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The Naked Truth About Londoners

Defying their reputation for stuffiness, Brits pose in the buff for a book that captures the reality of being human, imperfections and all.

March 07, 2000|LYNDSAY GRIFFITHS | REUTERS

LONDON — Bashful Britain is shedding its inhibitions--and Londoners are stripping naked to prove it.

From the 69-year-old accountant wearing only a beard to the publicity manager with a tantalizing tattoo, Londoners are revealing all in a new book that seeks to end Britain's reputation as a nation of fuddy-duddies.

There are bent and lopsided parts and pregnant bellies. Wizened men and fat ladies mix with gorgeous girls and women of a certain age and charm. Bodies deformed by cancer and genes mix with figures fit for Playboy.

A cook stands proud, a knowing smirk about his lips. A drag queen dons wig, drops his frock and smiles. The buttoned-up banker is a model of naked joy, a naughty nurse steps out of a starched uniform and a prim flight attendant blossoms when finally released from her dour outfit.

" 'Londoners would never pose in the nude for a book,' everybody told me when I went to London," said Greg Friedler, an American photographer who captured London's underbelly on film. "I heard the same thing over and over: 'The British are repressed and introverted people.' "

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But not so repressed they will not show their scars, their wounds, their bulges and their tiny shriveled bits in public.

"Naked London" portrays people from all ages and walks of life as they transmute from respectable city dwellers into naked beings. Using a Mamiya 7 camera, a 65-millimeter lens, some strobes and a few white panels, Friedler has produced simple black-and-white portraits of real people at their most real. The book, due out in April, follows similar volumes featuring Angelenos and New Yorkers.

There are a man and his shaggy dog, a makeup artist and her sausage-eating son--he keeps his clothes on--and a research scientist cradling crutches. Friedler found a publisher with a smile to die for, a shaven porn artist in love with the lens and a recruitment consultant bulging with manhood.

All are captioned just by age and profession, but are bound together by their city and their nakedness.

"Photographing someone nude is linked more to sexual gratification, eroticism or our conventions of beauty," said Friedler, whose portraits can be seen online at http://www.nakedlondon.co.uk. "My concern is not to represent the way people want to look, but to record the way they do look."

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He has created a touching picture. There are no tricks and there is no titillation--these are the flesh-and-blood, imperfect forms we all see in the mirror.

"The most exciting thing about the book is not the tattoos nor the piercings, but the overwhelming number of everyday people, normal people, not exhibitionists nor freaks," said Friedler.

Why would Britons agree to do it?

"I can strike a blow for women of my age," said a 53-year-old customer service manager featured in the book. "Even if you have a funny shape or you have scars or whatever, it doesn't matter because that's just the shell. It's what's inside that counts."

The full-breasted nanny said she is shocked by the size of her chest, yet the gardening mother is sanguine about hers.

"From here on, everything is going south and is rippling. I have spent most of my life doing things for other people and pleasing other people, and I am doing this for me. There is a little part of me that wants to be a little mad," she said.

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For some it is a sort of coming out, for others a secret.

"My wife would kill me if she saw this. She doesn't know I'm doing this. We have a different background and different cultural upbringings," said a computer software manager.

Friedler saw it as a chance for him to get to know London and for Londoners to get to know themselves. "When I thought of London and the British, for the most part I thought of Princess Di, punk rockers, royalty, tradition, fish and chips, an odd sense of humor and brilliant musicians," he said.

"The British are certainly not as open about their bodies as the Swedes or other Europeans, but then neither are we Americans, by a long shot. Surely for many Londoners, the act of posing was a step toward shedding their shell."

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