Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
In her new memoir, Kathleen Rooney talks about her experiences as a nude life drawing model, and explores the the practice in the context of both the art world and modern society. Be sure to check out her g-chat interview with Katherine Wootton, and read an excerpt from the book below.
From Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object
Chapter 4: “Take a Picture—It’ll Last Longer”
I found Jon on Craig’s List in Boston, then he came to find me in Harvard Square. I was standing near the Red Line subway stop, carrying an umbrella and wearing my red raincoat. I was not wearing socks and I was not wearing underwear.
Lacy unmentionables, boxers, panties, briefs leave marks in naked skin—strap lines from bras, tracks from elastic waistbands. Barely consequential to the naked eye, these traces can ruin a nude photo shoot. So, as my soon-to-be employer had commanded, I was going commando. I would have known to do so anyway, even had he not mentioned it—his baritone hesitant, sheepish, through the earpiece of my cell phone—because I’d engaged in this weird transaction, conspicuously lacking in foundational garments, dozens of times before.
As I stood on the slick gray bricks beneath the drippy rain, I was nervous. Any time I hooked up with an artist through Craig’s List, the rendezvous had an outlaw vibe: it was an underground setup, and I got paid under the table. I had not met this individual through another artist, through a school, through a group or a class. There was no referral, no background check, no institutional backup. It felt kind of like buying weed.
As I called Jon on my cell to tell him I was there, I stared at the Out of Town News stand in the old subway kiosk, bustling with customers, people in trenchcoats, in peacoats, in hats, onion people wrapped beneath layers and layers of clothing, because it was still damp and chilly, even though it was early spring. None of these readers buying journals and magazines from all over the world knew my secret. No one in the entire square knew my secret. No one but my fiancé, Martin, whom I’d brought along for the sake of safety knew my secret: that I was as poised and prepared as a flasher beneath my jacket. Every time Martin exhaled, I could see his breath. Every time I exhaled, he could see mine. That was why he was there: to see for himself that I would be safe, to see for himself that I would stay alive.
A boxy blue Volvo pulled to the curb and the middle-aged man inside waved, as spastic as his windshield wipers. The rain began to fall harder as we opened the doors and darted inside.
“You must be Kathleen,” Jon said as I hopped into the front passenger seat.
“Yes,” I said. “I must.”
I introduced Martin and explained why he was along for the ride. I’d been worried that Jon might be annoyed, but he understood. He said he’d be happy to show Martin the studio, but that once the shooting began, Martin would have to leave. That seemed reasonable to me; it was peculiar enough to strip naked and cavort photogenically for a strange man and his camera, but having my fiancé there observing the proceedings would have kicked it up from a photo shoot into the realm of theatre of the absurd, maybe even theatre of cruelty, depending whom you asked.
“You’re right to be careful,” Jon said. “I could be a psychopath.”
He seemed to be sweating slightly, tiny beads on his high pale forehead, beneath the steely curls of his receding hairline, but it might have been the rain. I could smell his leather jacket. Everything seemed filmy for a moment, stained, strained. I attempted a cool laugh, but it came out edgy, jagged like glass.
“Right,” said Martin. “And you’re a brave guy, too. You don’t know us at all. We could be Bonnie and Clyde.”
“But seriously,” Jon said, recovering nicely. “I respect that—your caution about safety. You’d be amazed how many people just show up alone. People will do anything when they’re desperate, I guess.”
I didn’t consider myself desperate, but I guess I was—though not for money. I didn’t know for what. Having worked steadily as an artist’s model for the past several years, the majority of my gigs had been with life drawing classes, print-makers, painters, and sculptors. Only very occasionally did I agree to pose for photos, and almost never with photographers I didn’t know, by referral or reputation. This time, I’d conceded to the arrangement because the pay was excellent, and also for the thrill of it.
Unbidden by us, Jon started to drive.
From Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object, published by and reprinted with permission from University of Arkansas Press. Copyright © 2009 by Kathleen Rooney.
BUY: Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object
READ: An g-chat conversation with the author and Katherine Wootton
VISIT: Kathleen Rooney’s website
CHECK OUT: The book tour blog