When it’s 96 degrees in the shade, we all dream of walking around Miami naked. A sunset skinny dip, a morning stroll. You know you’ve thought about it once or twice. Hence the appeal of fine art photographer Nathan Coe’s images (@nathancoe). The Palm Beach local gives us the scoop on his nudes series and how moving to South Florida evolved his aesthetic.
Your work is playful and seductive with hints of surrealism. How did you come to this unique style? My style has evolved organically over time through living on Nantucket year-round for about 15 years. I got tired of shooting the same locations and beaches and needed to switch things up and create a new look. My wife, Kate, actually suggested I start shooting figurative studies like I did at university and to try something different. I began shooting double exposures, which gave the landscape a completely new look and appeal, form and landscape working seamlessly together.
Is shooting nudes an intimidating process? No, not at all. I’ve been told by every client, model and friend I’ve photographed that it’s a liberating and very comfortable experience. I make it a point to break the ice and get comfortable with the model before we shoot so that they know I’m not some weirdo. You hear awful stories of guys who shoot nudes who are super slimy and unprofessional. I’m all about the finished piece of art, and the style of work found me as opposed to me striving for the look which I find interesting. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the shot I envisage, and so I almost forget the model is naked. It’s very natural.
My work is more about the location with the model front and center yet secondary to the scene; she’s a surprising factor but a beautiful and natural part of the scene.
How do you pull off some of these shots? I always work very candidly with natural light for the location nudes. No assistants, no grip or equipment except for my camera and tripod. The tripod is key as usually we’re shooting in very dark/low light before everyone starts their day. I shoot medium format and rely on my tripod more than anything. There’s a lot of waiting and then working with the best models who are quick and confident. Sometimes you literally only get five seconds for the shot. We’re very quick so as both not to get caught but also not to offend anyone. I ask for forgiveness rather than permission sometimes, and it seems to work. What people would never allow, they actually really like once the image has been achieved.
Any fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes to share? While shooting one specific Palm Beach image called ‘Curves Ahead,’ we shot at first light hoping no cars would turn the bend in front of us. The model was walking down the middle of the road. At that exact moment a guy came around the corner in a sports car and gave us a big smile. The model darted behind the palm tree laughing. A year later at the Palm Beach Art and Antiques Show he came to my booth and introduced himself saying, ‘Hi, I was the guy in the car when you shot that!’
What other artists or photographers inspire you? I’ve always been greatly inspired by Helmut Newton and Jeanloup Sieff’s work and Peter Beard. Newton is definitely more sexually charged and so I’ve carved my own style, which is much softer and more organic, but I love his photography. Sieff’s work is just so beautiful and his printing of black and whites is the best of the best. I studied both photographers along with Cartier-Bresson at university, and it was very sad when they all passed within the same year of each other. Three of the greatest photographers of all time all passed very close to each other.
You recently shifted from Nantucket landscapes to South Florida landscapes. Tell us about that. This was a major stepping stone to my work and career. There’s only so much you can do on Nantucket. It’s one of my favorite places in the world but a little stifling from a creative standpoint. Moving to West Palm and having to bring my style to a new and much larger demographic with more mainstream and manufactured elements was really interesting. I’m always drawn to classical and vintage scenes. Finding both iconic landscapes but also tiny vignettes that can’t be dated is what excites me. I always strive for my work to look as though it could have been shot 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago but was indeed shot present day.
How do you select the location? The location has to have a cinematic and strong sense of composition. It has to be either a very iconic and well-known location or simply a stage in time that looks as though it was produced for a film set. Beaten up and run down or some aesthetical component that makes it look historical or retro in some way without being contrived or cheesy.
As a good example, one of my favorite images and locations is the work ‘Drop Off’ photographed at a little run-down launderette in West Palm Beach. Paint is peeling; the color is subdued; there’s cracks and duct tape up on the windows. I didn’t touch a thing to the location and it’s perfect, even down to the random Bob Marley stencil on the wall!
What are some of your dream Miami shoot locations? It would be amazing to get a really busy segment of road closed down or one of the bridges heading over to South Beach with not a soul but the model. Ocean Drive could be great due to all the art deco buildings. A beach shoot with everyone oblivious to the model would also be amazing.