Body Clock: Polly Penrose’s nude self-portraits portray an emotional journey

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The first time Polly Penrose photographed herself nude, it was in her stepfather’s factory; the second time, it was under a flight of stairs in a mid-renovation house. When her stepmother heard what she had started, she said it was a weird thing to do. “I guess there is an element of weirdness,” Penrose laughs, unabashed.

But that hasn’t stopped her. The thinking behind the project was perfectly logical, she says; after studying graphic design and working as a stylist for years, she decided to teach herself photography, taking herself as a model for ease of access and whatever location she could get her hands on out of sheer necessity.

But she admits there is a compulsive element to the work, and its sheer longevity has lent it another, unbidden theme – time.

Penrose’s hair colour has changed, she has aged and, more dramatically, she has been pregnant, had a baby and become pregnant a second time. The images record these physical changes and more; most interestingly for Penrose, the poses she assumes record her emotional evolution too.

“As well as showing the physical journey of my body over time, they also reveal an emotional one,” she writes.

“Each picture candidly portrays a moment, like marks in the calendar of my life. The tedious despair of temp work in the city laid bare on a boardroom table. A ball of excitement on a yellow chair on my engagement. The red fabric of grief stretched around me as I watched my husband slowly lose his mother. The overwhelming calm, poise and balance nine days before my first child is born, and the almost sacrificial, exhausted pose two months into motherhood.”

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy