The human body has always been the most popular subject in contemporary art, and Utah artist, architect and photographer, Paul Butler, became famous for his remarkable nude figure drawings and photos of women wearing body paint.
During photography and painting sessions, his female models often shared with him their insecurities and discomfort regarding their own bodies. He told People Magazine in 2017, “I always responded, ‘If you realized what you look like to others, you wouldn’t be saying that. You should be celebrating every part of you.’”
For 25 years of his life, before his passing in early 2022, Butler changed the lives of hundreds of women with an annual photography project that will live on for generations to come. It was known as The Wendover Project.
The first time Butler photographed a painted nude woman was in 1997. He took her to the Salt Flats, covered her nude body with paint, then photographed her utilizing the desolate desert background for contrast. The following year, six more women went with him to have their own naked bodies painted and photographed. Any body type or size was acceptable for the project.
Participants reported feeling empowered by the experience. No matter how nervous they were in the beginning, they all left feeling confident and comfortable about their bodies.
The Wendover Project grew every year, including more than 100 models per shoot by the final years of the series, and the feedback was often the same: This project was helping women love their bodies. Each photo set carried a different theme, and each one was unique and equally powerful.
One model shared her experience with The Wendover Project in 2015. “I had never been involved in a large scale photo shoot and project like this before. I had no idea what to expect. There was a lot of standing around, getting lost, not being able to hear (That is a personal issue as I have slight hearing loss in one of my ears), being hungry and thirsty, sweating from places I literally had never felt sweat drip from before, laughing, chatting, and being naked. It was a long day and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Why? The lessons I learned about myself and human bodies in general changed my life forever.”
She went on to share realizations and reflections she had as a result of the experience. She says, “I caught glimpses of all kinds of bodies. Cellulite, scars, insulin pumps, bruises, bones, skinny bodies, fat bodies, short bodies, tall bodies. Bodies. That’s all they were. Bodies. And then, they became more. They became people. As I talked to the women around me, they became nurses, teachers, students, bankers, people. They were people. Simple, complex, people. By taking away the messages of their clothing people were able to tell me who they were without as many preconceived notions.”
Butler’s Wendover Project was intentional, important and impactful. His son, Paul Butler Jr., expresses that body-centric photography was what he feels his father “had the most passion for throughout his life because he was able to provide a safe space for people to be comfortable with their bodies as they were transformed into works of art.”
Butler empowered women by proving that beauty is abundant in bodies of all shapes and sizes. His work will continue to change the world as the ripple effect of his project continues to make waves.
Join the celebration of Paul Butler’s life and art at Eccles Art Center (2580 Jefferson Avenue, Ogden, Utah) on October 8th, 2022 from 1:00 pm to 6 pm.
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