After nearly 40 years of being boxed up in storage, well-known Kiwi Photographer John Crawford’s released one of his most personal collections in Auckland this week.
Aerial Nudes, all taken between 1984 and 1987, is a series of birds eye view photographs with a striking nude image in the centre of each, surrounded by different landscapes.
Each image was carefully thought out and composed, shot on a colour 35mm film, before computers, drones and photoshop ever existed.
“I shot them all from the helicopter, I’d fly around a small fixed wing plane first and find the location, and we’d know exactly where we’d put the model,” Crawford said.
While flying around he would look for abstract details within the landscape.
“I used the body just for scale really to show that we as human beings are very infinitesimal in comparison to the size of the beautiful universe we live.”
All of the images were shot in Taranaki and each photo has its own story to tell.
“People always say to me how did you get the train to stop,” Crawford said about the piece titled Nude and Train, to which he joked, “I say you tie your wife to the rail line naked and the train will stop!”
Now his ex-wife, Carina Crawford was the model in all these photos and says lying on the tracks at the time, with a sarong tucked underneath her was “very uncomfortable to be honest”.
She’d often lie in a spot for a good 20 to 30 minutes while Crawford was “usually hanging out of a helicopter”, as she waited for “the thumbs up” signal.
Her most memorable piece was the one floating in the water tank. While it doesn’t look so dangerous from the birds eye view, Carina said the tank was “very, very deep” and Crawford had initially asked her to do it without a lilo. She however insisted on a lilo.
When asked if anybody was standing by to rescue her had she fell off the lilo Carina laughed, saying “Nobody! There was no health and safety in those days!”
“It was a lot of fun and I’m so pleased it's lived on all this time,” she said.
But these works weren’t always considered art.
Crawford recalls how people perceive nudes differently all the time, and that “good nudes have been around for a long time whether it’s been in a photograph or painting but people have always perceived them differently”.
But the model who bared it all for the world also took on heavy criticism at the time.
“In the 80s that was interesting I had to really defend Crawford, women ringing me up on my landline in those days and saying that I’ve been abused by my husband and that I should leave him,” Carina said.
In 1988 a few prestigious international photography magazines featured his work.
“A lot of magazines asked me and I said yes. A lot of magazines used them without my permission but back then I didn’t care. Playboy was a minor one, which people see as tacky but I've been pretty lucky to have it in some prestigious international photographic books too, which I’m more proud of,” Crawford said.
Some of the pieces have made it to galleries in Colombia and in 2012 it all went viral online.
The unearthed nudes became a global sensation, with the likes of BBC and the DailyMail even covering his work.
“I didn’t know which way to go, I was getting emails, literally hundreds of emails a night sometimes and people wanted to buy, represent my work. I was inundated by requests,” Crawford said.
But he didn’t see it fit to show off the entire collection until now.
“I thought this was the right time to show a series that to me has been very personal. Way back then I didn’t want to show too many people but now I’m happy with it. It’s so close to my heart because the model was my wife and the mother of my beautiful children so nothing's more personal than that.”
Dozens showed up for the opening night of Aerial Nudes at Rosie Café in Parnell, everyone mesmerised by the retro art with so much heart.
Crawford said, “no one had done this before, maybe done since but not as well … that’s cheeky aye”.
Crawford is well-known for his many other photographs, most notably the Homeless collection which raised close to $80,000 for the Auckland City Mission in 2017.