Naked in the Great Outdoors

A statement, a few stories, a bit of philosophy, and a new policy.

Statement:  My favorite shoots involve hiking to somewhere beautiful then shooting art nudes in several different locations in the area.

Story Time:

Shooting with Stephen Melvin two or three years ago, we drove through the very small town of Blackwater, Missouri. It had that quaint prairie/stick up your ass feel about it, therefore we thought it would be hilarious to shoot a nude in front of their town hall. In the middle of the afternoon. On a Saturday. We did the ‘flash and dash’ and then manically giggled our way back to the car. In the end, I think we got better photos elsewhere that day, so aside from the ‘fuck you’ communicated in this abuse of public property, the risk was wasted.

Shooting with Ric 18 months ago. After Scarborough Faire in Waxahachie, Texas. We’d been shooting silly stuff at the Faire all day, and left around 5PM. We took a detour through town to avoid traffic and ended up on a back road, where we were presented with the most beautiful trellised bridge under a canopy of mist and glowy golden sunlight filtering through the thick foliage. Salivatingtly perfect, right? We parked the car, hiked to the bridge, and lacking any clothes other than what he’d been shooting me in all day – I stripped and we shot on the glorious bridge. 10 minutes in a lady and her dog passed at 100 yards. We kept going, certain she couldn’t have seen us or allowing for a visual miracle, certain that she couldn’t tell I was nude. Fate being on our side, after the full day of shooting Ric’s last camera battery gave up the ghost and we packed out. Driving back through town we were stopped by two police cars. They immediately asked for my ID and started grilling us about a report of a nude woman down on the bridge. Since they didn’t catch me and we didn’t admit to shooting anything naked they had to let us go, but one slip would have landed us in hot water fast. My understanding of the law in Texas is that if it is possible for a minor to see you naked, even through your own window, you can land yourself on the sex offender list and in other sorts of trouble. Again…not having enough time before the battery died there was no result and the risk (again) wasn’t worth it.

Shooting today with a photographer from Dayton, G Images in a state park off highway 42. Creek, waterfalls, mossy rocks and changing leaves. Beautiful setting and we were scheduled to shoot art nudes for a little while. We hiked a while and passed a few people, but eventually found a spot I deemed secluded enough and we got some fantastic images. We kept going until I saw a guy in camo 100 ft away in my peripheral vision. And did the only thing reasonable: waved. The man and his friend were kind enough to escort G and I back to their police cars, where they held us for over an hour trying to figure out what to do with us. A complaint was called in to dispatch by a woman ‘and her son’. We had to wait and find out how old the kid was, thank God he was 23, because if he had been a minor they were ready to book me. As it was, the appropriate meting of justice was a Misdemeanor ticket, which when involving an alcohol, drug, or sex related offense in the state of Ohio requires a court appearance. The cop handling us was extremely compassionate and asked me where I was from etc. Determining that it would be difficult for me to return to Ohio to appear in court, he worked reading the codes for about an hour trying to find something else he could ticket me for (to appease the person who called it in and likely keep his job) that wouldn’t require me to appear in court. Eventually they wrote us both tickets for something like ‘failure to follow rules posted on signs in the park’. Which was extremely lenient. A word in G’s favor – he never pressured me to shoot this location, he was utterly horrified by the whole ordeal, and he’s taking care of the ticket. He remains one of my favorite photographers and we’ll definitely continue to work together. Bottom line, even though we produced beautiful images, the trip down the road less clothed again proved to be too risky.

Philosophy:

I often feel there is some sort of glory associated with posing nude where you shouldn’t.  Like our community lauds this behavior as gutsy.  A model who will pose nude on the streets of New York City is awesome or ‘a real model.’  Here’s one definition of ‘a real model’:  one who actually makes money.  Its tough to make money posing nude when you’re in prison.  Its tough for me to make my return flight home when I’m busy dealing with cops.  Hard to pass my classes at school when I miss my flight and therefore the test the next day.  Hard to turn a profit if I have to pay a bunch of tickets.  So…while I agree that great art can be done in places it shouldn’t be and that our society is off the wall Puritanical about nudity, I don’t feel that I makes any sense for anyone doing this for a living to accept these assignments.  Consider these numbers.  Presuming every photographer I work with has some grand idea about taking a nude photo where nude photos should not be taken.  Presuming half of them ask me to do it.  Presuming I agree, and presuming they only want to do it once, vs. on every shoot they do.  That means if we both do 20 shoots a month, I’m naked 10 times where I shouldn’t be and the photographer is shooting someone naked only once – not even naked themselves and therefore not breaking any laws.  The numbers are bad for me – eventually I’m going to get caught.  The photographer, however, scratching his one itch will probably get away with it.

Policy:

Henceforth any nude work done outside of private closed locations will require a lot of explaining, and will still likely be refused.  If I show up to a shoot and the grand plan is to take me to the local park and sneak a few upskirt shots or exposed booby shots, there is going to be a conflict.  If a photographer brings me somewhere I deem “too public” I reserve the right to keep my clothes on, and I feel perfectly fine asking for my fee if the photographer did not discuss this location with me in advance.  Also, anyone who seems too cavalier about a possibly risky situation is not going to have success booking me for the job.

Possible acceptable explanations/solutions include:  1) We will be on a houseboat on Lake Powell, there will be no one around and even if someone does see us, they can’t call anyone because there’s no cell reception.  Even if they could call someone this lake is so freakin’ big and the park rangers are so dispersed its unlikely anyone will bother us.  Or other huge place in the wilderness with nothing around for literally hundreds of miles.  2) I am (or have hired) a lawyer/cop/judge/some other person intimately acquainted with the law and it is perfectly legal for you to be nude in this area.  Here is the state and local code noting such. 3) I have a special permit that I will show you in physical form from XYZ municipality to shoot nude photos here. 4) This location is utterly abandoned, it is not a local park.  It is likely an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere and our discretion is assured.  I have shot here before and encountered no one.

I’ve heard about models entering contracts with photographers – any legal trouble will be handled by the photographer yadda yadda.  I don’t care if the big guy himself takes care of my legal woes…I’d rather not have woes in the first place.  An outstanding ticket is one more thing I have to worry about even if I’m SURE the photographer has it handled.  Jail time is still a huge inconvenience even when I’m SURE the photographer is going to get me out.

30 Responses

  1. Yeah going to jail or paying a fine is not high on my list either.

  2. Good post. It is completely understandable why a model should put limits on location. It is a good policy to go by and one that other photographers/artists should consider.

  3. You forgot to mention creepy dudes wandering around nekkid on abandoned beaches… 😉

  4. Funny, as a photographer I had the opposite experience. I was shooting a model in a public (although secluded) park. While I thought she was changing outfits it turns out she changed into nothing. She hadn’t mentioned anything about doing nude shots so when I asked her about it she said she thought it would be exciting to do them in a public place.

    So I shot the photos for her and some turned out nice, but I was worried. She was much more relaxed than I was. Fortunately we didn’t caught, but it’s not something I want to do again, no matter how exciting it might be.

  5. Agree with the concept, having done nude in public work I share the concern. I also think, as a male model, my nudity is more likely to be viewed as perverted. Reference the comment above about creepy dudes; versus the more artistic references to nude females modeling.
    State and actual location matter a lot, gender of the responding officer may as well.

  6. Well, this is all very depressing to me since I find nothing more natural and beautiful than nudes in natural settings. Especially since I have a photo session booked with you this Friday!

    I understand your point of view.

    Personally,my first association with being nude outdoors is freedom (like I used to get when I was little and could run free at the beach) and somewhat daring (like later in life when I’d go skinny dipping with friends). We have a nudity law here in my county but it’s a misdemeanor and in 22 years I’ve never received a ticket. I’ve had a couple of encounters with police and MPs, all very considerate though. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or what. It used to be in Melbourne that everyone knew me, including the police dispatchers (one of whom I’d done sexy photos of for her fiance) so that probably helps.

    How can sex be so prevalent in our culture, permeating it, but the simple fact of being nude is a crime?

    *sigh*

    • I agree…my most favorite work generally involves a hike and no clothes.

  7. Jess, I know it varies from state to state, but I’ve talked to Texas vice officers and other law enforcement officials about this, and the fact is that it is legal to be topless in Texas in public. In fact it’s legal to be naked, as long as your genitals or anus aren’t exposed. Women can obviously get away with this easier than men. The sticking point comes in when there is a question of enticing behavior, or creating a disturbance. If you’re playing with your nipples and shoving them in someones face (oh, the horror!),there’s going to be trouble. As is the norm in our country today, if one person complains then they take it away from all of us. So much for majority rules. Also, Federal land, such as national parks, have no policy on nudity. Again, as long as its not lewd or creating a disturbance. But it pays to know the local laws. Vermont, for example, has no laws against nudity, either.
    I love your attitude, hope to get you down to Houston for a shoot soon.

    • A lot of these laws boil down to technicalities. Perhaps involving minors or public disturbances. Regardless of legality, I feel that if you get caught with your pants down (pun intended) and someone is in the mood to bust you, they will. Even if the law is on your side, you still end up paying money and time to defend yourself. The finer points are fun on the internet, not so much in real life.

  8. You, and the commenters, have brought up some valid and important points and perspectives.

    There are always going to be issues when bystanders are involved, regardless of the legality (or morality) of the posing. You don’t have to be naked (or topless) to be considered “lewd”–which is a crime.

    I’m frankly very surprised a cop would “work” to find something to charge you with. Because cops don’t have to write you a ticket… I’m very puzzled by that whole episode. Because if a cop HAD to write up enough paperwork to mollify the complainant, spending an hour and settling on something that wouldn’t result in a court appearance is just as much a cop-out (forgive the pun) as not writing any ticket. Because ultimately, short of a felony, there aren’t MUST APPEAR offenses–if the charge required a hearing in court, a lawyer could represent you (and likely get you off scot-free…).

    I’m speaking from experience both in law enforcement and in lawbreaking (especially the latter: I was charged with trespassing while hiking in TN, and $150 to a local attorney took care of everything–he just went to court every time the case was scheduled and asked for a continuance because I was ‘unable to appear,’ and eventually the judge got sick of the case running on. The first time the case came up and the county prosecutor wasn’t there on time, the judge quickly dismissed the charge).

    But to make a point germane to nude & semi-nude photography from both sides of the camera, I would say this: models, if you’re going to pose nude in the great outdoors, follow some smart practices.
    1) get an oversized tan trenchcoat for quick & easy disrobing & re-covering. This also gives you cover if “caught in the act,” because you have plausible deniability if confronted by the cops. “Gee officer, I never even got out of my coat!”
    2) Realize that if you’re shooting nudes in public, YOU are making that decision. Don’t be “pressured” into it. If you own the decision, then you can be smart about it… and accept the consequences. Not that the post here was about being conned/pushed into public nudity, but my point is that if the model feels like it’s his/her decision, then he/she can be more aware of the process. In other words, posing nude in a state forest on a nice day means keeping your head on a swivel and making sure that no one’s around, and not merely letting the photographer worry about things. And if you *do* get caught, as the one getting naked technically the model is in the wrong–accept that and deal with it.
    3) Know the laws in the state where you’re posing. If you’re in an urban area, check out the laws of that city. If you’re in a state or federal reserve, or a park, find out what–if any–legal issues might ensue (anecdote: I shot some PG-rated photos on the property of a federal research facility. Both I and my model were tempted to try some more risque shots, but we didn’t want to risk anything, especially without knowing the legal implications–i.e., is it a ‘federal crime’ to be naked? It’s a good thing we didn’t, because as we were wrapping up, security stopped and got very nasty with me just for *shooting*).
    4) Realize that no job (modeling or flipping burgers) is without risk, and prepare yourself–especially financially–for these risks. If you’re a carpenter, you pay for disability insurance just in case you saw off a finger. If you’re a model who takes her clothes off in public, you put aside some money to pay for an attorney to get you out of hot water.

    In other words, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    For photographers, I’d make these points:
    1) Skin catches attention. That’s why we shoot it–it pays the bills. But it also draws attention. And if there’s any risk that someone is going to not like what they see, prep your site: tarps and bungee cords are cheap, and you can easily screen off the unwanted attention.

    2) All the points I raised for models go double for photographers: agree with your model about what you’re doing and accept the consequences of that agreement and your actions. And prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. Know the legalities of what you’re doing. Carry credentials, if you have any. Get business cards from attorneys.

    3) Realize that once cops get involved, the model is the one breaking the law, but the photographer is presumed to be the guilty party. As such, a lot of what does and doesn’t happen will be up to you: if you are good, you can smooth over any messes.
    3a) As such, lie like a dog. It’s neither illegal nor immoral to lie to police (it’s a crime to obstruct, not to lie), and in most of these situations, cops are like everyone else: they want to avoid doing stupid busy work, and they want to maintain the peace. So, carry a memory card specifically against the chance you’ll be caught–take a bunch of innocent pictures on that card. And before trouble rears its head, swap that card into your camera. So if confronted by a cop, you can just show him your camera’s LCD as “proof” that you & your model weren’t doing anything wrong.
    3b) Print out copies of relevant state statutes & keep these with business cards from attorneys. Heck, spend some time/effort (and possibly money) to get a generic “my client’s behavior does not break any law” letter on a law firm’s letterhead… or, where the “lie like a dog” thing comes in, make up your own. Cops don’t know all the laws they are charged to enforce, and if you–with the proper attitude and manner–present a cop with enough documentation to support your case, you increase your chances of avoiding trouble.
    4) Be proactive. Stop by the local police station and tell them you’re going to be doing X and photographing Y. Maybe you don’t tell them you’re going to do nudes, or maybe you hint at it. But keep them in the loop, so when Gramma Smith up on Cherry Hill sees some weird city-slicker with a big white lens taking pictures over by the old missile silos (that were decommissioned in 1965) and calls the police, Sheriff Lobo can tell her that it’s all OK, that the photographer checks out. But if you didn’t keep the cops in the loop, they’ll wonder what the heck is going on themselves, and instead of going back to their enthralling games of Minesweeper, they’ll go out to make sure Al Qaida isn’t about to steal Gramma Smith’s pie.

    One last anecdote to stress this last point: I saw this abandoned, burned-out house, and thought it’d be great to do some photography there–not even with a model, just getting some cool, artsy shots. Now, it just being me, I could’ve gotten in, taken my shots, and gotten out pretty quickly, with little muss or fuss, and not much risk. But I followed my own advice and stopped by the precinct to ask about the house and whether it was condemned and what the regs were on trespassing. The police went from initially being very suspicious and discouraging, to ultimately telling me that I could go ahead and shoot there (but they said if anyone complained & called in, I’d have to leave and not return). I went over to the house and started doing some shooting, and before I was done a cop had pulled up in his cruiser–not to chase me off, but out of curiosity. After a few minutes of talking about what kind of photography I did and what I’d really like to shoot in the house, a call came over his radio about a structure fire, and he invited me to ride with him to the fire. I ended up getting some excellent shots, and sold one to the local newspaper.

    A couple weeks later, I was back at that house, doing a shoot with the cop’s wife. No nudes, but if I ever want to shoot nudes in that part of town, I know who to call to keep things from getting sticky.

    • You wrote: “Stop by the local police station and tell them you’re going to be doing X and photographing Y.”

      Oh, that reminds me… Before I shot in the creek with Jess, I stopped by the people who maintain that section of the park and told them that I intended to do a model shoot–a very natural model shoot. I was fishing for any warnings or advice, among other things. I never said nude or anything about the model or exactly where I would be (because I didn’t exactly know). I tried to be as vague as I could while answering their questions.

  9. Most laws DO boil down to technicalities of course. The sad fact is that we are often at the mercy of the police.

    I was pulled over once for a traffic violation, threatened with a myriad of possibilities including spending the night in jail, issued tickets, had to appear in criminal court, not traffic court… the judge threw the case out and said I should have never been issued a ticket. I’m glad the judge didn’t feel like giving me a hard time too!

    With so many laws we’re almost always certain to be in violation of something, right? Just ask Walt about getting pulled over here and the officer demanding to know why he was chewing gum! With no violation they ended up searching his car and I can’t remember how long they held him on the side of the road.

    He still takes his chances and comes to Melbourne though haha I guess each of us has to decide what risk we find acceptable.

    On the plus side, I’ve never heard of a nudity law that would categorize the accused as a ‘sex offender’. Those are a different class, usually something like indecent exposure which implies lewd and lascivious behavior.

  10. If you you go into the woods in Canada, particularly in winter, lol. You will have no problem.

  11. I’m glad that you are being careful about shoot locations. People are crazy, and can do bad things when you are vulnerable.

    My own amateur shoot with you produced some of my favorite modeling photos. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to work with you. That meant a lot to me.

    I’ve been fortunate that neither the half-dozen nude model shoots that I posed out in public nor my own public nudity (modeling or not) has ever resulted in a confrontation. Looking back at it all, I’m actually amazed that is the case. Then, again, I rarely do this where a woman is likely to walk her dog.

    In the State of Texas, nudity is a Class B misdemeanor offense, but only if it is done with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, and is reckless as to whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed. That generally holds true if a minor is involved, too. Of course, local laws can make it illegal to walk around without a sports coat, if they desire. You probably won’t find a law stating that nudity ever is permitted; in general, if a law names something, it is for the purpose of restricting it.

    I have often referenced the Texas State statutes on public nudity. Those statutes, like many others, often change. You can refer to them at:

    http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.42.htm

    and

    http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.21.htm

  12. Great article. May I repost

  13. I have done my share of “Hit & Run” nude shoots for people, (I’m the photog) and a few for adverts and editorials.

    For pro shoots, permit is needed, cops are hired off duty where allowed to keep the area clear of bystanders, gawkers, bums and crooks. Releases are rquired for recognizable buidlings in the shot.

    For shoots just for models, or for fine art work that will sell in galleries etc, we did lots of hit and run. Choose time at teh location when its deserted. Photog and model(s) arrive seperately, photog sets up, begins to shoot, model runs in, to pre-arranged spot, poses 3-5 poses, runs off. IF anyone see’s they see a confused photographer that had been shooting a buidling,,, looking stunned… Regroup off site at pre arranged spot.

    I MUCH prefer commercial shoots w all the legalities covered.
    >>>Usualy a shoot permit and security will take care of it.
    You’re mileage may vary

  14. You really should come to NYC & do a workshop with me. We can shoot INSIDE obviating all of the above concerns.

  15. Do you remember that creek where we shot? I’ve hiked nude for hundreds of yards upstream and downstream in it several times. I’ve spent several entire afternoons and evenings stark naked in that creek, on the paths of the creek banks and in the thorn and poison ivy patches (it seems I often walk right into the middle of a bunch of thorn vines as soon as I take off all my clothes).

    I decided to go skinny-dipping for my birthday last week. Unfortunately, as a federal holiday, more people than usual were in the area, and a few actually saw me in the all-together. One man came stomping up the creek bank, looking like he was going to throw down justice himself, but he kept on walking past my clothes and gear lying on the ground. Perhaps he noticed that I was at that point on a cliff bank above him, positioning a video camera in his direction, as I prepared to shoot video of myself swimming in the nude. He is plainly visible in my video, as the camera was rolling the entire time. I like to keep a video camera watching over the general scene (I didn’t do that for our shoot).

    A few months ago, I visited my first nudist resort. It was OK. The people were friendly, I greatly enjoyed the hot tub and I played Godiva on my bicycle without anyone bothering me. I’m not too excited about going back there, though, because it is a 2.5 hour drive to this place that isn’t all that much to look at, without much to do, to pay money to do mostly what I can do at home. That spot on the creek where I shot video of myself is one of my favorite places in Texas, because it is beautiful and serene, quiet and peaceful.

    It is the photographer’s job to know his shoot locations intimately. The model may not have any idea where he will be shooting, but the photographer sets up the shoot. That’s not to say that the unexpected wouldn’t happen. I do believe that places have their characteristics, and the people at those places often behave in predictable ways that are characteristic of those places.

    I’m concerned that my days of streaking and skinny-dipping at that creek may be coming to an end, as development is tearing down the woods and exposing the creek. New roads are being built, and the natural beauty, quiet and solitude that I value are disappearing. I’m trying to capture what I can of this fast-disappearing landscape that the City and inhabitants do not seem to value.

  16. nicely written article, and i completely understand how these instances would influence your current policy.
    i’m curious though, do you view those first two photographers negatively as a result of your experiences?
    as you specifically mention the names of all three, yet you seem to let G (which sounds like it was the episode closest to resulting in legal action) off the hook.
    just curious.

    • They are all my friends, I don’t view any of them negatively and I don’t feel like I’ve put them in a poor light here. Maybe it reads that way though? Thoughts?

      • Eh, maybe it’s just the writer in me. Since you take the time to mention that you still have much love for G, it may sound like, by omission, you’re leaving the other two out in the cold so to speak.

        I have a tendency to read much too deeply into things and take comment threads wayyyyy off course. My apologies.

  17. When my sister toured one of the colleges in Bennington, VT, she discovered when the campus tour guide did his tour in the buff. My mother complained (probably more out of shock in how public it was) but admin couldn’t do squat because there being no state, nor local public indecentancy laws.

    That digression aside, I could totally understand why you wouldn’t want the hassle of doing public nudity. To each their own.

  18. Really interesting read, it seems quite US-centric to me – Australia does not seem to have the same kind of challenges. Obviously common sense prevails, there’s no point deliberately irritating the locals, but we have more subjective laws that refer more to indecent behaviour than simple nudity. Our laws vary state by state, and Victoria (where I am) is quite interesting because we have a state-based “bill of rights” than can result in conflicts between the rights of the photographer and the rights of the public citizen.

    I’ve talked my way out of plenty of situations, didn’t even need to do much convincing – police are always quite relaxed about nudity, they usually just advise to not be there long, try and avoid busy days, and don’t have a heap of gear – they are more likely to get upset for illegal car parking (which I did!), and using tripods/light stands (which are actually a public liability hazard)

    Of course, I also have a massive private studio, so I guess I can have the best of both worlds!

    Come to Australia – about the same land mass as the US, much less people, and lots of outside opportunities for great images!

    Keep up the great work.

    Jeff
    http://www.photograjph.com

    • Jeff – even hazarding risk I’d love to see how this sort of thing is received by other cultures. Australia is top on my list of places to go as soon as I can carve 3-4 weeks out of my schedule!

      • Australia is a great place to visit (apart from the long flight), we’ve got some amazing locations all over! If you do head this way, let me know if I can assist lining up bookings with the locals, or perhaps even organise a project or two myself!

        Cheers Jeff

  19. The laws vary from State to State in Australia as well, but in general there is a much more relaxed attitude and in more than 10 years I have never heard of any models or photographers actually being booked .. the worst that is likely to happen if someone complains and if the cops do show up they will ask you to pack up and move on. And unless you are involved in something ‘hardcore” the most they could likely even try to get you for would be something like “creating a public nuisance”. In recent cases where the cops have prosecuted someone for merely being naked in public the courts have dismissed the charges so the precedent has been set.

    • Yes, well know that Aussies aren’t as uptight as many here in the U.S. There was a calendar there years ago featuring art nudes of various Olympic athletes and proceeds went to fund related non-profits. We need more role models like that here.

  20. Filme…

    […]Naked in the Great Outdoors « Adventures of a Traveling Model[…]…

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