high spirits

On Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland is one of the world's oldest naturist groups. The League of Light don't smoke, drink or eat meat. They think it makes them more noble. Photographs by Michael von Graffenried
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Indy Lifestyle Online
We can shed our clothing more easily than we can peel away the psychological effects of civilisation. Undressing takes but a few moments; truly returning to our natural state, releasing ourselves from all post- tribal cultural conditioning, could take a lifetime, at least for adults. And nothing short of amnesia could truly strip us of all that social imprinting, the invisible received assumptions we wear even when naked with our lovers or alone in the bathtub.

One can argue that, just as we did not cease to be animals simply because we learned to make fire and tools, so we have never stopped being natural. Perhaps our nature as creatures includes building cities and computers, living in enormous clusters and donning complex costumes during times of social interchange. If so, then it seems no more or less natural to dress up in a ball gown or tuxedo than to spend some time in social environments where only the costume of skin is worn.

Though often restricted by gender, such environments exist in most cultures: the hot springs, steam bath, sauna, sweat lodge. Western culture has added a few others, primarily the clothes-optional or nude beach, and the nudist colony.

Reportage photographer Michael von Graffenried visited one such space - the "New Age" camp in Switzerland, on Lake Neuchatel - over an eight- year period, and recorded his observations. He found that people's behaviour doesn't change that much without clothes. Instead, there are picnics, callisthenics, team sports, quiet conversations, an air of such calm and normalcy that - the nudity aside - one could imagine oneself at any vacation spot anywhere in the world.

Von Graffenried spends much of his working life entering and describing perilous situations where people strive hard to injure each other. Here, by comparison, people communally declare their peaceful intentions by removing the uniform of society, becoming fundamentally defenceless. If that constitutes a message, it is this: It's not bodies that cause harm to others, but minds. Perhaps if we spent more time naked, we'd remember what frail and infinitely varied creatures we are; each of us unique, all with so much in common. A D Coleman

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