A couple of weeks ago, I found a site full of naked women. These women looked comfortable posing in their own skin. Their skin sagged, their tummies rolled, and their teeth gleamed from behind their grins in a naturally sunlit setting. They were at ease, as if saying to me, “This is me, this is my body.” I found it empowering.
The site I found is called The NU Project, a photography art project based out of Minneapolis by photographer Matt Blum and his wife Katy. The couple travels around America—North and South—and takes pictures of women who volunteer to be part of it.
“I started shooting for the project not really knowing what it would become; I was using my friends, neighbours, and acquaintances to make photographs that I thought were beautiful,” Matt says. “At some point, people began to comment that it was nice to see all types of women represented in nude photography. Around the same time, I got bored of shooting in the studio—so I began working in peoples’ homes. I think that’s when the project really came to life, and the inspiration of what it could be really sank in.”
Perusing the site time and time again, I was disconcerted by the lack of women of colour and trans folks—there is an overwhelming presence of whiteness in the photography. But, Matt has addressed this on the website, stating:
“We would love the project to be more diverse! There is a lack of women of color, no transgender women, few women of Asian or Middle Eastern heritage and many other shortfalls that need to be addressed. The hardest part for us is that the project is 100% volunteer, so I do not see the women until I show up at their door. We’re doing our best to encourage all types of women, but we need volunteers of all backgrounds and walks of life to make the project more complete. If you know someone who might be interested, please encourage them to visit our participation page.”
The NU Project seems to have hit a particular chord with many. It highlights honest pictures of women, their bodies, their emotions, and their environments. Which oddly, or maybe sadly, is something we aren’t used to.
“The setting of the photographs (now) is always the model’s home,” Matt says. “Occasionally we’ll do a shoot in a model’s friend’s house instead of her own because of logistical reasons, but I always make sure it’s somewhere important to the model—and that she’ll be 100 percent comfortable there. So far we’ve avoided using more abstract locations like forests, fields, warehouses, etc…I don’t think they fit with the project.”
Matt and Katy plan to turn The NU Project into a book that holds all—or at least the majority of—the photographs they have taken since they began the project in 2005. You can find out more about their plans and their funding needs here—they also have a cool little video which outlines what they love about the project, as well as their experiences meeting the participants. You can also pre-order the book as a way of funding its publication.
“I’m not really sure what [The NU Project] is, but from what women all over the world have told me, it’s been making a positive impact,” Matt says. “I think the beautiful thing about art is that sometimes you just create it and let other people tell you what it is.”
Poring over a book of naked women and sharing it with friends is certainly a good way to begin the conversation on bodies and how we feel in our own skin. Participating in such a project in any capacity, I’m sure, could be a very empowering experience—one that enables us to embrace our saggy skin and tummy rolls. Because as Matt and Katy say on their website, “You are beautiful.”