When Israeli photographer Elad Ackerman decided to take a career turn and focus solely on capturing the beauty of the female body in the nude, he did not think that women and couples would begin to flock to his studio to bare all in front of his camera.
"Women over the age of 45 approach me, wanting to document their body at a certain point in their lives, sometimes after a crisis like a breakup or a complex surgery,” he explains. “Many women told me: 'I wanted to do it for a long time and didn't have the courage.' I have no idea where they got the courage."
Ackerman, 44, has been a photographer for over 20 years. He began working as a freelance portrait cameraman six years ago, and opened up his nude photography workshop a year later.
How does a photoshoot with you work?
"People don’t just arrive and get naked. A photoshoot takes about two to three hours. First, we have coffee and talk. Only after the woman feels comfortable and everything becomes more relaxed, we begin."
How can a woman be comfortable being naked in front of a stranger?
"You’d have to ask my clients. It's a crazy situation in my opinion, and I don't know if I could do it. I do everything I can to allow her to express herself. The biggest compliment I get as a professional is that they feel very comfortable with me. In my view, nude photography is a sensitive business that can go wrong in a second.
“I make sure my eyes are not zoomed in on anything. If I'm adjusting the lighting, I always move around and make sure there's a reasonable physical distance. If I approach her during the shoot to show her a picture, she puts on a robe. I don't touch, stare or create something that could be interpreted as threatening."
Is there sexual tension in the photoshoots?
“That's the question everyone is asking me, but there’s no sexual tension. This is my profession, and I respect it and the women who bare all to me. As someone who photographs people for a living, I believe that photography requests communication to operate. When we feel comfortable, beautiful things are created."
Isn't it easier to choose a female photographer?
"Women have told me that they feel more comfortable being photographed nude by a man than by a woman. It surprises me every time, and I don't fully understand it. They tell me, 'If I undress in front of a woman, I immediately feel judged. With a man, I don't feel that.'"
In recent years, nude photoshoots have become a real trend in Israel. What used to be reserved only for models, has become a unique gift for women of all ages. Photoshoot prices range from 1,500 to 3,000 shekels for a set of partially or fully nude photos, which can’t really be shared on social media.
So why do them?
“I did it for myself, it’s an empowering experience and I recommend it,” says Anat, a 56-year-old woman who was photographed by Ackerman.
What made you want to take nude photos?
"Around the age of 40, I started some kind of process of reconciliation with my body, with its flaws and advantages. I think that as you grow older, you care less and less about what other people think. When I turned 50, I wanted to do a nude photoshoot, but I didn't have the money.”
Two years ago, Elad approached me and offered to photograph me. He's a friend of mine on Facebook and I only knew him from there. When he offered, I agreed immediately, it's a dream come true," Anat explains.
How was the photoshoot?
"I arrived at his studio and received a very warm welcome. Elad made me feel that I can be myself. We sat down for coffee, chatted, and then I got ready. The entire session lasted two to three hours, and I left with an amazing feeling. It was a lot of fun, and it was all thanks to him."
How did you deal with embarrassment?
"Because Elad was pleasant, there wasn't much embarrassment. I brought a scarf with me to cover myself, but I didn't use it at all. I felt confident. It's probably something in the photographer's personality."
Who did you show your pictures to?
"My friends and daughter. Everyone said it came out very nice and added I was brave for doing it. I don't think it's bravery. In my opinion, the pictures came out amazing, maybe I'll hang them in my room."
There are few female nude photographers in Israel compared to male ones. Ofek Birnbaum – who owns her own studio near Jerusalem - is one of them.
"There aren't many women who specialize in nude photography in Israel. I think most women don't feel comfortable having someone exposed in front of them. We live in a very conservative country where nudity is seen as something unnatural and ought to be ashamed of,” she explains.
"Many times, women come to me because I’m a woman and they don't want to be nude in front of a man. I - unlike other photographers – don't believe that women need to be empowered for a photoshoot to work. I look at women the way their partner looks at them - with love in my eyes."
Birnbaum, 34, lives close to Jerusalem and had spent many years with other photographers on their sets. "I didn't take any photography courses, I simply learned everything from the photographers. Six years ago, a religious couple came for a photo shoot and suddenly they asked if I could photograph them with their clothes off. I agreed and was very grateful for the opportunity.
“Today, women come to me before and after major events in their life like marriage or divorce. One of the advantages of my studio is that it faces nature, so it is possible to take nude photos outside as well."
How does a photoshoot work?
"First, we sit and chat over coffee. Then we talk about the session itself, and what the model wants to convey. After getting acquainted, we move on to makeup and hair, and then start shooting with clothes or lingerie on. It's a slow process, much like opening Pandora's Box. Each session takes about four hours, with one hour dedicated to calming anxieties."
What clients do you usually photograph?
"Young women don't come to me as much. Most of the women are aged 40-50, and there are also older women aged 60-70,” she says.
“In my opinion, photographing mature skin is fascinating and aesthetically amazing. In Israel, it's hard to find photographers who know how to flatter older ages. The oldest woman I photographed was a 70-year-old who was dating a 40-year-old guy.”
Do any of the couples you photograph ever cross the line sexually?
"I address it in the opening conversation: I do not photograph sexual acts. There was one couple who tried to do that, I had to ask them to leave. They started touching each other in intimate areas. Usually, if I see a couple getting heated, I ask for a break to calm down, and then we continue.”
What do people think about what you do?
“People get very excited and ask questions. Once, an electrician was here to fix something. He came into the house, looked around, and asked what all the decorations were about and why there was a bed in the middle of the living room. Most of the reactions are very flattering. People are intrigued."
Birnbaum takes photographs of women and couples, but does not accept male clients. "I've photographed men in the past, and somehow it almost always ends with an offer for a date, even though they knew I was in a relationship. Most of the men never saw me in a professional light, and that put me in an uncomfortable position.
“I am willing to photograph men if they come with a female companion. One of the craziest sessions I have ever shot was actually of a man."
What happened in that session?
"I took photos of his girlfriend, and in the last ten minutes, she asked me if I’d take some photos of him. Because I had been with this couple for a few hours and felt comfortable, I agreed. It turns out that the guy, who used to weigh close to 200kg, recently started working out and lost a ton of weight. To remove all the excess skin, he underwent several plastic surgeries,” she explains.
“I found myself looking at a well-defined physique, with seams and scars along the entire length of his body just like Frankenstein. It was so special to see this, something between beautiful and bizarre."
While women seem to enjoy the trend of nude photography, men are hardly seen alone in the studios.
"Men don't pose nude because their bodies don't bother them," says 40-year-old Moran, one of Birnbaum’s clients. "Women go through processes with their bodies that men simply don't go through.
“Assuming a man hasn't been injured in a traumatic accident or undergone extreme weight changes, men’s bodies remain the same throughout most of their lives, so there's no acceptance process to go through.”
About three months ago, in honor of her 40th birthday, Moran scheduled a photoshoot session for herself.
"I have three children, and I realized I won't have anymore. My body finally returned to me, physically and emotionally. It sounds crazy, but I feel like I'm at my peak. There's nothing more beautiful in the world than me. I decided I wanted to document this, just like I make photo albums of my children."
"I saw pictures of a friend who had been photographed by Ofek, and I decided that's what I wanted. I liked the fact that the photos are very natural. She doesn't hide anything, and yet she makes you look beautiful. When I arrived, we connected, and I relaxed very quickly. The session was five hours long, but it felt like was over in a flash”
Weren’t you embarrassed?
"I think that shame is related to self-acceptance. I love my body and accept it, with all its imperfections. I work with women all the time, and when I look at any woman, I only see the beautiful things in her. It doesn't embarrass me.”
At the end of the day, it's about unlearning what we've been taught about female nudity. There are so many restrictions: cover up, be modest, and don't send the wrong message. All of this gets ingrained in us over time. I think that when you take ownership of your body and your femininity, there is no place for shame."
"When I saw the pictures, I rubbed my eyes in shock. I couldn't believe it was me. I work hard to look good, I exercise and take care of my body, and yet I still muttered, 'Is this really how I look?’ I showed them to my husband, and he demanded to enlarge one and print it. Then I showed them to my friends and they really complimented me.”
In the days after the photoshoot, Moran tried to convince other women to take nude photos of themselves.
"I told women, 'You must do this for yourselves. It’s the best gift you can get.' It's not cheap, but I decided to buy this gift for myself rather than have to wait for someone else to buy it for me.”
Moran says that her second photoshoot went even better, but that she feels like she wouldn’t have felt the same with a male photographer.
Why do you think so?
"Because no matter how talented he may be, before he's a photographer, he's a man. In general, I don't feel like being naked in front of a stranger.”
Roni Aily, a 34-year-old woman living in Afula, never thought she’d take nude photos of herself. She was born, raised, and educated in a religious Jewish home. At the age of 17, she became secular, but still avoided many things.
In 2019, she saw a post on Facebook that led her to her first photoshoot, which she says was a “breakthrough” for her.
"I was going through changes in my life. I filed for divorce after a long and abusive relationship, and I had body image issues. When I got married, I weighed 56 kg. Suddenly I found myself with a body that was 80-70 kg. It was a shock. I came across a post on nude photos on Facebook, and the model was not a professional model but someone just like me.”
“I decided I wanted to try it as well, so I called Ofek. From the first moment, she made me laugh, and that made me immediately feel comfortable. We sat down and talked. She asked me a lot of questions. I felt like I was going through some kind of treatment. We touched on my most painful points, and I became a storm of emotions.
“After the conversation, we moved on to the actual shoot. I began removing my clothing until I was standing there - fully nude. I was sure that the embarrassment would be very great and that it would be hard for me, but it's all a matter of who stands in front of you."
Aily uploaded some of the photos to Facebook and says most of the comments were supportive. "Many thought I was a model. It made me laugh. There were less supportive comments from coworkers. I told them that I am very proud of who I am and the path I have taken, and clarified that I don't care what others think about it."
Will you book another photoshoot?
"Definitely. It may be expensive, but it’s worth it. That photoshoot did more for me than the three years of psychological therapy.”