The Nu Project explores the art of female nudity

Matt Blum's photographs of naked women have hit a nerve while granting peace of mind for their subjects

One woman wrote in to say that she liked the images on the site, but not the words. Describing the project's participants as "normal" and "real," she said, implied that women who did look like the beauty standard were somehow lesser beings. Blum and Kessler thought the comment was fair, and removed all the modifiers from their description.

Take a look at more of Matt Blum's photos for The Nu Project...(NSFW)

Blum also hears from frustrated guys who say that men struggle with body image, too, and should be included.

"I don't think it's the defining thing for most men, though," Blum explains. "I don't think it is for most women either, but certainly there's a lot of pressure, and appearance can be the first thing that people evaluate."

Blum considers it for a moment.

"My vision of an equivalent project for men would be photographing men who are unemployed, or men that have shitty jobs," Blum says. "But as it is, there's so much stuff to do just with what we've already got going."

The biggest critique Blum and Kessler receive is one they agree with: that there's still not a wide enough range of women featured in the project. Part of the problem, Blum says, is that volunteers don't provide any photos or descriptions of themselves, so he doesn't know what they'll look like until he shows up at their door.

"I would love to see the whole spectrum, and it's been hard to find a disabled woman or a transgender woman or even enough women of color," Blum says. "We just have to reach more and more people, so eventually the law of averages says we will get those people."

Back in the Warehouse District, Sajady gets up off the couch to change the record from Deee-Lite to Al Green.

"It feels weird to be doing this naked," she laughs, as Blum's shutter snaps. "But I also do this all the time."

Over the next hour, Blum catches her in similar mundane moments: at the kitchen sink filling up a glass of water, in her bedroom building a fort of pillows on top of her red-printed quilt, perched on a stool in front of her window watching the sun set over the city.

He gives her direction occasionally, but never asks her to straighten up or smile brighter. Instead, all of Blum's instructions seek to get Sajady comfortable: Slouch, he says. Scrunch, fidget.

"Scooch over into that corner of the couch, fold into it," he says at one point. "Good. Now: happy!"

When the shoot wraps up, Sajady changes into jeans and settles back onto her couch. She was raised in Coon Rapids by Afghani parents, she explains, and as a kid struggled with being different from her light-skinned Scandinavian classmates.

"I stood out a lot, and I've been pretty insecure," she says. "And after a terrible divorce, I've been on this journey of finding confidence in myself again."

When she heard about the project a month ago, it seemed like the next step in reinventing herself.

"I saw these women just radiating joy and confidence, and it gave me strength," she says. "I thought, 'If I can help someone else feel this way, I want to do that.'"

Blum and Kessler plan to continue shooting, and hope that sales of the book will provide a more sustainable business model. The way the project works now, it makes up about 20 percent of what they do, and they fund it themselves through the rest of their more straitlaced photography work.

"The point of the book is not to make us a bunch of money," Blum says. "It's to allow us to keep shooting, so it's not just doing all of this work and paying for it with the money from our other work."

For now, the increased attention on the project has been exciting, but it's not going to pull them from their self-appointed path.

"It would be awesome if we could hold people's attention long enough to show them women all around the world," says Kessler. "But even if we can't, we're still going to make those images."

Blum nods. When he started the project it was playful, and it still is. But now he also sees it as part of a larger conversation.

"It does feel a little bit like we're throwing a rock at a mountain, but if there were more stuff like this in the media, then slowly people's ideas and perceptions and prejudices might start to erode," Blum says. "We would just have to show enough of it." 

Take a look at more of Matt Blum's photos for The Nu Project...(NSFW)

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