Book Review: Naked Britain by Amelia Allen
By Leah Pfenning
Naturism, the cultural advocacy and practice of nudity in public and private, has taken on a new life with the member organization, British Naturism (BN). According to a 2009 report, the politically recognized group hosts over 13,000 members across Britain and holds several nude events and holidays annually. Naturists advocate nudity as a form of liberation. They believe unveiling the body dismantles physical and social judgment, and in that freedom the spirit can expand beyond the container, which Amelia Allen captures with a graceful purity in Naked Britain.
The primarily fashion and editorial photographer challenged herself with a documentary project capturing modern British Naturism. Allen fully immersed herself in the naturist culture, photographing all the images in the book in the nude. The project was inspired by a hunger to explore the “rawness, freedom, liberation, and fun” that social nudity elicits. Naked Britain is a social experiment that asks who we are when we stop covering ourselves up, how do we navigate social interactions when we don’t have anything to hide behind, and how can we truly be comfortable in our own bodies.
Allen opens her book with a foreword about her induction into the naturists, the literal stripping away of clothes and prejudices, and what she found when nakedness was all there was. Eye contact, she comments, was much more present among the naturists. Despite the full exposure, the body is not the focus; making a connection with one another is what is important. When people are clothed it’s easy to scan bodies, it feels safer to scan people rather than make direct eye contact, but without clothes, making eye contact is what is left.
The entirety of the book is shot in black and white. An interesting choice for work that seeks to expose, but similar to the lack of clothing encouraging eye contact, the lack of color encourages a focus on the people in the photograph and not their bodies. Allen comments that of course at first it was shocking seeing so many naked people, but after a short while the shock wore off and she normalized the idea very naturally. The media’s influence of glamorized bodies was nonexistent, and there was nothing sexual about it. Her photography of the naturists shows us people at a profound natural state. You forget you're looking at a series of nude photographs, the nudity dissolves and we are taken on a tour of liberation. People having fun in their own skin – that’s it.
The work is uplifting and inviting. Allen draws comparisons between the body conscious world of fashion and the world of the naturists in her commentary, but it’s not the focus of her work. She acknowledges that there is already a strong movement happening working to redefine “beautiful” in the media. We still have a long way to go, but little by little the media is evolving to a more inclusive portrayal of bodies. More than confronting body image issues, Naked Britain flirts with breaking down the conservative ideology around covering up. Throw your clothes to the wind and relish in feeling the breeze; you may just walk away with a whole new perspective.
Naked Britain is available for purchase here.