Why I Photograph My Best Friend Naked (NSFW)

Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
A woman running naked through the desert’s morning light sounds like a fantasy, right? Well, that’s a pretty fitting way to describe photographer Megan Eagles’ creative relationship with her best friend and muse, glamour model-turned-filmmaker Haf Gibson.

Seven years ago, Eagles spotted Haf when she came looking for a job in the cinema where she was working and apparently “it was love at first sight”. Since then, they’ve travelled around the world together shooting erotica in their joint mission to demonstrate how women can define their own sexual image. They publish the work in magazines and books of erotica, and are now running a platform called Page She with other female artists and filmmakers.

With the British government looking to ban an array of female sex acts from porn, it is clear that women’s pleasure remains a taboo in our society. These two women are keen to point out that if the porn industry remains hidden from and out of reach of women, it will continue to be controlled by potentially exploitative men.

With that in mind, we talked to Megan and Haf about how their collaboration seeks to take back control of the representation of female sexuality, and what's changed socially about the sexual depiction of women's bodies in the years that they've been shooting.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Is it difficult, or weird, to be this intimate with your best friend?

Meg: Not weird at all! It is just funny and fun. We are both comfortable being naked around each other – Haf is a bit of an exhibitionist and naturally at her most comfortable naked. We will send each other sexy photos before we send them to our boyfriends! I think creating this kind of work has made us more open people. While Haf has always been like this, sex was never a serious subject for her growing up (her parents are like Ben Stiller’s parents in Meet the Fockers). I, on the other hand, have always been very sexual but felt more awkward talking about it and expressing myself in my early 20s. But, as I explored my sexuality, I discovered myself and became more confident in my values and beliefs.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Haf: I feel completely myself shooting with Meg. Working together over the last seven years has actually been incredibly cathartic and in a way, therapeutic. My sexual identity had been a pre-packaged commodity from a very young adult and it’s helped me reclaim that and take ownership of my image. With Meg I feel naked in a very real, honest kind of way. And, despite my hesitation to use the word, I would say I feel wholeheartedly 'empowered' and genuinely liberated when we shoot because it feels like we’re actually creating something. She has an effortless way of capturing her subjects. She’s my best friend but objectively I really admire her work. I’m a massive, unashamed fan!
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Haf, did your previous work as a glamour model ever change your relationship to your body?

Haf: My body was my bread and butter. I’d be a fool to think that hasn’t shaped my relationship with it in some way. That said, I don’t necessarily think it’s had the dramatic or unhealthy impact that people might assume. For me, shooting for lads’ mags was super performative; ’Seren’ was an alter ego that I would very consciously slip into. Admittedly, it wasn’t a character I found particularly relatable – she was a myth. In fact, I described it as putting on my nude 'costume’, which was definitely very precocious in retrospect but a good insight into how it felt! As most images were airbrushed to within an inch of their lives, a costume was an accurate description.

As an insider, I was aware of the artifice… However, in my experience, there definitely isn’t as much body surveillance as there is in fashion. Glamour shoots always felt more celebratory and I didn’t ever feel self-conscious about my body in the way I did shooting something more commercial.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Ironically, the only times I have felt disempowered and truly objectified was through my interactions with the wider press during the debate surrounding the end of lads’ mags. My position was neither for or against, but regardless of how comprehensive or balanced my insights were, I found that my voice was often simplified and, once, removed entirely after I gave an interview. Regardless of the platform, the way I was represented was frequently as two-dimensional as in Zoo or Nuts. It seemed that, as a woman who had sold my sexuality, my opinions had to be uncomplicated and palatable.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Meg: Following on from what Haf mentioned, I didn’t find out she was a glamour model for a while after we met and when I found out I was very surprised. After talking to her, I thought she seemed quite prudish about sex, something I couldn’t equate with someone working in that industry – surely if you take your kit off for money you must also be sexually promiscuous, I thought. This was an instinctual assumption and once I properly considered it, one I didn’t have for long. It’s amazing how many people who see themselves as left-leaning and liberal, myself included, can be spoon-fed stereotypes.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
There exists a lot of writing about finding female empowerment through reclaiming sexuality and there have been a lot of photo shoots exploring similar themes. What is different about your work and why do you keep doing it?

Meg: In terms of seeing female sexuality in a positive and empowering way, I feel that we are definitely progressing in some areas. A couple of years ago I couldn’t think of any films where a female character was sexually promiscuous and wasn’t either punished for it or damaged in some way. The female sexuality we see on TV and in movies has since become a lot more multifaceted. The excellent Diary of a Teenage Girl, for example, which of course was written and directed by women; Phoebe Gloeckner and Marielle Heller.

However, we are regressing in other ways and I don’t think that the majority of people – including some self-described feminists – see all aspects of female sexuality as positives. Glamour models or porn stars are still seen as trashy yet shooting nudity in fashion or on Instagram is seen as progressive and cool. I don’t necessarily think Page 3 is the greatest idea because of the context but I do have an issue with people telling other people what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their own body and where.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Haf: Throughout my time modelling, I was constantly asked whether I felt ‘empowered’ – as if that would legitimise my actions. At the time, it was an easy word to use as a security blanket when faced with criticism. Personally, I didn’t do it for empowerment. My motives were financial. I doubt a man in a similar situation would be asked that question so frequently. In this context, empowerment has become overused and meaningless. Again, I think a lot of the language around women who capitalise on their body falls into a dichotomy – your experience was either good or bad, if you weren’t empowered then you must have been exploited. It’s just not that simple.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Would you say that you have a particular aim behind your work together?

Meg: With our work we aim to say that ‘yes you can be a feminist and like naked pictures of women’. Instead of shutting stuff down and censoring, why don’t you create your own imagery and take ownership of it. Why does feminist nude art have to be desexualised? For instance, sometimes I will look at my body in the mirror and get turned on by parts of it, in a non-traditionally pornographic way – like looking at my breasts and watching my nipples hardening. I see my work in a similar way – as self-reflective rather than objectifying. It’s about finding new ways to find the erotic in the female body from an insider’s perspective, not as someone seeing it as other.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Haf: For us, the problem is not with the sexualisation of women; but the way that image has evolved. For instance, if you look at porn mags over the last 50 years, you can very clearly see how the ‘desired’ female form has become plasticised, hairless and formulaic. It has gone from something provocative to something predictable, which surely is the antithesis of sexy? Personally, it makes me feel stale from the waist down and bored from the waist up!

Meg and I have started directing together and something we also feel very strongly about as we move into film, is that our subjects have a strong voice when sexualised. My biggest problem with lads’ mags wasn’t with the explicit pictures but the silencing that went hand in hand with it; the dialogue was as manufactured as the imagery. This in itself has been a rare opportunity to showcase sexual images alongside honest, open conversation.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
On that note, what has changed – socially and for you both – in the time you have been shooting together?

Meg: A lot has changed; Playboy has stopped shooting nudes, The Sun has stopped running Page 3 in print, the U.K. government has banned sexual practices such as face sitting and female ejaculation as they are considered 'unnatural', all pornographic sites are going to be age-restricted and now Jeremy Hunt is discussing the idea of banning under-18s from sexting. There has been a huge shift towards censorship and strong morality politics recently. On the other hand, as Haf mentioned, social media has given people the power to create their own visual channel, broadcast whatever they want – including their bodies (to an extent). You’ve got incredible photographers such as Nadia Lee Cohen and Millicent Hailes showing their sexualised bodies on their Instagram accounts, creating art with it and killing it – it's on their terms and that’s what’s important.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Haf: We grew up in the '90s, it was the era of Girl Power, Playboy merchandise and 'post-feminism' – there was an assumption that equality had been achieved, that the women’s movement was a thing of the past, something our ancestors were part of. At the same time, you had this growing hyper-sexualisation of women in the mainstream media; the rhetoric of female empowerment was increasingly linked to taking your clothes off specifically for the male gaze; it was 'empowering to exploit men’s weaknesses'. Lads’ mags were a manifestation of all of these things and in that respect were very much of the time.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
Over the last few years we’ve seen a huge resurgence in feminism and an invigorated awareness, which is obviously incredible. Simultaneously, the creation and distribution of images has been democratised; here in the U.K. most women have the tools of representation in their back pocket and can portray their body on their terms. Editorial power is quite literally in our own hands. It’s a really exciting time.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
However, there’s also a puritanical backlash and an influential group of opinion leaders surveying other women’s bodies and choices. Whereas in the '90s feminism was previously synonymous with sexual liberation, the latest movement has birthed a worrying shift towards controlling and containing female sexuality, which is dangerous. The rhetoric surrounding 'end the lads’ mags’ debate was pretty insightful, the media consistently positioned ‘glamour models’ against ‘feminists’, which is worrying; why can’t you be both? It’s classic divide-and-conquer politics.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
A lot of people critique the porn industry, and/or erotica for causing sexual anxiety or unobtainable pressures. Do you think female-created porn is the way forward?

Haf: Yes. Female-created porn is one of the ways forward, there’s a growing movement of women creating porn right now who are gaining momentum and shaking shit up (check out Vex Ashley and her production company Four Chambers, she’s amazing!). But, like most moving image, the majority is still created from a male perspective, and obviously that ratio needs to change until it reflects reality.
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
At the end of the day, regardless of gender, we need to take ownership of our sexuality, rather than letting it be dictated to us. That can't happen if we turn our backs on it, hide from it or censor it, it needs to be embraced. The only way it will change is by people creating the content they want to see and contributing their perspective. However, as long as pornography remains stigmatised, it will be out of our reach and in the hands of a few powerful men. Essentially, I think for explicit imagery to be truly diversified it needs to be less taboo and more tangible. There’s lots of work to be done!
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Photographs: Courtesy of Megan K. Eagles.
In the glamour modelling and porn industry, we hear so many stories of young women being taken advantage of. Do you think that your approach is a way to get around this?

Meg: Definitely. Our approach is one of the ways that we can help avoid exploitation. For many reasons we need more women behind the camera and this is one of them. I know lots of women I shoot feel more comfortable with me shooting than with guys, especially if they are getting naked. The problem is bigger – if brands and magazines keep hiring people like Terry Richardson, then they are implicit in the problem too. Get more women shooting and it’s a way to construct a new visual language.
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