Note: A few weeks ago I was out trail running with my dog when I stumbled upon photos strung up in a tree. A little worried I had discovered some kind of True Detective-esque scene I decided to investigate further.
The images were stunning; a very pregnant and beautiful blonde woman reveled, completely naked, among the forested area in which I was standing. Next to the photos there was a brief bio from a local photographer named Kyle Graham. Next to that there was a waterproof notebook and a pen. I was the first person to write in it: “Lovely images. Such a nice surprise on my run.”
The chance discovery made my day and I decided to reach out to Graham to find out more.
Kyle Graham wants to send you on a visual art treasure hunt.
Tucked away at seven different locations in the forest surrounding Whistler are nude photos featuring subjects interacting with the environment. In most cases, the images were taken where they’re displayed.
Graham, a local photographer, didn’t attempt to spread the word about his project beyond his Facebook page. It’s his first foray into displaying fine art and he’s treating it as an experiment. “It’s been a bit of a progression for a while on many different fronts,” Graham said. “I wanted to integrate the search and adventure of finding these pieces and showcase the places where they were taken.”
The project unfolded organically; Graham has been a jack-of-all trades kind of photographer, interested in landscape, lifestyle, architecture and nudes. Last spring he decided he wanted to hone in more on fine art nudes and began to scout unique locations. “Sometimes I go on Google Earth and I’ll try to find spots,” he said. “I mountain bike and trail run. I like to go on new trails. Sometimes I’ll walk off trail a bit. I get curious about what the landscape looks like.”
With a few spots in mind he put a call out on his Facebook and website for models. He was aiming for a range of body shapes — and hoped for a mix of men and women. “I was hoping to get a greater diversity of body types, but in Whistler it’s challenging,” he said. “I made it completely open; whoever wants to respond can respond, and it was all females.”
Although the situation was unusual — heading into the woods, essentially, with a stranger for a nude photo shoot — Graham said it wasn’t awkward. “I tried to understand their personality a little bit,” he said. “Sometimes I almost didn’t have to say anything and they would shine however they desired. I encourage freedom of movement. Sometimes they need a little bit of direction, so I give that as well. (The photos) showcase the beauty of the body in combination with their personality.”
Maeve Jones, one of the models, has known Graham for about a year and immediately offered to pose when she heard about his project. There was something liberating about the idea of being nude outside and exploring what it means to be comfortable in your own skin, in the most basic sense. “I think a big part of this personal journey for me is being comfortable with people seeing me as I am, unclothed,” she said. “It’s not explicit or sexual or graphic in any way, but it’s quite liberating to know people can see me as I am without any shame.”
In a serendipitous twist, Jones had recently been having sleepwalking experiences in which she got out of bed in the middle of the night, began to get dressed then woke up half-clothed and confused in front of her closet.
She believes there’s meaning in this unusual action and it was part of her motivation for taking part in the project. “I was having this conversation around nudity in my personal life and I wanted to explore it,” she said. “To be naked in the forest in my hometown was a big experiment and I gained a lot of confidence and willingness to be naked in other ways in other situations.”
Graham’s attraction to nude art stems from his own struggles with body image. “I’ve had a pretty bad body image with myself,” he said. “It took me a long time to get over it. One of the ways I did that was tackling it head on. I eventually did live-art modeling at Millennium Place in front of other people drawing. It’s an intimate setting. That really pushed me out of my element to become a lot more body image positive. It made me feel better about myself and I wanted to put that on other individuals too.”
His models gave him strong feedback about the images in the forest galleries. The notes left for him hanging up near the photos have been largely positive too.
“Generally everyone loved them,” he said. “Everyone sees themselves and it’s quite a liberating experience. Even the experience of the photo shoot itself, they absolutely love it. They come out with more confidence. They see the images of themselves in that regard as well.”
Graham isn’t divulging exactly where the photos are displayed, but he has offered up approximate GPS coordinates on his website. In the first location posted (the one I stumbled upon) the photos have been stolen, along with the notebook, much to Graham’s disappointment, but the rest remain intact.
“So many people’s lifestyles (in Whistler involve) adventure and they love going out and exploring,” he said. “I was really wanting to create that experience and get people into my head a little bit, which is why I displayed the images where they were taken. You can get a voyeuristic view of that landscape and how I viewed it and shot it.”
To see the GPS coordinates of where the photos are located visit kylegrahamphotography.com and click on the “Be” tab.