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Seeing people do strange poses to interact with the environment is nothing new: from tourists ‘holding’ the Leaning Tower of Pisa to those catching a corner of Louvre’s glass pyramid between two fingers, we are used to see these pictures. But photographer Nick Riley Bentham and model Yuka Tanaka did a more fun spin to this in their project Körper. In this photographic series, she posed and imitated several sculptures from a hotel in Berlin, while he captured did the visual relationship guided by Nobuyoshi Araki and Toy Story
Nick, you’re a photographer based in London, and Yuka, you’re working as a model in Berlin. How did you two find each other? And how did the idea to create Körper come up?
Nick: I came across Yuka via Instagram in January and loved her aesthetic. We exchanged messages and met up for a coffee while she visited London. Quickly we began to bounce ideas off each other and the next evening we where running naked around a field in east London. I gave these images to Yuka and she created a series of paintings from the photographs. After showing them to Italian art director Riccardo Zanola he suggested to turn it into a book. So while I was in Berlin for work Yuka came to visit me at the ProArte hotel in Mitte to discuss works; however, we ended up not doing that and going swimming instead. The hotel has an interesting collection of sculptures and artworks. I had a secret key card for the building that gave me access to the rooftop. Yuka and I headed up there and impulsively began to photograph each other. The way Yuka expresses herself through movement and positioning her body instantly reminded me of the sculptures in the hotel collection, and we decided to recreate the works while keeping them connected to the hotel itself.
Yuka: Yes, as Nick says, it started from his message asking me to collaborate in his book project. I was very impressed by his vigour at our first meeting in a café in Hackney. He brought a beautiful book he just printed at home and composed that same day to show me his works. It made me decide to work with him immediately. All the ideas came from Nick, both during our first shoot in London and also for the project Körper. Nick has this special talent to let people expose themselves, so I just kept myself mentally and physically open for his inspiration and he captured my pure reactions throughout the shoot.
Can you summarise for us what Körper is about? What do you want to show or make aware of? What are the idea and the concept?
Nick: It’s about fun and energy. About allowing Yuka to bring these rigid sculptures to life, treating each one as its own character and letting them explore the hotel, from the looking out over Berlin on the rooftop to jumping on the bed in the hotel rooms. I imagine these sculptures are so sick of the lobby and they wonder where do all the humans disappear.
Yuka: During the shoot, I had no final image in my mind. I consider the basic duty of any modelling work to stay free, comfortable, open, selfless and genuine. To me, it's all about exploring our diversity, potential, love and beauty throughout my body. After Nick finished editing Körper I reassured myself about this concept. I totally agree with Nick's description. We can easily get stuck in one situation or mindset, and be scared of exploring different phases of our life. I hope Körper reminds people to have fun.
What was your inspiration to create links between statues and body dance movements? How did you both contribute to the final result of Körper
Nick: I just imagined what would happen if they came to life while no one was around in a Toy Story-esque way.
Yuka: (laughs) Toy Story! Normally the process of my work goes the opposite way. I need to be the one who is not moving. Also in other work situations, painters or sculptors put my living body into fixed, still images – I've been dreaming of modelling for bronze or marble sculptures, by the way. So I found this unexpected idea of Nick interesting and fresh.
How did you decide on which statues or objects to include? Was it very planned, or was there room for improvisation?
Nick: We chose the ones that felt like they wanted to escape, the ones that seemed frozen in place, but there’s always room for improvisation. You’ll notice that in two images I made Yuka into the object, it’s almost as if she is trapped.
I saw that you used two different poses for the same statue. Did you try many different poses before finding the one that interprets or correlates better?
Nick: We experimented a lot. Often we got side-tracked due to excitement and shot something else that inspired us. It’s boring when everything goes according to a plan.
Not only are you copying the statues with your body, Yuka, but you two also found similar locations to the ones of the figures. How did you look and find them in order to have a similar look in both photographs?
Nick: It’s the small details that I tend to dwell on. So I remember that while we were recreating one of the sculpture’s set-ups, I noticed that there was a line along the wall behind it. I really wanted to find a place with the same line repeated in the hotel. I think it helps connecting the two. I remember a talk that Nobuyoshi Araki gave at Izu Photo Museum (Japan) back in 2013. He said about a photograph depicting a nude woman and an orange that "they are spontaneously calling each other out of my control". And we can actually find more examples of those spontaneous calling in many of his works.
This expression stuck in my mind when we were looking for locations. So I was focused on finding somewhere ‘calling the situation/environment of the statues’ rather than somewhere that just looks similar to the original.
All pictures are shot in black and white. Can you tell us why did you decide to keep everything this way? In what way did it help to bring across your main idea of the project?
Nick: Black and white images are instantly more graphical. The lack of colour lets the eye focus on shape and structure. We instantly detach from the idea of Yuka being naked as something sexual, and rather it’s about her shape and form, and she embodies the sculptures by bringing them to life – even if only for a moment.
What does Körper mean and why did you decide to title your project like this?
Nick: Körper is a way to say body in German. As I was building the project it just kept resurfacing in my head. All the sculptures represent the idea of the body and its interaction with the environment. I can't define exactly how Yuka is able to translate and radiate emotion though her body and movements. However, it always becomes the focal point of our images. As a photographer she is a dream to collaborate creatively with.
How are you planning to show your work to the art world? Are you planning on editing a book or organizing an exhibition?
Nick: We had an exhibition in London. I always want to separate the photographic project from the show. To me an exhibition should involve the people and allow them to interact with the works and have an experience rather than simply admire them hanging on a wall. I try to create a world for the audience to engage with. And the book will be launched in November 16!
Your first collaboration for Körper turned out in a beautiful project. Are you planning to do more collaborations in the future?
Nick: Yes, we have a few projects in the making. Yuka is a constant inspiration; her freedom, her creativity and her energy make her something incredibly special in this day and age.
Yuka: I’m working on recreating drawings from our first shoot in London. It means a lot to me to have these opportunities and work with photographer like Nick. He has super positive energy and gives me powerful inspiration. I hope to finish this project from our first shoot as soon as possible.

Words
Eva Abeling
Photos
Nick Riley Bentham

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