Photographer Alba Duque explores the concept of beauty in her book of female portraits
Alba Duque (@albaduque_ ) is a photographer and art director from Barcelona specializing in commercial photography and portraits. She is an expert in taking beautiful photos that highlight products, personalities, and lifestyles.
Given that she has come to know the professional world of poses and post-production tricks so well, Alba decided to develop a book of portraits that explores beauty beyond the idealized bodies that feature so heavily in her commissioned work. Why? Because we are what we see, and in her book, there is so much female beauty to see.
Her book Sinécdoque, published by Sonámbulos Ediciones, is part of a collection that includes four other books by photographers exploring physical beauty from different perspectives. Alba's book was published earlier this year and explores the myth of the perfect female body and how "imperfect" bodies are dismissed, silenced, and made invisible in our patriarchal world.
We caught up with Alba to discuss her creative process.
What was your hope in making this book?
I wanted it to be a positive tool. I'm very used to working with canonical representations, and it's horrible. No one meets these idealistic expectations.
Beauty ideals are so unattainable that no one can live up to them. Not even those who supposedly embody them.
I remember a conversation I had with two models. I was telling them about my own complexes and problems I had with the way my body looked, and they felt exactly the same! We all hated or had hated our bodies. And I thought, how can this happen to these women too? Ideals are so unattainable that no one can live up to them. Not even those who supposedly embody them.
How did you find models who were willing to pose nude or semi-nude for you?
In the beginning, I photographed people I know: friends, relatives… my mother features in the book! Then, I started posting some photos I had taken on Instagram, and women started reaching out to tell me their personal stories. They were interested in posing for me as a form of therapy. One woman had given birth to twins and wanted to bond with her stretched skin, another was conscious of her uneven breasts, others had struggled with eating disorders...
What was it like photographing your mother nude?
She agreed immediately, and, for me, it meant a lot because our relationship has not been one of the easiest. I don't think we’ve seen each other's naked bodies since I was very little. In my family, as in most families, the body has been a very taboo subject.
So, for you, this project has also been healing on a personal level?
Yes, in several ways. In my family, body image has always been a difficult issue. I grew up struggling with this. There were hospitalizations and long-term treatment programs. Then, on top of this, I was a competitive dancer.
It is important for the photographer to remember that the person holding the camera holds power and that we must therefore gain the trust of the other person so that he or she doesn't feel uncomfortable.
The process of making this book has led me to hear lots of stories and talk to different people who felt as or much more vulnerable than I did. Seeing how these people dealt with that and tried to overcome it has helped me grow a lot.
How do you, as a photographer, connect with your models during such an intimate shoot?
I always ask them to come to the studio before. We’ll have a coffee or a glass of wine, and I’ll tell them my story, what I’m thinking, and how the idea was born. It is important for the photographer to remember that the person holding the camera holds power and that we must therefore gain the trust of the other person so that he or she doesn't feel uncomfortable.
I always advise photographers to get their models to sign an agreement consenting to the use of images.
The idea must be very clear. The other person has to understand perfectly what they are there to do. Explaining the pose and what you want to achieve is very important. For example, I told the larger girls that I was looking to portray them as powerful, to elevate them using certain lighting and angles. I didn’t want to make them smaller or thinner but to show their strength. Then, during the shoot, I asked for us to be left alone, as I didn't want other people’s presence to impact them. Also, playing music that they wanted to listen to helped me a lot.
You and the other models pose together naked in some photos. One of these photos is the cover of the book. How did this idea come about?
At the end of the shoot, as they have been so exposed, I join them. I take off my clothes, and we pose together. I did it with all 40 models. I wasn’t planning to publish these photos. It was just part of the ritual, but then they came out beautifully and I ended up using them.
In addition to your tips for making models feel at ease, would you like to share any other tips for photographers who want to embark on a project like this?
Yes, I would say that if they are going to start something like this, dive in. Sometimes you get caught up in the idea and forget that the most important thing is taking pictures. Take photos, and when you compare the first to the last, you’ll see a huge difference. Then, I would also tell them to research a lot, not just looking for references, but anything that can enrich the work. I did this project with nude and brown tones because they were colors that were beginning to be worn a lot in fashion, and it made the project more current.
Sometimes you have to take a language and take advantage of something that has already been done to express something new. Finally, I always advise photographers to get their models to sign an agreement consenting to the use of images. Without that, you might as well not have the photos because you can't use them!
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