Libby Cooper is an exuberant young photographer whose current work centres around the nude taken in nature. Speaking to Libby about her experience as an artist, how she found a niche she loves in lockdown and how her work reflects her own personality, her vibrant personality and passion for her work is palpable.
How did you get into photography?
I started photography when I was about 10, my mum was a photographer and all her friends were punk, so she did documentary photography of punks. She also photographed drag queens, which is what inspired my drag series. I really loved her work and from there that sparked an interest. My family are in a divide of engineers and creatives; I’m lucky to be in a creative environment.
When I was younger, I would take my iPad and photograph my friends in the high street, so I started with really basic things and just did it for ages. Not because I wanted to do it as a career, but just because I really enjoyed it: it was like a hobby. Gradually over the years, I started to do different things, I started to do band photography. Then, in lockdown, I realised that I didn’t really love band photography. Obviously, all the venues were shut, so I thought I’d have a break from it and then I realised I wasn’t missing it at all, which was quite a clear sign not to do it as a career. So I stopped doing that and I thought I wanted to do something really different and something that I could learn about myself whilst doing so I started my nude series!
When you were trying to find models, did you start off with your friends? How did you go about sourcing models?
So this was actually a big worry of mine when I was starting the project, I was thinking ‘I’m not gonna have any models and that’s the whole project!’ So I put a message on my Instagram story with some reference images saying this was the kind of thing I wanted to create and I wasn’t sure where it was going to go, I just wanted to make a nude series. The first model that messaged me, we actually went to school together, but we never really knew each other because our school was a creative and performing arts school that was split into different strands. She was in musical theatre and I was in film and media so we didn’t ever really cross paths. She became the first nude model and from there it was like a domino effect. As larger pages started to share my work, more people would see it and more people wanted to get involved!
I notice that the majority of the models in your nude series are female, did you purposefully try and find female models, or was that something that evolved through the creative process?
It was definitely something that I just put out for everyone, and I’m so happy to photograph anyone that wants to be photographed. However, I found that I connected with the female shoots a lot more, I think because often it’s women that are being over-sexualised more so than men. Also, more women wanted to get involved which was the initial reason for why.
You said you’re interested in the over-sexualisation of female bodies, how do you think your photography is countering that?
It was definitely something that came as I was creating it. I just created it because I wanted to make a nude series because it was so different and I hadn’t done it before; I thought it would be really interesting and fun. Then over time, the meaning became more apparent to me. It was something that I thought would make us all feel really good about our bodies and then as it went on people were telling me that they were reading that it was a different way to look at nudity. It was so not posed and not-sexualised in the way that I photographed it. I hadn’t really thought about it, obviously, the photos were not there to be a sexual thing, but I hadn’t even thought that my photos could desexualise it in such an easy way. I hadn’t really thought about over-sexualisation before and then as I was becoming a nude photographer, I think I started to realise that it was actually a massive thing. I think the way my photos do desexualise is that they are very joyful; you are just walking around naked and having a good time in nature. That is quite literally what the shoots are. With big shoots and big editorials, it becomes very pressured and fake in my opinion. Often people can take it into photoshop and completely change it, whereas I don’t do any of that.
The inclusion of nature suggests that, even though you say you didn’t really think about over-sexualisation, there was almost an awareness from the beginning through you wanting to create that free environment, do you think that’s true?
People often ask me why I’ve chosen to do it in nature. I’ve always photographed outdoors, I’ve only ever done one or two studio shoots and I much prefer being outdoors and photographing in a very relaxed setting. I find that the photos are more me when they’re in nature so I think that was part of it. Also, the look of the photographs would be so different if they were in a studio and I think they wouldn’t be able to have the same message because you automatically tighten up when you’re in a studio, I know that I do. I’ve never had a studio space, so even when I was doing fashion photography I would always photograph them outside because studio spaces are so expensive and I never really enjoy my time in a studio. I always find that I feel a bit uninspired, so I think it was a combination of things. I am so grateful that I did it in nature because I think it would have a completely different look to it if it wasn’t.
You just mentioned your fashion photography, how is that different in terms of your process to the nude photographs?
The nude photography is definitely my favourite. However, I’m just figuring things out as I go along really but I’m always happy to try different things. Combining nudity with fashion is also quite fun, I think that would be something I’d be really interested to do in the future. My fashion photography does follow quite a similar method. I’ve only ever done one fashion photoshoot in a studio and I loved the outcome but it just doesn’t feel like my work, I don’t really look at that and think ‘oh yeah that’s mine’, so I don’t know if I’d do that again necessarily but at the time I was looking to be a fashion photographer and I was building up a portfolio of studio work and my outdoor work. I think it’s better to stay true to what you actually like and what you actually enjoy doing, but I think I have a similar approach to my fashion projects because a lot of them are photographed in nature and it’s a very relaxed setting. It’s basically the exact same, but you have clothes on.
Would you say that yourself and the model’s self is one of the most important aspects in the photography? Do you think that the clothes in the fashion photography meant there was a bit of a barrier that isn’t present for the nude photos?
I feel like there’s something so shocking about nude photography which is what I really enjoy. I find it really funny that people have such an issue with it, so I think that’s one thing, but also I think you definitely connect on a deeper level with your models when they’re naked. I think there’s more of a freedom for me because I don’t have a brain where I think ‘oh I must get a photo of that cardigan’, I just think ‘wouldn’t it be cool if they were running naked in a field’. It’s a block for me and I can’t quite imagine how you would get around it. I definitely enjoyed it, but I absolutely love nude photography and I have a real deep passion for it. I would love to combine it with fashion. I’m happy to experiment with multiple things because I think that’s the best way to learn what you like.
You have a podcast! What inspired you to start a podcast and what’s your focus when you’re doing it?
I think the main reason I started the podcast is that I love talking to people and it was a great way to meet incredible artists whose work I love and who I really wanted to have a chat with. I think it’s a great way to connect with people. From the podcasts I’ve done with other people that aren’t my podcast, I’ve made such lovely friends.
Especially in a lockdown, I think connecting with someone over Zoom and making something together is such a nice way to connect with people. It was really fun to make something new. I really like doing stuff I haven’t done before, and I really enjoyed the process of making the podcast.
Do you feel like you have similar goals with your podcast and photography, or is it something quite separate?
I don’t know! It’s such a different thing. The aim is always to connect with people and make something great, so in that aspect it’s definitely the same thing. But I think in terms of outcome, it’s different things really. Either way, I want to create something where people listen to it and think oh wow that’s so real and that’s so fun and that’s so free and it’s just nice to listen to; it makes me feel happy. Obviously, the process of making them is completely different, but I think the outcome and the intention is definitely the same.
Finally, do you have any advice for any younger artists?
Just do it. I think the issue is that a lot of people overthink it, it’s so easy to get in your head about these things. This project has been such a gradual process to get off the ground, to get people interested in, I didn’t just turn up with a camera one day and everyone said that’s amazing, but for seven or six years out of the eight, I think people thought god you’re an awful photographer. I was, it does take a lot of time and practice and you have to really want it. If you want it just go get it. Don’t worry about knowing all the knowledge, I’m learning as I go along. With the podcast, I had no clue what I was doing but I just youtube-tutorialed my way through it, which I do with most things. I learnt photoshop through youtube. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t go to art school, I don’t go to uni.
I think just go for it, try not to think about it too much and just start making.
Connect with Libby on Instagram: @shotbylibby
Assistants: photos 1-6, 8; @fintanimation, photo 7; @sauhsaten_