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Bikes and Nudes: Portrait of a Nomadic Photographer, Part 2

(Bikes and Nudes . . . )

As each woman’s image emerged from the pages, he told me about some of their modeling experiences. One woman, whose face burns out of the darkness with strangely wistful eyes, was a soldier. She confided to him that she was a sharpshooter, even when she played pool. She wanted to model because she had lost the feeling of being female.

RomTom related how women’s preconceptions of modeling occasionally got in the way. Some of them believed that they would get big glossy prints of their images, in return for his ‘erotic experience.’ For this reason, he rarely photographs erotic dancers because of their general preconceptions of nudity. “I view each modeling experience as a gift given to me by the Goddess, and it’s not about eroticism. I give the model a simple, small collection of the best pictures from the shoot.”

We discussed the differences between Playboy’s photo projection and his photography. For me, the chief difference was that his photographs were mainly sensual, showing how the body reaches outside itself to nature. Men’s magazines, with their sexual, coy poses, show the model as a projection of someone else’s erotic thoughts, not her own.

RomTom talked about the spirituality of counter-culture women. “Almost every counter-culture woman has climbed a mountain or been deep in a forest alone. She’s high and she’s afraid. And at this point she makes a promise to herself—‘Goddess, please allow me to survive this, to share myself with you, and I promise to take life more seriously.’ She is cut by an edge she has mishandled in the past. She puts that edge deep within her, so it won’t slip. Such experience makes for wonderful photography.”

A man with a strong Celtic background, he composes pictures of women and nature twining together, as in legends. In one image, a soft-skinned black woman fans a fire, her eyes bright as if caught in a personal summoning of strength. Women pose with their Wiccan wands or with unusual masks that seem carved out of caves. Women are painted, in mud or in clown greasepaint.

There are many rich, personal symbols and rituality in RomTom’s photographs. Although ritual comprises a rich body of his photography, women are often depicted dancing or moving, as if drawing upon their own strength, already gained and full. He has a few pictures of women menstruating, including a strong image of a woman with her legs split on a high wall with a streak of red dripping down the white paint. The accompanying poem conjures a culture in which blood is not perceived as dirty or shameful, but as a sign of life. The immediate visual recoil is matched by gentle words “At one time, this would be seen as natural.”

Nudes in Public? Do nudes have a place in public art? Once the exclusive privilege of the rich (who could afford paintings for private salons and apartments), art depicting nudes can now be found displayed in restaurants, bars and coffee shops, in addition to the traditional galleries.

When I asked him how people responded to his art, RomTom answered, “Women usually love it. Women come into the galleries and walk around, and they come back bringing their ten-year-old daughters. Men look at a few nude photographs, then walk to the center of the room. They’re afraid to be seen looking at the pictures. Such a man is not eloquent in standing up to his wife. He needs to say ‘I have a right to look at these photographs, just like you do.’”

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