Image: Taken from the video by Veronica Crockford-Pound for beauty brand Sans [ceuticals].
With a name that in French means ‘without’ it is apt and timely for New Zealand beauty brand Sans [ceuticals] to make a strong yet simple statement around the female figure. Focusing on skin and hair, the product range is made in New Zealand from ingredients that are pure, natural and sustainable; this ethos underpins their approach to the female form and how it’s perceived and experienced. Their new silent film ‘A Quiet Observation’ explores women’s bodies and the intimate rituals around them – aiming to capture them without idealization, objectification or judgment.
Shot by emerging, Auckland-based filmmaker Veronica Crockford-Pound on Super 8, the effect is raw and unedited – sentiments intentionally evoked for their relation to the female form. Spanning ages of 25 to 65, each subject is presented individually, sharing a private moment with the viewer; women bath, moisturise, breastfeed. The impact is tangible – honest, cathartic and moving – and warranted a discussion with Veronica Crockford-Pound around the responsibility, sensitivity and censorship associated with such a subject.
Emma Gleason: The sensitivity that is inherently part of a project like that is incredibly moving, especially filming women in a vulnerable state of dress, undertaking a ritual that’s often (although not always) personal and private. How did you approach this concept and execute it?
Veronica Crockford-Pound: I’m so happy to hear you were moved by this project because we were so conscious of this vulnerability of our nude female subjects – and also of women’s vulnerability as a whole about our bodies. The amazing women behind Sans [ceuticals] are fed up with the lack of realism, diversity and honesty about the female form. We feel a sense of responsibility to create more positive conversations in the beauty space.
The female nude is a highly loaded subject. From a personal perspective, I didn’t want the film to feel like some sort of manifesto that attempts to stand in for all female bodies or be insensitive to people’s personal experiences… It needed to feel open. It’s part of an important conversation that’s gaining momentum in the creative community and will continue to gain strength and deepen. There were definitely nerves and the women involved were really brave and trusting to do this (so much love and thanks to you all xx). I was bloody nervous to shoot it too.
The mother you see with her baby offered to breastfeed on camera as a gesture of support to other mothers. It was really moving to witness and shoot the purity and naturalness of this moment and tender relationship between mother and child. It’s strange that it has become a political gesture too. Perhaps this is what comes across to you Emma – all of our vulnerability yet openness with each other. Everyone involved felt it’s important to show more realistic portrayals of women.
Emma: What about the Sans [ceuticals] brand were you most trying to evoke and explore?
Veronica: Sans [ceuticals] is a pure, active, multifunctional beauty product line for body and hair. Sans in French means “without” and the brand really lives by that ethos – stripping back to the essentials so to speak. They came up with the line of enquiry for this project “without filter, without judgement – with love.”
Sans has recently started a beautiful bathing series, looking at the personal rituals of women. So we captured the female body in action, applying moisturiser, cleansing their face, washing their bodies, breastfeeding… A kind of observational realism.
I like that the brand is based in strong science, so we took an almost documentary style to reflect that… But the overall effect is still very intimate I think/hope because we focus the lens on the female body in action and the intimacy of touching our own bodies.
Emma: As a filmmaker and as a woman, do you feel a sense of responsibility with how you present the female figure? Is this an active or more inherent part of your process?
Veronica: Absolutely, and I am becoming more and more conscious of this and actively putting it to the forefront of what I make. When I started out making fashion videos I enjoyed capturing female gestures and expressions and female relationships… Creating a sense of positive “energy” and often humour. It was a more youthful approach I guess.
I think the most powerful artworks that generate change/discussion usually make you feel uncomfortable because they’re pushing limits in some way. I’m becoming less afraid of confronting and tackling difficult concepts… Hopefully it comes across that I’m working from a space of love and respect for women – challenging the current ideal that in large part has been perpetuated by the male gaze and/or media.
Emma: Shooting on number 8 film is quite unique and increasingly rare – what is it about this medium that makes it relevant to the subject matter you explore? How do you think it influences the viewer?
Veronica: Super 8 thankfully is becoming much less rare! I’ve only just started shooting on it myself and it’s like a light switch has turned on. My work makes so much more sense to me and I’m much more prolific now. It’s so much more thoughtful and precise – you have 3 minutes in a roll. There is a fragility and risk… The image threatens to dissolve on itself all the time. There’s so much more depth to the image too. It’s much more aligned with painting. I think the viewer can feel this fragility compared to the high gloss and heavily altered digital realm. In this project for sans it was important to shoot film to reinforce the lack of airbrushing or filtering.
Emma: Does your relationship with your own body and womanhood influence your work?
Veronica: Absolutely. I’ve modelled sporadically for years and it has made me very conscious of the kind of relationship I want to create with who I’m shooting so they feel comfortable, beautiful and safe with me. I’ve had mainly positive experiences from modelling but I also take note of the kind of line of direction I don’t enjoy and make sure I actively avoid re-creating that vibe on my shoots.
From a broader sense, my relationships and conversations with my female friends hugely influence my work. We talk a lot about our experiences as women and of our bodies. Sometimes they are silly conversations, sometimes they are creative investigations, and sometimes they are really heavy and personal stories shared. These friendships affect me the most.
I am also really grateful to work with amazing brands like Sans [ceuticals] that foster and push these discussions too and try to create positive change for women.
Emma: What do you try and capture when filming and how do you go about this? How much is planned in advance and how much do you let unfold in the moment?
Veronica: I have an over the top obsession with finding references from painting and films… I almost overdose on it. I do a lot of creative direction for people too and like pulling ideas from many sources that might not normally be put together. I’ll always show the person I’m shooting some of these references to start it off, and then go with the flow from there… Allowing them space to interpret ideas for themselves, and create trust and a bit of fun and play between us. It’s super personal. The process of play and risk is what takes it away from being overly referential and into something else. I also cast women I feel an affinity with.
Emma: When is the female body most beautiful to you? When is your own body most beautiful to you?
Veronica: I guess this is in a way what I’m trying to avoid in the Sans project actually – seeing the female form as more beautiful in some moments but not in others… It’s funny I’ve been shooting nudes a bit recently, and in the past I had always flat out refused to be nude for anyone else. I joke I’m a “never nude” quite a lot (quoting Arrested Development). It was because I didn’t feel comfortable about the rationale as to why I would have to be nude (I’ve heard “b&w nude art project” so many times which is such a lazy way to define your own work) but also because I didn’t ultimately feel comfortable in my own body…
My biggest shift was working on a yet-to-be-released collaborative project with my close friend, photographer Greta van der Star. We decided that if we were to shoot nudes, we really should shoot ourselves nude first and go through the experience. Shit, it was so liberating! I stopped judging my body as much. I feel so much freer in my body at the moment. We realised in our collaboration that the way you “see” the female nude in front of you is nothing like how you would look at yourself. You’re in awe of them really… As beautiful human beings.
Emma: It was disheartening to see this video fall victim to the censorship standards of Instagram. What do you think about the double standard Instagram has around nudity and the female body
Veronica: It really fucks me off. Mainly because of the context – how “partial nudity” and “nudity” is placed within their guidelines and the loaded words it jostles alongside: “You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service” It also makes me sad because I guess someone reported our film snippet. How footage of an older woman moisturising her bottom can be seen as offensive confuses me. She is very proud of her body and offered to be nude for Sans because she too wants to see older women represented realistically. She should be admired not shamed.
From a personal perspective, it’s so important for me as a younger woman to see that positivity and self-love. I’ve bathed my mother and my grandmother – and I have cherished that intimacy with them. These rituals are normal in womanhood and should not be censored if the women involved are comfortable to share it.
Both @sansceuticals and my personal Instagram got this warning message when this scene was taken down: “We removed your post because it doesn’t follow our Community Guidelines. Please read our Community Guidelines to learn what kind of posts are allowed and how you can help keep Instagram safe.” How did we make Instagram unsafe? Their Community Guidelines are so vague – what even is partially nude? How much skin is too much?
A nude (or even partially nude) female form is seen as sexualised and offensive yet the same is never applied to the male body – what effect does this have in public perception? I’m not sure if it’s fair to say it’s never applied to the male body… They have their own battles with public perception of their bodies and sexuality and their own experiences of shaming. I think we need to encourage an open space to have these complex discussions – again not from a space of judgement.
‘A Quiet Observation’ can be viewed at sansceuticals.com.
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