There’s something quite intimate about a sofa. Whether leather and shiny, chintzy, saggy, ancient and threadbare or pristinely plumped-up, a sofa certainly reflects its regular occupant’s taste and often, after years of lounging, their shape.
This was the notion that first occurred to photographer Dean Stockings when he surveyed the blank wall above his own sofa, perplexed as to how to fill it. He hit upon the idea of doing a Warhol-esque portrait of the couch itself. But having quizzed his friends he quickly realised that as a place of comfort and familiarity the humble settee was a perfect backdrop to experiment with something more outlandish: getting people to pose naked on their sofas.
He “twisted the arms” of a few friends and relatives who agreed to be photographed. He asked them to choose a prop which reflected their personalities and which, strategically placed, could save their modesty. The props ranged from the weird and wonderful – a pet tortoise, a Sesame Street backpack, leather harnesses – to a sitar, a favourite record, a statue of the Virgin Mary and a skein of wool.
Fairly early on in the project Stockings happened to be working with actress and singer Toyah Willcox (pictured), photographing her at home for her book ‘Diary of a Facelift’. She agreed to take part in the sofa project and chose, rather tellingly, a piece of paper on which she’d written ‘I am not invisible’ for her prop.
“I think Toyah [chose her prop] because she was feeling slightly ignored as a mature woman within the entertainment industry. Posing naked was a bit of a fingers up to everyone who thought she was past it,” Stockings said in an interview with independent.co.uk.
Stockings’ project soon garnered press attention and he began receiving calls from complete strangers wishing to partake. He ended up photographing people of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. The photographer was amazed by how far people were prepared to go.
“Some of the models had never been naked in front of anyone other than their partner before and many said they found the experience extremely liberating, especially some of the older models,” he says.
What started out as a personal project “took on a life of its own” and Stockings managed to secure a publisher for a coffee book collection of the images under the title Sofa So Naked.
“There is such a wide range of people in the book I think everyone can identify with at least one person in it. People sometimes think it’s going to be a little seedy, but when they see the portraits they realise that it isn’t at all. I’ve photographed grandparents in their 80s, young families and a couple of faces from the media...there’s a couple who are both wearing leather harnesses as their props and a group of transvestites- although only one of them is naked.”
Looking at the images it is easy to hone in on the naked figure and ignore the background, but once you’ve become used to the sight of so much flesh it is intriguing to look more closely at the situation rather than the subject. The sofa itself, the carpets, the detritus of normal life speak volumes about the person in the photo, and the collective result is extremely revealing in a way that has nothing to do with nudity.
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