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Photographs That Depict The Bizarre Flow Between Fantasy, Nudity, And Censorship

A naked woman sits alone, pressed against the pebbles of a rocky beach. She holds her knees against her breasts with delicate frailty. In contrast with the roughness of the sand, her skin looks pale, paper-like even. She hides her face under a white unicorn mask. Her blond, almost white hair falls in spirals. The empty sockets in the mask’s eyes convey a blank, empty emotion. At the background, a white wave spreads across the stony shore. Staring at her we cannot help but wonder, why does she hide this way? 

This photograph is a part of the series Naked with Masks. The man behind the lens is London-based Ben Hopper, an artist who has stirred the world through provocative projects that touch on the theme of censorship, revealing the double standards and arbitrariness with which society controls our bodies.

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In an exclusive interview for CC+, he gives some insight into his stunning body of work.

CC+: What was your inspiration behind Naked with Masks?

BH: The project started in 2010 for a bold exhibition on censorship called Actart in London, and my contribution focused solely on portraits of girls wearing masks. The philosophy of the project came from a writer friend of mine who came up with the perfect tagline: Why do we succumb to showing our faces but hide our bodies?

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Afterwards the project evolved from Naked Girls with Masks to Naked Women with Masks. Later I added men into the equation and so forth until it got to be what it is today. Now I portray bodies of all type, all shapes and sizes, emphasizing the contradiction between body and mask.

CC+: Do you believe that the self-censorship you denounce in your images can be absolved through the arts?

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BH: I think so. Artists are very powerful. Humans can change their opinion very easily. We’re very easily manipulated. Looking back at history, it’s clear how different people shaped other people’s opinions, for example through books and advertising. It only takes a trend of fashion to make people start dressing in a certain way. It all has to do with culture, education, and conditioning. I find it very weird that we make such a big deal out of the human body. It’s just who we are. For example, I find it very strange that it is illegal to walk around naked. I think this concept implies that you’re allowed to be clothed, but it is illegal to be just a human being. So, in a sense, all of us are basically illegal. It’s a very absurd concept.

CC+: You freely publish your work on social media. To what extent are social media platforms reinforcing this censorship of the body? What has been your experience profiling your work there?

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BH: The online places where I can publish my work uncensored are my website, Tumblr, and Twitter. In the biggest social networks, Instagram and Facebook, I have to censor nipples and genitals. On Instagram I can show bums, though. My first Instagram account, where I started uploading my portfolio, was deleted because of nudity. They took it completely down and I couldn’t even retrieve my work. I find this type of censorship angering and frustrating, and to a certain point I had to give in. I want my work to be exposed to people, but I just can’t risk that they take my work down. To a certain extent, I have to comply with their censorship.

For some time now, I’ve been taking the respective logos and I place them on the parts of the body that they censor. It’s my own sort of protest.

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CC+: The question you pose in this project is, “Why do we cover our bodies but display our faces?” Did you come to some sort of resolution at the conclusion of the project?

Yes, as I stated before, it all goes back to the education and how we’ve been conditioned to act. Imagine if women walked around topless all the time like men do. A woman’s breasts wouldn’t be a big deal then. I came to a similar conclusion with a newer project of mine called Natural Beauty, where I portray women with hair in their armpits. I think it was a big deal, because very few women let it grow. What is accepted and what is not is constantly changing. In Ancient Greece, homosexual love was considered a supreme, divine type of love, and now it’s a sexual condition. Everything depends on how our culture changes. And although the shaming of nudity has been carried around for thousands of years, I think things can change for good. 

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CC+: David LaChapelle when speaking of censorship and violence said, “Why is it that a naked body is frowned upon but a decapitated body of a woman is accepted? God forbid you see a naked man or woman, but don’t mind if it is a dismembered body on TV.” To what extent do you agree with his statement, and in the creation of this project, have you encountered this double standard/morale?

BH: I agree a hundred percent. Again, I believe this is something that has been conditioned. It all has to do with what society dictates. Israel, my home country, has been at war since its origins. Yet a movie poster will be censored there if a woman displays her shoulders in it. I believe we’ve been conditioned to think this way.

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Governments, corporations, and weapon manufacturers make us believe through propaganda that war is okay, yet we frown upon nudity. Possibly, this is because we’re much more obedient this way, and we serve a purpose for people and institutions that are more powerful than us.

CC+: Are you developing any new projects that circle around the concept of censorship and give images that reveal these double standards that lurk in our society?

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BH: For now, I think I’m going to keep working with the Masks project until I have a bigger body of work. But I’ll also add text to the series. So now I’m going to interview people and provide photographs with more narrative and context. I’m also working on a project of full-body tattoo pieces that relates to how people use tattoos to show the things they can’t express verbally, so it's more about self-expression than censorship. But I think my whole body of work will keep touching on and off the subjects of censorship, gender, and identity. 

You can follow more of Hopper's work on Instagram (@benhopper) and on his personal website.

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Check out:

Intimate Photographs That Capture The Autobiography Of Your Fantasies

Why Do We Censor A Naked Woman But Not A Mutilated One?

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