Charo Galura is an Italian model and singer. She is graduated at ProGeAS (Art management and Cultural events) at the University of Florence, with a thesis about the Female Universe in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986). She has worked with professional photographers all around Europe and some from America for editorials, advertising and fine art projects. She also starred in short movies and video and also worked as an art performer. She studies music and works as a volunteer for immigrants and women in the town she lives in.
In this interview she talks about the body, advertising and photography.
What does it mean for you the word “body”?
The word “body” includes several meanings within, going from sociological perspectives to arts. Still nowadays, the way people deal with this concept reveals how human body is central in our society. The concept of body stretches always between taboo and social catalyst. See for example how body, especially the female one, is an issue for some religions. Consider also the fact how appearance of the body have been lead to racism for centuries – and it’s still present nowadays. On the other hand, it is also a means of signs, identities and symbols: see for example how tattooed people decide to be drawn by the ink –or people decide to be pierced – to build a new identity (even though in recent days, this only could mean to be cool or in the mainstream – anyway, not so far away at all from the need of identity, it is more likely in the sense of being accepted). As symbolic bodies, I could bring the example of iconography: Andy Warhol’s icons come to my mind as essential for the contemporary area. Also, as previous said, the body could be considered as a social catalyst. Emblematic is Femen, a feminist movement born in Ukraine in 2008, originally to protest against sexual tourism in the country, then against religious institutions, sexism, women violence, prostitution and gender discrimination worldwide. This movement has gained international fame due to the strong activism of these feminists, who chose the topless protesting, a different protest form than traditional ones, to be heard, to overturn the concept of female body as sexual object, to take back their bodies from patriarchy; in simple terms, to provoke in order to make people reflect on the messages Femen’s trying to give. In other words, a body-weapon as a means of political messages.
As for what concerns the artistic field, the importance of the body is quite obvious in my point of view. Just think about dance, theatre, cinema, music, photography, sculpture and performance art, to name just some. This last one is emblematic for the matter I am bringing on about the importance of the body: in contemporary art, artists have grasped the meaning of the body, that’s why in the Sixties, beyond traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture, they’ve tried new art experiences where time, space and body – both of the artist and of the audience – are central topics. In Art more than anywhere else, the body is the space of self, emotions and pulsations, usually drawn by a story. The anchoring of the body on a specific language generates sense; in other words, the body becomes art. Portraying/showing the human body is portraying/showing the beauty, the story of that body. In performing arts, this could be easily identified. The body reflects the person, it is expression. Gestures and actions are anchored to a thinking object, or may I say in this case, subject. And the face is also important to accompany the expression of the body: it’s where expressivity reveals itself. Furthermore, art is a reflection of society: the concept of body goes hand in hand with the social background. Just think about how in the beginning art used to portray the essence of the beauty of a human body and now we are dealing with a sort of delirium state of it, undergone also by extreme sex and violence, and pain and angst as well: this is because of the change of our world (NB: in this example I am mainly talking about western society). That is to say in few words, as this last topic is a huge one that would require another blank page. Enough said to come to the conclusion that, therefore, the body is mainly communication. Whether if we consider the social background or the artistic field, as both are going hand in hand most of the times. So if we have to look on a human body on a picture, a movie or what else, our considerations must be read on an anthropological perspective – implied that I’m talking about a “body anchored to a language”. And for the body is communication, I may say that it is a means of freedom to express the self or to express a specific concept.
Why did you decide to start working as a model?
I started working as a model when I was 18, but the “blessed event” that had lead me to this job happened when I was 15. I was out of my high school, going back home and there was a sort of talent scout talking with some girls. One of these girls was my classroom mate and she told me that the talent scout invited her to a model contest. Award of this contest was a shooting for a calendar portraying different faces in the town where I live. I was a little jealous of her, but I was aware of the fact that the talent scout couldn’t barely notice me, as I don’t have model standard measurements. But she told me she couldn’t attend the contest, so she asked me to go for her. Then I went to this competition and I won, reaching the first position, so I fucking (let me pass this word) won! The shooting was taken place a few days after and photographer was Andrea Varani, a very good one. He really liked me and that was a huge satisfaction for me. Then, about 2 years and a half later, the talent scout and the booking manager called me to another selection, in order to attend some free lessons of communication and law in the show business. I passed the selection, attended the course, then I started to find some jobs as a model with the help of the manager. This was my story, a lucky one. Anyway, I’ve always loved being in front of the camera from an early age. I grew up very young, two years before I finished primary school. Kids used to fool me, I was “too much” for them, and every girl used to have a “boyfriend”. I didn’t have no boyfriend, kids always said I was ugly, strange, too smart and also a foreigner. Now I’m thinking about these things with a huge smile, because I know they weren’t important life issues, but when I was young, this had affected me. And I used to escape from those little “pains” by writing music lyrics, poems, singing, painting and also… posing in front of the camera. My mother used to make a lot of pictures when I was young, especially on holidays or for specific moments like Christmas. It was only a sort of memorial thing for the family. But I really liked posing, doing face expressions: it was for me a way to show – or rather, to convince myself – that I was beautiful and interesting. Then I grew up and this passion grew up with me, obviously with different reasons now than the fact of being only beautiful.
How do you feel looking at yourself in the photos?
Besides the mere narcissistic point of view, what mostly captures me in a picture is the feeling, the mood, the story. Sometimes pictures catch me by surprise because I didn’t know I could do some expressions or I had some different interesting angles on my face and my body. It surely all depends by the photographer, the one who directs you through specific themes in order to let you express yourself in a given mood. It’s kind of playing with different characters of you. To be honest, I can’t deny that I pay a lot of attention to my face and my body, to see if I’m beautiful. That is for specific pictures, where face and harmony of the body are central in the photo. But who really doesn’t care if one is well-portrayed or not? Anyway, the main thing for me is the feeling: one of my favorite picture is one where I’m quite ugly, but you can feel the drama of eroticism.
Where do you draw the line between “artistic nude” and a picture of a naked body?
I will give you a quote in which there is partially my reply: “The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra, and just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy”. It is a quote by writer Anais Nin. I would take the first part of the phrase as an example to distinguish the body from the flesh. Anais Nin uses music as a metaphor for a sensual body, I would rather say simply that a body, therefore an artistic nude, is so when it is anchored to an artistic language, as previously said. When this does not happen, what we see in front of us is merely flesh. Somebody would say that an artistic nude is what concerns a classic beauty: shapes, harmony, stasis, softness, purity. I met a lot of people thinking this, but in my personal opinion, it’s an idea linked to the classic past, which takes its origins from the concept of Apollonian. I think a nude to be artistic should be not restricted to an apollonian conception, for art goes hand in hand with society, as previously said. Art nowadays is essentially the “art of ugliness” because it somewhat reflects human angst, pain, awkwardness and all wild emotions such as eroticism, desires. In this sense, I can say that I’m more Dionysian for I believe that body “reaches up to ecstasy” as an effect of the dionysian pulse of artistic vitality. Anyway there’s a very thin line between the artistic body and the flesh. In my artistic field, photography, I think that a body can be considered artistic thanks to several factors: light, theme, mood, authenticity of expressions, message. And maybe – quite for sure – the last one is a crucial factor that could properly define the notion of body vs. flesh. For example, when the woman is clearly represented as an object.
Your opinion on the use of the nude human body in advertising.
Advertising is full of images of nude human bodies, and the one that is central to this kind of representation is certainly the woman. She has always been central in advertising due to her role in society: the woman is the object of the gaze, the man is the one who holds the gaze. Therefore, she is the object of desire, the object of “visual pleasure”, she is “to-be-looked-at-ness” – to borrow Laura Mulvey’s most famous terms from the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” talking about the woman as object in classic cinema. The use of the female nude in advertising is sometimes justified by the product promoted by the advertiser (e.g. body lotion, oil for skin, depilatory products, underwear etc), sometimes it just seems to be manufactured. Also, there are also a lot of close up frames of parts of the female body – more than the male one – where the head is cut off, like if woman has no brain, no will to think. Furthermore, in most cases woman is central to backgrounds permeated by provocation and sex. This is because nowadays sex is perceived as a sensationalistic factor in media, on equal terms to violence. All of this produces a stick figure of the woman. I am not offended by the female nude, and maybe it’s because I am doing nude pictures myself or maybe because the naked body has become too familiar. The thing that worries me is the duo nude-trade. I think that the fact that most women are offended by the image of the woman in advertising is because they are inclined to identification. Sometimes we just need to look at the female figure with distance rather than complaining anytime to what we see. Obviously I am offended if woman is set in an unmistakable context, but not anytime like women complaining models in underwear ads for example: they are promoting a product that require to be half-naked, so why do they have to cover themselves? Anyway, society nowadays is changing, or it seems to be: we can also see many male nudes. But the fact that these men are effeminate makes me think again that feminine is the real object of the gaze, that only the feminine could satisfy the scopophilic need of the spectator. Then I think to the new figure of the woman, the androgynous one, and it seems to me a sort of phenomenon of blending genders. But female close-ups are still a greater number than male ones. Question about the gaze is still open to me in this case. Distance is my response to the nude human body, which anyway has become too familiar, losing its provocative effect.
People discuss a lot about the use of photo-editing software to modify the body of the models in the media and advertising and about the “must be perfect”. In your opinion, is the photo-manipulation a correct practice? How much is responsible for psychological disorders as a result of not being able to reach a certain ideal of perfect beauty?
Photo-manipulation to modify body shapes is ridiculous. This digital cosmetic surgery is ridiculous. Human nature must be respected: if you want to work with a model for her face expression but you don’t like her breast, legs, bottom or what else, you shouldn’t modify her shapes because you have “fallen in love” with her for her face expression. That’s it. And yes, I think this practice could lead to psychological disorders unfortunately, but a woman should be strong enough and smart enough to take distance from that perfect beauty and realize that beauty is not all. Anyway, if a model is healthy and thin is a good thing. I am one of those who prefer thin women and I think that fat is not so healthy. And I hate those “do-gooding” campaigns for the so called “real women”: it’s pure hypocrisy because fashion industry will always prefer skinny models, especially for their wearability. Few agencies host plus-size models and petite models, but in my opinion, the myth of the perfect skinny and tall body will be overcome when we will stop to use these definitions, which relegate these plus-size/petite girls as different, abnormal but somewhat accepted. If fashion really likes all types of bodies, it should welcome everyone in the same way. It’s an utopia, maybe.
Currently Rome hosts the exhibition “White Women, Sleepless Nights, Big Nudes” dedicated to Helmut Newton’s first three legendary publications. A thought on his photographic style.
I love Helmut Newton’s style! His pictures got class, story and a disturbing feeling, which is so thrilling. He introduced nude in fashion photography with a unique provocative style, making it subtly erotic. His women are strong, determined, powerful and triumphant, elegant and classy, self-aware, even though sometimes they were portrayed in a sadomasochistic or passive way. I think he celebrated the woman and her strength in possible roles for her. I mean, someone could argue that a strong woman who takes control of the situation should take the place of a man, be strong as a man, and I think this is quite comic: Newton celebrated woman preserving her femininity.