How Anonymous Tinder Nudes Became This Artist's Muses
"I love the idea of these total strangers squatting around in their bedrooms trying to get a nice shot of their crotch for me."
Nude from Lei. All images © Frances Waite, courtesy the artist
Two things to know for anyone interested in meeting an artist on Tinder: act your age, nobody's here to entertain you, and don't say or do anything you wouldn't want to find on someone else's wall. Two things that were different about Frances Waite, an artist I met on Tinder: there were nudes—but they weren't hers. One featured a garter belt and fasteners framing a fattened penis, which would have sent me swiping were it not for the decidedly assured line quality. The second was the description:
Please send me your best nudes so I can draw them while I figure out my next move.
Save for the age, a year younger than mine, and a gender-neutral name notwithstanding (firm believer in animal magnetism), the blank stare/dark hair/exotic eyebrows one-three punch that sends my thumb careening was replaced, instead, by art.
Her second picture, charcoal on red paper, fit two nude models holding each other side by side within its square frame, like a smartphoned American Gothic, but with softer stomachs and groomed pubic hair. The third and fourth pics were just as suggestive—on their knees, necks and backs corkscrewing to point cameras towards mirrors—a raised bottom spread through assless briefs; a tampon string descending. As belied their graphic nature, these were not drawings of your grandmother's nudes (though I'd soon find out they just as well could have been). Rather than mirror-selfies, these were snapshots of selves inviting an artist deeper in than the surface-level; unveiling the same shame-free self-exploration and vulnerability that works on, but ultimately makes you lose at Tinder.
Apprehensive, partly because of my own aversion to sending nudes (I don't—professional reasons), partly because of my affinity for receiving them (same reasons, obviously), I swiped right. Two articles later into my bathroom break, Frankie and I matched.
The 22-year-old Pratt BFA in drawing hails from Rochester, New York, and her personal work reads like Chris Johanson-via-Louise Bourgeois-on-female viagra. In keeping with our online encounter, a few weeks ago The Creators Project interviewed Frances Waite via iMessage about hitting the inspiration motherlode when it comes to in-between projects: other people's naked pictures.
The Creators Project: Just a ballpark, how many nudes have you drawn so far?
Frances Waite: I started this project just two weeks ago and I have around 15 drawings, but I have about 8 nudes right now that I will draw for sure, probably within the next week or so, and I get new ones sent to me all the time.
Haha, sweet. They can't all be from Tinder, though...
Haha no, I know they aren't all from Tinder. The project started on Instagram, I was in my studio pretty frustrated because all the work I was making for a few weeks felt like shit, so I posted a photo of a note on Instagram that had my phone number and basically said "help me, send me your best nudes."
At first it was people I knew, but now they all come from phone numbers I don't recognize. I gave my phone number on Tinder and Instagram so I don't know which they come from.
Do they all come with names and stories?
Most of the time I only get a picture. I almost never get a name, but sometimes it will come with some facts. One of the first nude senders told me that they were a roller derby player, something like "now you get to draw a derby girl's ass." Most of them ask me first if they are allowed to send it. A lot of people send a bunch of nudes at once and I can tell that they sort of did a little photo shoot for me, which is great because I love the idea of these total strangers squatting around in their bedrooms trying to get a nice shot of their crotch for me.
One girl actually posed nude trying to mimic some of the characters I was drawing in the series before this, love team, which was really cool. I haven't drawn that one yet.
Woah. That's so meta.
Yeah it is pretty strange. Up until this point I never used photography as a basis for my drawings, and now I'm using it and this person is trying to take a photo to look like my drawing.
So the nudes you get sent come from a seriously wide range of self-shooters: boys, girls, cross-dressers, etc. just as long as they're 18+. Personal preference coming from your own profiles, or medium non-specificity?
First off—I'm thankful for every one that is sent to me. They are all beautiful and awesome and I'm really glad people trust me enough to send me their photos. That said—I totally pick favorites and [the] stranger the nude, the more I like it. The classic headless dick pics and boobs aren't as fun to draw—I love the nudes that really have character, where people are being themselves and posing in a way they think is sexy and beautiful. Part of what really intrigues me about this project is that I get to see these people in a really intimate way, the way they want to be seen. Because we are total strangers I think there is less of a pressure to impress me. And if they've been following my work for a while they probably already know that I'm into the freaky stuff and I'm not going to judge them or think any less of them for doing their thing.
Perfect. I was going to ask why it seems like the nudes you draw are much more on the explicit side than your standard self-shots. It’s a matter of taste.
Totally—this series in some ways feels pretty far away from my other work, in that it's using real people and photography, not just the little people in my head—but it's essentially about the same things: intimacy, sexuality, sentimentality, the massive amount of ways a person can perform these things.
Totally. Part of what I love (and hate) about Tinder is the performativity. You’re free to assume whatever identity you want, and when it comes down to meeting, if it comes down to meeting, you even have the option to choose a whole new one.
In this case, in just posting a phone number and an offer, you provide a space for a certain kind of liberation. Do you see yourself as a record-keeper, documentarian, or a ringleader of sorts?
I hope that I don't sound conceited in saying this but I do think that I give people an opportunity to perform a part of themselves they might not display otherwise. I'm some weird girl on the internet that wants to draw naked strangers, and I already have a repertoire of images that, I hope, make people feel comfortable doing whatever the hell they want. I had a real life example of this over the weekend actually. I was visiting my family in Rochester and ended up telling my grandmother, who is a very modest lady, about the project. I was kind of harassing her to send me a nude and I think she might (fingers crossed). She didn't say it outright but I could tell she was excited at the opportunity to do something she would other wise think was too naughty or wrong.
So cool! I mean, it definitely doesn’t hurt that the characters in your other works express a sexuality (and sensuality) perhaps best described as boundless.
Hahaha yes that is true. That's the magic of drawing all the time, you can make all your fantasies real without having to deal with the social anxiety of acting them out in "real life."
But in this case these are real people. Have you encountered anyone or any behavior you wouldn’t draw?
I haven't received any images that I wouldn't draw, but given the nature of Tinder, I've received plenty of invitations to meet up in order to get the nude. I get it, some people want to know who they are sending their nudes to, but I'm receiving a high enough volume that I don't bother with meeting them. And at this point the project keeps most of the senders anonymous, and I like it that way.
In a way, then, it’s more like camming (to go contemporary) or cyber sex (not so contemporary) than online dating.
For sure. I'm definitely not using Tinder in the traditional way—although I know a photographer who used it in a similar way to find models—it ends up working against me because I get reported a lot, probably when people realize I'm not looking to meet up and just want them to send me their nudes. My Tinder gets shut down for a few days every time it happens, which is a bummer.
Yuck. People on the internet can be a bummer. Is that the worst you’ve dealt with?
There aren't really any specific situations. I can't tell who reports me, I just get suddenly logged off and notified that my account is being investigated. It's actually happening again right now. Luckily my account stays active in people's feeds even when I can't access it so I still have the potential to receive photos. I read recently that a lot of trans people are getting similar reports and as a result are being excluded from the app. One of my drawings on Tinder has a male-bodied person cross-dressing so I'm wondering if that might have something to do with it, but I have no way of knowing.
If you had to guess, is it the images themselves, the perception of an empowered female position as either a tease, voyeur, or judge, or a projected fear or what people might find out about themselves while self-shooting that people find threatening?
I'm betting that it has more to do with the images and their perception of me. I think I can totally come across as a tease. People use the app to find people to hook up with. I've used the app that way so I totally get it (I actually met my boyfriend on Tinder last year). But you match with me and I don't want to sleep with you or even meet you, I just want your nudes. And on top of that, the images are somewhat explicit so my profile feels sexual immediately. But what can you do? Tinder is a tool and there are a lot of ways to use it. I'm totally transparent about what I'm after, and I never pressure anybody to send me anything. I swipe right on everybody and set my preferences to be as inclusive as possible, so there are a lot of opportunities to cross paths with people that are not going to be supportive of what I'm doing.
It seems like those opportunities exist just about everywhere on the internet, and with the growing embodiment of trolling—people really “owning it” IRL—those lines just keep getting more blurred.
I was wondering how you feel about the spaces in which people take these nudes. Are people inviting you into their own bedrooms, bathrooms, and personal spaces, and sharing with you a piece of themselves, or turning their own spaces into physical extensions of the internet where you just so happen to meet them?
I think that it is more intimate that an extension of the internet. I kind of locate this work in the "of the internet" rather than the "about the internet" sphere. I didn't hack into anybody's cloud to steal their nudes, they made a decision to take them for me, or at least send them to me. It's a consensual mental interaction even though there is no physical connection. So yes—I'm totally in their space. I love seeing their toothpaste splatters in the mirror and underwear in the background.
I love that term, “consensual mental interaction.” Not mind-fucking, but mind-love-making.
Yeah, I hope so! That's my objective anyway.
Have you sent drawings to any of your subjects / gotten any response?
Good question—I haven't yet. They've seen (I'm assuming) what I've posted on Instagram but that's as far as it's gone. When I feel like I've reached some sort of finishing point with the project I want to do something to give back to them. I'm thinking maybe editioning a little book of prints with all the nudes or something. They should definitely have copies, I just haven't figured out the right way to do it yet.
Excellent answer. Last question: Do you consider yourself a pervert?
No, I don't consider myself a pervert. I mean, maybe I'm a perverted artist but I'm not a perverted person. I don't think my intentions or inclinations as Frances the human are abnormal, but as an artist I am searching for abnormality, and/or maybe I'm trying to normalize it. I don't know it's a tricky question. Do you consider me to be a pervert?
It’s a better question to have someone else answer, isn’t it?
Haha, yeah I really think it is. I don't have enough distance to say one way or the other. I can only say how I want to be/hope to be considered and I can barely answer that question.
Maybe the interview should come with a poll so we can let the people decide.
That way neither of us have to answer :)
Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Just as long as you’re cool with the results!
Yeah I think I'll survive.