Do you remember the first time you saw a nudie mag?
Was it in your father’s office? Under a mattress? Plucked surreptitiously from a bookstore display rack?
For fashion photographer Asher Moss, it was the torn pages of a discarded glossy he found in a field. “[A friend and I] collected all of them and went and rode our BMX bikes into the forest where we had built our own little tree house,” he says. “We didn't want evidence — both of our families were conservative — so we basically passed them around a group of buddies and burnt them after we were done looking at them.”
Moss would go on to become an accidental photographer after he found a vintage camera in a flea market in 2013. Shortly thereafter, a model friend asked him to shoot a couple rolls of film. The negatives turned out so well that he ended up traveling the country for five months shooting aspiring starlets in various states of undress.
The result is his new book, Miss Lonely, a 248-page book of 40 women shot in 100% natural light with no Photoshopping.
“It evolved into this series of these kind of lonely images of girls mostly by themselves, mostly undressed in a very natural state,” he says. Since finishing the book in 2015, he’s shot for Rolling Stone, Playboy, Juxtapose, Calvin Klein and Free People, each time opting for a natural aesthetic and free-spirited feel that hearken back to the early days of gentleman’s magazines.
“Back in the day they would bring in Salvador Dalí to do a collaboration with Playboy, whereas now you don't really see an artful nude in some of those more commercial-level magazines,” he says. “I wanted to go back to that a little bit in creating my own nostalgic story, with some images that kind of lent a little bit more of a strangeness. Rather than ‘here's a beautiful naked woman,’ it's telling a bit more of a story.”
In Miss Lonely, that story centers on — unsurprisingly — isolation. Moss's subjects typically inhabit a personal space (a bedroom floor, a balcony, a bathtub). Some quotidian task (sleeping, reading, applying eye liner) probably preoccupies them. They are almost always without company.
It’s no coincidence that Moss found the bulk of the models on social media. “Social media is actually making people more lonely even though they feel more connected through a broader audience of people,” he says. “They might have thousands of followers, but they feel incredibly lonely because they don't have five friends they can talk to about real-life stuff. Especially women, they really get caught up with it.”
The result is something tasteful, rather than exploitative. Moss is interested in the human body the way a painter would be.
“I think I probably had an obsession with the naked human form from the time I was young,” says Moss. “Probably even before that — just from finding my mom's Sears catalog and scrolling through the lingerie section. I wanted to capture the body in kind of a timeless and sensual way.”
Miss Lonely is available for purchase now on Moss's site, and you can see it for yourself on Friday night at Paper Gallery from 7-11pm. The event is one night only, RSVP is required, and there will be DJs, libations and plenty of images to peruse.