling clothes or cosmetics. I am not interested in being coy but nor am I trying to sell my model’s sexuality in a photo. I look for the raw, innocent essence of who she is – and as much as she would like to share of herself in that space. My work reflects the goodness of the human body in its beauty, as created. It’s as simple as that.”
Jason doesn’t just believe that what he does is art for art’s sake. “I am humbled by feedback from models and patrons who find that my work touches them in a profound way. I’ve had models who have found freedom from body shame and dysmorphia, and reported experiencing a new personal ownership of their bodies. Sometimes this even happens in the middle of a shoot. I have had others who have reported that our work together has helped resolve sexual trauma from rape and abuse. Others have remarked on how their lives have been forever made brighter, and freer, and empowered.”
Given the choice, Jason prefers the great outdoors.
“I most often shoot on location in the Pacific Northwest of the US. My home base is one of the most beautiful (and unknown) places on the planet, though I love to travel, and I’m willing to shoot practically anywhere in the world. I have an invitation to shoot in Puerto Rico soon, so I’m looking forward to that. I’d also love to have my photographic travels take me to places like the UK, Spain or New Zealand, so if any readers are interested, feel free to reach out!
“As for favourite locations, I love to include water of some kind. We have shot around water in every season, even in ice and snow. I always feel that water, whether as a waterfall, steam-filled hot pool or snowy backdrop, incorporates so many elements of nature into one place. I try to always keep my eyes open for new potential shooting spots. I once spotted a couple of abandoned milk vans down in a ravine while on location for a different spot. Of course, we had to climb down and explore.”
When not braving the elements in the winter months, as part of his Personal Spaces Project, he also shoots models at home where, as he explains, “they can be naturally nude and do whatever it is that fits their mood. It’s designed to capture a personal vibe and natural body energy in a relaxed environment, and explore the personality, mood and creativity of each model.”
Indoors or out, Jason explains that “to come up with a subject or theme for a shoot, I will collaborate with the model. I am also incredibly inspired by the natural handiwork of God in nature. I love to explore a new vista with a model and chase the light and shadows, and compare and contrast the model’s form, emotions and style against the natural features of a landscape or even an abandoned manmade space. Body paints are often similarly imagined while on site, though occasionally a theme will be developed beforehand.
“I have had quite a bit of interest in seeing my work published in book form, so I am assembling my first book of art nudes, and debating on whether I should self-publish or go for the traditional route.
“Apart from that, I am perfectly content with life the way it is. I am happily married, and my wife and I are raising our children to hopefully be well-balanced members of society. We’ve incorporated our beliefs about the body into raising them, and believe this helps to prepare them better for life as adults.”