Laura Knight first showed her portrait, Self-Portrait with Model, in 1913. The picture shows Knight in her studio in Cornwall working on a study of the female nude. The model, though her face cannot be seen, is Ella Naper, a friend of Knight’s and herself a very capable ceramicist. Knight, the model and the picture on which she is working are all clearly visible.
We can look at the work now and admire the composition and her ability to bring the female form to life in paint, but can too easily miss the significance of this painting as a work of female emancipation. In 1913, art education for women was still limited in availability and highly constrained. In particular, women were not able to attend life classes in art schools and were not expected to paint nude figures. Her husband, who had attended art school with her, was of course able to participate in life classes and was particularly strong at representing the human form.Knight’s decision to make this painting was therefore a deliberate act of assertive emancipation, both asserting her right as a woman to paint such pictures and asserting her equality of capability with her husband. As Rosie Broadley wrote in a recent essay, Self-Portrait with Model is ‘now considered a central work in the history of female self-portraiture’.
I have admired both the picture and its symbolism since I first saw it and wanted to see if I create an equivalent self-portrait photograph. I suppose in my own mind there is another small act of assertiveness in taking and publishing this photograph. Retired (well, semi-retired) businessmen who have no formal training as ‘artists’ are not really supposed to take photographs of female nudes. Photographing nudes has a slightly disreputable air about it, unless you are able to wrap the mantle of ‘artist’ around you. No doubt that is why nude photographs are so often categorised by their creators as ‘fine art photography’. The photograph doesn’t make me an artist, but it does assert an ambition to develop as a photographer, learn and make photographs which have artistic merit.
Because I have had objections before about publishing a nude photograph on this website, I have not published it here. But you can find it by clicking on this link here to another website which I plan to use over time to present a portfolio of images. If you are likely to be offended by a photograph which includes a female nude, please do not follow the link.