Photographer Puts Focus "Down There"

Monday Magazine | August 3, 2004
Ever since Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking work, The Vagina Monologues, hit the international scene, the female body’s most loved (and hated) part has been the talk of . . . well, pretty much everyone. Suddenly, the world’s talking vagina, and it’s not a scary word anymore. Darlings, this is a good thing, as one jail-bound vagina-owner might say. And about time, too, if you ask me. There are plenty of phallic symbols out there to worship (and believe me, darlings, I bow to many of them regularly), but how many vaginal symbols can you think of that inspire great awe and wonder? None? Well, how fair is that?

Apparently Nick Karras noticed the same thing, because, saucy photographer that he is, decided to capture as many vaginas, vulvas, clitorises (clitori?) and other nether lips on film as he could. He’s put them together in a yummy book called Petals (find out more at, and you can also see them in Victoria this week at the Freedom Erotica Gallery. Anyway, since he’s coming to town, I got all nosy and e-mailed him at his studio in San Diego. Here’s what we talked about:

Moi: How did you decide to explore this part of the human body through photography?

Nick Karras: It started over three years ago, when I fell in love with a very beautiful woman. I soon discovered that she did not like her vagina. She had unusually long lips . . . and thought she looked weird and ugly. In the past, if a lover would make any reference to the look of her vagina, she would invariably take it negatively. I felt the opposite, that her vulva was as beautiful as the rest of her. One of the things that I love about photography, is that with it, I can show another how I view the world, and I felt that it would be a great gift to show her the beauty that I saw. It was not easy talking her into it, but she trusted me, and when I got my perfect image, she loved it.

Moi: Why the body?

Karras: Because, I suppose, I don't know how to photograph the mind.

Moi: Where do you find your models? Is it hard finding people who will pose for your photos?

Karras: After the initial photo shoots, finding women to pose was not at all a problem. One person would tell another that the time was safe and fun. I think that for many women it then became a challenge, a dare of sorts. All of them reported after that the experience was empowering. It was like joining a very private, yet risqué, club.

Moi: What is the dynamic like when you are working with a new model?

Karras: Each situation was, of course, unique. My first responsibility was to make the woman feel comfortable in the space. A number of women brought their partners for encouragement and because it often seemed to turn both of them on. Because all the participants were amateurs—random volunteers from my part of the world—many were a bit nervous at first. But the fears in shedding clothes and exposing oneself are usually only felt beforehand. It’s amazing how quickly people relax when the taboo is passed through.

Moi: Do you get turned on when you’re taking the photos? Or after? Or?

Karras: It may sound like a cliché, but it was very important for me to be professional in this situation. It was really part of my learning process during the past couple of years shooting this subject. Naturally I’m terribly interested in the visual and mystery of female genitalia, I wouldn’t have produced a book and presented exhibitions if I were not. But what I have tried to achieve in the pictures are objective images of the vulva, devoid of my personal sexual response. To do this successfully, in shooting sessions I had to keep true to my photographic intention.

Moi: How has the public response been so far to your photography?

Karras: I’ve really been surprised. Like most artists, you’re always working in the dark, only partially aware of the impact your stuff might have out there. But these images seem to strongly resonate with a large part of our culture. I’ve talked to many women who say that they found the photographs very healing, that they could begin to see themselves and other women in an entirely new light—invariably a more beautiful illumination. A lot of personal sex history starts being talked about. Commonly male and female partners say that it brings up an important discussion that they never had before, one that can, and most often does, enhance a woman’s self-esteem about her sexuality. I suppose for many the images simply satisfy a person’s curiosity. After all, isn’t this the dark secret under a huge cultural interest that infuses whole industries?

Moi: I noticed on your website that there are some of the Petals pictures posted. Most of them seem to be of women who are shaved or waxed. Why is that? Is it an artistic statement or just a coincidence?

Karras: I really don’t know why so many in my book are shaved; it just happened that way. Perhaps if I’d been shooting in Nova Scotia it would be different, I don’t really know. I suspect that women, knowing that their vulvas were about to be “immortalized” in a photograph, decided to especially show off and, in a sense, acknowledge that part of the body by grooming it in various ways.

Moi: Some people might be offended not by your subject matter, but by the way it reduces women to one body part. What would your response be to them?

Karras: My intention is clear and I don’t apologize for it. Every artist selects and expresses from the reality of his or her world. We all do bits and parts of it. If I were to do facial portraits, I’d only be capturing part of that person. So what? The physical contours­—in this case—of a woman’s sexual nature is a most worthy subject for the artist. Almost all of our most famous artists, past and present, have their erotic collection. My subject—the beauty inherent in the feminine form—is nothing new. Hopefully my expression of it has something fresh to add.

Moi: What else should I know about you or your work?

Karras: I love this Petals project. It started as a sweet gift for my lover, and now I constantly hear from women how it has changed their view of themselves in a powerful way. It feels good . . . I love what I do.

Darlings, I love what he does, too. Check it out during gallery hours at Freedom Erotica Gallery, 416 Craigflower, from August 4 to 6 only. M

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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