- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - When it comes to photographer Trevor Christensen’s latest project, he’s giving new meaning to the idea of shooting at proper exposure.

Or some might say, improper exposure.

A photojournalist with a deep interest in the subjects’ experience during a shoot, this former award-winning Spectrum photographer has recently made a name for himself both nationally and internationally after his nude photography project went viral.

While having subjects pose naked in front of a camera is certainly nothing new, Christensen’s idea to have his subjects fully clothed while he, the photographer, is naked.

“This was a side project that took off. It was never meant to be what it’s becoming,” Christensen said during a phone interview wherein he said he was wearing jeans and a button up shirt.

Laughing, he said he has heard so many jokes about whether or not he’s going to show up places in the nude that the comments hardly even phase him anymore. However, he was quick to point out that he still wears clothes everywhere except during the actual nude portrait shoots - sessions that typically take place in a studio or the person’s home.

Although the idea has only recently thrust Christensen into the spotlight, it’s a project he’s contemplated for quite some time. Initially, though, it was always brought up as a joke.

“I’d tell my friends, ‘I’m going to do nude portraits, but I’m the one who is naked,’” Christensen said.

Even though the idea was said in jest, it actually represented the possibility of creating a greater balance of power between the photographer and the subject, a relationship Christensen has always been intrigued by.

He still remembers the first time he realized the camera wielded such power. He was asked by his high school yearbook staff to photograph the administration in his school. As a self-described “pain” to the administration and “not a good student,” Christensen was used to being the one feeling uncomfortable during his interactions with the principal and vice principal. But as soon as he showed up with a camera, the tables turned completely.

“I’ve thought about that ever since. How do you make someone feel comfortable? How do you balance that?” he said.

Then, a little more than a year ago, he decided to give the naked photographer idea a try. His first official shoot was with his then-girlfriend, an experience Christensen describes as “underwhelming.”

“This was not new territory for her,” Christensen said of her reaction to his naked body. “I was really disappointed.”

But he decided to give it another go in August 2013, this time enlisting the help of long-time friend, Jordan Crandell.

Sitting in the studio while Christensen disrobed in a nearby closet, Crandell heard Christensen’s belt buckle hit the floor. All Crandell could think was, “This is actually going to happen. He is about to walk out naked.”

When he stepped out, Christensen got more of the reaction he expected.

“I just laughed. It was hard not to,” Crandell said.

Both Crandell and Christensen were uncomfortable, but Christensen did his best to maintain an air of professionalism as he slipped into full photographer mode. Before long, Crandell said he almost forgot Christensen was naked.

Until he looked down.

Going viral

Since that time, Christensen has had around 10 nude sessions, some with people he knew beforehand, others he booked with strangers. It wasn’t until one of his friends suggested posting Christensen’s idea to the web site Imagur.com that things really took off.

“He posted it that afternoon. By the time our soccer game was done (the page) had 100,000 views on it,” Christensen said. “It just went from there.”

He’s since been picked up on sites like Reddit, Jezebel and Buzzfeed and had media attention from news outlets serving his Provo-area home, as well as interviews on Utah Public Radio and organizations in Germany, Brazil and Italy.

“I’ve been really surprised. People told me this was a good idea. not that I didn’t believe them but it’s one thing to say it’s a good idea and another to have people you don’t know actually grab onto the idea and promote it,” Christensen said.

Madelyne Buonforte, a long-time friend of Christensen, and the subject of one of his nude portrait shoots, said she has always loved and supported all of his work.

“I look up to him so much as an artist,” Buonforte said.

She participated in the shoot more than willingly, anxious to be part of what she saw as, “such a cool idea.”

Buonforte said she wasn’t particularly nervous for the shoot, after all she’s known Christensen since elementary school. Yet when he emerged naked from her bathroom for the “grand reveal,” her reaction was every bit as dramatic as a stranger’s might have been.

“I yelped and screamed,” Buonforte said. “I was screaming and covering my eyes. All of it was so comical to me.”

Like Crandell, Buonforte said she eventually settled into the rhythm of the shoot and nearly forgot that he was supposed to be the one feeling vulnerable. She started getting nervous to have her picture taken.

“You’re so thrown out of your comfort zone. It’s the best,” Buonforte said.

Although Christensen’s initial idea was to use this gimmick as a means of balancing the scales between photographer and subject, he has since learned his hypothesis was flawed.

“This is making us both uncomfortable,” Christensen said.

Now, the project is more about how the lack of clothes changes the dynamic between the two people, as well as providing some raw emotion on people’s faces that Christensen is more than happy to capture with his lens.

“The photo takes on more depth,” he said. “The idea is that when the viewer is looking at the photo, they’re trying to figure out what is going on.”

Looking ahead

Over the next two to three years, Christensen said he hopes to collect about 70 images to use in a gallery show and compile into a book. Initially he thought such a project would have to be self-published, but with the support he’s seen just three weeks into the project, he’s hopeful that there may be a publishing house willing to pick it up.

His goal is to book around 200 naked photo shoots, and offers for subjects are already pouring in.

So far, his screening process is a simple phone conversation, but he said he has never felt unsafe. Occasionally he has a “wing woman” help him with the shoot, but not every time. Subjects are welcome to have other people there if it makes them more comfortable.

“The funny thing is that, by far, the people that have contacted me the most have been women,” Christensen said.

He’s doing his best to take all the attention in stride, however, because at the end of the day he still considers himself a photojournalist trying to tell a story. With or without his clothes on.

Learn more about the Nude Portrait project at www.trevorchristensen.com.

___

Information from: The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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