Next to a little square above Parmentier, I walked into an absolutely bizarre setting: a “Kawaii” café filled with Japanese anime posters, PVC toys of cartoon characters, video games, Final Fantasy themed chairs and furiously uplifting opening songs of cartoon series’. Sitting in the “French-Otaku” run café, there is a feeling of an absurd contrast from the neighborhood around which is surrounded by old-school bars on the ground floor of 18th century Haussmann Parisian buildings with angry football fans. This is where I am to meet the well-known French portrait photographer Nicolas Guérin and his Chinese-American wife, Sheri Chiu.
Sheri, twenty-three years old, has an adorable smile with minimalistic facial features, a school-girl looking bob cut that spells out innocence and a very soft and gentle voice that leaves the impression of a shy character. But she, a girl that does not look that much different than others her age, has been modeling nude since the age of eighteen, married a forty-year-old French photographer and moved to Paris for love, while working at one of the hippest fashion/art magazines as a journalist and creating unimaginable erotic photography with her husband.
Nicolas, walking next to Sheri, is almost as if looking into a mirror that shows one’s complete contradictory. He, in a pair of nonchalant jeans, represents “le French chic” on the end of artistic intellectuals. His careless beard with the occasional white hair sticking out of the picture speaks maturity and his pair of dark-colored eyes hide most of the deep thoughts and skepticism towards common society. The external juxtaposition between the married couple truly sticks out in a crowd. But once you get to know them, all the confusion and questions will be untied.
Q: How did you two meet?
Sheri: I was born in New York, lived there for ten years and moved to Hong Kong where I lived for eight years. Later on, I moved back to New York to study journalism at NYU. I met Nicolas through Model Mayhem, which is a model profession website connecting freelance models and photographers.
Nicolas: Yes. We met and we flirted through the website for three weeks. It was clear that “things” were going to happen between us. So on New Year’s Eve, I flew to New York to fuck her. Therefore my primary purpose was not really to shoot her, although we did eventually, but only because we felt like we needed it as an excuse.
Sheri: We fell in love first, then we met, and then we shot together. The first photo shoot was just in the moment.
Q: What is the one strongest connection you found in each other?
Nicolas: I first stopped flirting with her a bit because she was nineteen and I was thirty-nine, and she was 6,000 kilometers away from me; there were a lot of reasons and it was not the easiest situation. But after meeting her, she was simply so spontaneous, odd and unstable; and I, on the contrary, was so sad and stable and boring. When we are together we can have a kind of balance so it was a really good match. I was unfortunately and completely trapped. But things weren’t easy since I just escaped a relationship myself and I had a family, a kid, my work, etc. Plus I did not expect myself to fall so deeply in love at the age of forty. I felt like I had a second chance to be happy with someone else.
Q: Did you ever think that you would end up with a guy like Nicolas?
Sheri: Before I dated guys mostly my own age, and I always fell for the wrong guy because I was really interested in bad guys who would treat me poorly.
Q: And why do you think that is?
Sheri: I was always drawn to the popular kids in school. I was obsessed with the leadership quality and I tried hard to fit in. Then I met Nicolas and he was stable, with a lot of love and nurturing to give. So I think this was what I needed.
Nicolas: This sounds better in words but not so much in reality.
Q: Why would such a progressive-minded couple like you two need to get married?
Nicolas: First of all it is the paper issues. I always fought to not get married. But it was necessary for her family, or even as a commitment to her since she was about to move from New York to Paris for me. My daughter and my whole family attended the ceremony in our studio/apartment. The wedding turned into an amazing “hippie” party after the family left. Everyone lost their minds and clothes and were dancing naked.
Q: Sheri, how did you start being a nude model?
Sheri: When I moved back to New York, I wanted to try out some school fashion shows and one of my friends suggested that I put some pictures on Model Mayhem. I started off with some boring and ugly commercial photo shoots, then one day I met a photographer, and my clothes came off.
“I think a lot of nude models do it to help them with their own self-confidence as well.”
Q: Was it natural when you got naked the first time in front of a camera?
Sheri: It was natural because it was new and exciting even though it was dangerous and, more importantly, against my educational background. I had my first nude shoot when I was eighteen and it truly opened up the gate of liberation for me. I think this behavior back then was a response to a need that I had at the time, eager to be acknowledged and recognized by society. I needed to feel like I existed. Realistically, it was a chain that led to this mentality. First I broke up with my college boyfriend. So this was a sort of game of seduction to validate myself that even after this break up, I was still beautiful, sexy and men still desired me. During each photo shoot, I would feel like there is a goal and I am often not very focused, so it became easier for me as time went by. And I think a lot of nude models do it to help them with their own self-confidence as well.
Nicolas: Plus that was the time when I realized that she is a true exhibitionist back then, haha. A few years ago we shot with the famous photographers Jim Goldberg, Martin Parr and Bruce Gilden in the streets. Sheri was naked in public with about one hundred people queuing to take pictures of her. She was so happy!
Sheri: It was fun!
Nicolas: She is less like that today but back then, she was not a nude model. She was a girl who needed to be naked in front of men to feel good.
Q: And how do you see the contradiction in yourself since you said you are interested in fashion and you work for a fashion magazine as a journalist, while on the other hand you pose naked, which is a bit “anti-fashion” as some might say?
Sheri: I am a fashion journalist but I like to analyze fashion from a distance, especially as a form of art. And I see nude modeling the same way as a form of art. So I do not see that fashion has to necessarily do with clothing. It can be an atmosphere, an attitude. It can be a lot of things.
Q: Do you, Nicolas, think you were influenced by Sheri and changed later on as well?
Nicolas: My life totally changed. I was much more conservative and bourgeois. When we first met, she was very neurotic about meeting photographers and shooting nude. But at least she dared something, even though it was forbidden and dangerous for her. Me, I was not so brave. I was a very well known photographer for portraiture, and a director, so it was hard for me to get out of my comfort zone and do erotic photography. I was shooting very academic nudes with no sexual meaning at the time. And it was because I was in love, and proud to be in love with her, I moved passed the barriers in my heart and started shooting things with more of a sexual atmosphere.
“Everybody understands my portraits, but it is not as easy to get people to understand eroticism.”
Nicolas: The first erotic series I shot was a long series of around thirty different people making love and girls having orgasms, which I published in my book. The inspiration of this project was from last spring, when we knew that we would not meet for three months and I would be all-alone. It was a difficult time and I was really missing her orgasms and other sexual joy. So I decided to start shooting other girls having orgasms. It was not easy to be understood at first, even for Sheri, but it was meaningful for me. For many years, a few girls offered me this opportunity to do a masturbation shoot and I always rejected it even though I always loved eroticism in literature, painting and cinema; but it is another step to decide you would shoot yourself erotically because you either have to be very, very naïve or very self confident to be able to do so. Plus, we already have a lot of amazing people doing erotic photography such as Ren Hang or Nobuyoshi Araki. In the meantime, I started these ideas because I needed a balance when Sheri was looking for photographers to shoot her naked and I needed to play the other role. Still it was not as easy for a serious portrait photographer to shoot eroticism. Everybody understands my portraits, but it is not as easy to get people to understand eroticism.
After Sheri crawled into this exciting yet mature marriage, they started working together to shoot erotic photography. Their souls grinding and resonating create sparkles that surprise, amaze and confuse the world. Sheri, who looks shy and innocent but is indeed riotous, bold and unrestrained; in combination with Nicolas, who looks dissipated but was, in fact, once reserved and restrained; both using their uncommon love and understanding explore and discover new levels and definitions of the human sexual and emotional world.
“We do not really have this idea of what is appropriate and what is not in our relationship.”
Nicolas: So yes, I have definitely changed due to the strong influence of Sheri. Before, I was too conscious about the limit of what is appropriate and what is not, which is a very stupid and bourgeois behavior. Sheri, on the other hand, was totally ‘inappropriate’; she was always naked, even in front of kids and families in public. So we do not really have this idea of what is appropriate and what is not in our relationship.
Q: How do both of your families react to the fact that you are shooting nude and sometimes eroticism together?
Nicolas: My family, after being on set once and seeing how beautiful Sheri can be when she is naked and how amazing the pictures turned out, totally changed their ideas and are now very supportive and comfortable with us doing this. And they know a lot about my work now ever since.
Sheri: My family is the complete opposite.
Q: (Jokingly) Do they even know you are married?
Sheri: Yes, of course.
Nicolas: Unfortunately, haha.
Sheri: My parents had a very different education and they are much more close-minded and are both quite traditionally Chinese, even though my dad is quite Americanized since he moved to the U.S. at one-year-old and my mum moved there when she was sixteen. Despite their conservative ideas, they see that I am very happy with Nicolas so they try to understand.
Q: What was the biggest problem or concern for them to accept Nicolas?
Nicolas: The ethnic differences perhaps. And I think this is a BIG problem. If I were a forty-year-old Chinese photographer, this would cause way less trouble. And also the fact that I had already another family is a big matter.
Sheri: Actually I think age and profession were more of the questions. They do not understand photography since they have no culture in art. They came to America to survive, to make a business, to feed their family and to live the American dream. So that created a distance as well.
Nicolas: As you see Sheri’s name means “darling” in French (Chérie), she was a nude model and she has the same birthday as my daughter, but not the same year at least. So when you meet a girl like this, you have to marry her, haha.
Q: Are you still doing portrait photography or are you focusing more on erotic photography?
Nicolas: Yes, I have to because that is still my main job. I was lucky when I was studying to have had the opportunities to shoot famous people such as Quentin Tarantino six times, Woody Allen five times, Martin Scorsese six times and David Lynch five times, etc. Even Chinese movie legends such as Zhang Yimou (张艺谋), Gong Li (巩俐), Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) and many more. So today I love doing portraits of people from cinema more than anything because I am absolutely fascinated by these people. Last year I shot with Meryl Streep in Berlin, and after the shooting I cried for five minutes. It was so emotional for me because you see them in the movies and they represent so much for me. So I will for sure continue with portrait photography. But I cannot continue this all my life, so eventually I will need to move to some other type of photography.
What is really interesting in our process of liberation; of course, as a couple, we would have limitations of freedom and it is not always easy for her to understand me shooting a naked girl – she would feel a bit attacked and insecure about it, and the same for me to accept her taking photos with other photographers. Therefore, the most recent thing we have done together is started to shoot other nude models with Sheri and I together as the photographer. Since Sheri has no knowledge with light, angles and positions, she just needs to direct the girl to shoot what she wants and sees in her mind, and I take care of the technical part. This is very interesting since Sheri is a nude model and she is directing another nude model, and on top of that it is unusual for a woman to shoot another woman erotically. This creates an exciting point of view.
Sheri: For me it is really about the attitude and emotions. But I think Nicolas and I share a common view on erotic photography, so it is really efficient when one person is behind the camera and the other directs and guides the model. Nicolas brings his expertise and experience with his knowledge; with me it is more experimental, naïve and fun. I think girls can give me a different attitude and reactions as opposed to Nicolas. I think it depends on the girl since some girls are very comfortable and offer me more, while others might actually enjoy the process of seducing a male photographer or maybe they feel more excited in front of a guy.
Nicolas: But in fact some girls have told us that they would not feel as comfortable and free if they were alone with me. Since Sheri is on set, they feel more secured, more relaxed and confident. Before I did photo shoots that express the intimacy and the melting of two bodies in a blurry and unspecific way. But this time we both want it to be sharper and more direct about erotica. So it is not guaranteed that girls can easily masturbate in front of me at three o’clock in the morning but if we appear as a married couple with Sheri who is also a nude model, interesting and more direct images are almost promised to come out.
Q: How do you find your models?
Nicolas: They are mostly friends, or friends through the internet. Mostly it was the magic of the shoot, since we shoot very privately in our studio late at night. For me this is absolutely the most beautiful thing we could shoot.
Sheri: Plus, when Nicolas gives an idea, I can feed off that inspiration and go off in another direction, to really try to get everything from the pose. I push the limit of his point of view even further.
Nicolas: Sometimes, I would stop the shooting, since my subconscious and photography instincts cannot approve what Sheri might do. But she would insist on trying and sometimes, even though it does look odd and strange, it actually creates a new level and a new vision of beauty.
Now, there is a new question we have asked ourselves about couples, nudes and photography: what about me shooting Sheri with another girl or another guy? Or even Sheri shooting me included in the photos.
Q: So what is the boundary or limitation to your erotic photography between the two of you?
Nicolas: For me, I do not want to take photos just for my own excitement, and I want the photo to still have a meaning and values when I see it; or an emotion that I can share with others exists in it. So one can find common emotions in the orgasm series I did before.
The big difference between Sheri and me is that almost every time she is excited and aroused during the shoot while I am never. In a way, I would love to experience this feeling. The only time this happened was the very first nude shoot of my life with a girl who was nineteen years old. After that, whenever I am working, I am completely out of my body and never excited about the sexy scenes in front of me. The camera actually puts me at a distance, terribly. I would love to be more intimate and spontaneous, and less cold with my emotions when shooting.
Sheri: Because I started nude modeling for self-validation so photo shoots meant sex to me. I would always get super excited and I didn’t really care about the photos, it was more about the experience and chemistry that came with it. Which is something the Nicolas has not really experienced. For me, I would like Nicolas to feel it just to see how it feels.
Nicolas: Really? Are you sure?
Sheri: Yeah! But recently this has changed. For example, the last time I went for an erotic photo shoot, I could not feel anything sexual and exciting. The chemistry seems to have run away.
Nicolas: And frankly, seeing other people loving and having sex together makes me cry. I am always touched by the combination of two human souls. So next week I am going to step out of this phase and shoot with a girl that I am excited about and afterwards, Sheri has to be happy about it, haha.
Q: Do you get judgment or disapproval from friends, family or the society?
Sheri: For a long time I kept modeling a secret from my friends and family. A lot of my male friends don’t understand actually and what confuses them more is that Nicolas is comfortable with me posing nude. I find my female friends more open about it. And my parents are still critical. Overall, I do find that society criticizes what I do since it is not in line with the society that (believes) one should be clothed and behave.
Q: Do you attempt to convey any sort of message or meaning with your naked body? Or does it simply make you happy?
Sheri: It really does make me happy. And I just love experimenting and creating new images, exploring ideas and concepts with Nicolas. It is an overall life experience.
Q: How do you separate erotic art from pornography?
Nicolas: It is very simple. Pornography is images that excite people sexually. But you cannot masturbate to the images of the girls having orgasms that I shot. There are no dicks, no pussies – but love, emotions and melting bodies.
But there might still be exceptions with blurred lines. For example, the pictures of Araki – even though they are very beautiful and artistic, with a little bit of imagination, I can still masturbate to them. It is still Japanese girls opening their legs.
Q: Do you think working together makes you two more in love?
Nicolas, Sheri: Yes.
Nicolas: A perfect example is that last week when we were in Barcelona, the entrance of the building we stayed at was gorgeous. So at four o’clock in the morning, I told Sheri to take off her clothes and we simply starting shooting gorgeous images with my iPhone. It is great to have someone who always gives you inspiration and is always available – I do not want to use the word “muse” because it is so cliché. And to me, the shoots with Sheri are always the most important ones, even though she does not understand it sometimes. It is easy to shoot a beautiful girl of nineteen years old, but what is difficult is to make the beauty last.
胆敢解放赤裸的超脱——对话拆除文化和社会隔阂的Nicolas Guérin和Sheri Chiu
在离Parmentier不远处的一个小广场旁，我犹豫地走进一个诡异的场景。这是一家墙壁贴满了五彩斑斓的漫画海报，摆满模型手办，电子游戏和最终幻想主题的桌椅，大声放着激动到不合常理的动漫开场主题曲的“kawaii”咖啡厅。我推开一把椅子，坐在几个法国“宅男”面前，感受着这与周围环境毫不沾边，仿佛踏入纳尼亚一般的不解。这个被一圈18世纪奥斯曼世的建筑下闹哄哄的在酒吧喝酒的球迷围绕着的咖啡厅，就是著名法国人像摄影师Nicolas Guérin和美籍华人兼自称“暴露狂”的Sheri Chiu，这对绝对够奇葩的夫妇，约我访谈的地方。
Sheri： 我出生长大于纽约和香港，之后我在纽约大学上的新闻系。而我们相遇是通过Model Mayhem这个连接自由职业的模特和摄影师的网站。
Sheri: 当我搬回纽约上大学的时候，我很想要尝试一下学校的时装秀和挡一下模特。于是我朋友建议我把照片传到Model Mayhem这个网站上。刚开始的时候我拍了一堆又丑又没意思的商业化的照片。有一天我遇到了一个摄影师，然后不知不觉的，我的衣服就一件一件脱了下来。
Nicolas：况且那也是我发现其实Sheri是个“暴露狂”的时候。几年前，我们和Jim Goldberg、Martin Parr和Bruce Gilden三位世界知名的摄影师合作。Sheri就直接在街头宽衣解带，引来现场一百多人围观拍照。她自己享受的很！
Q : Nicolas，你认为自己有因为Sheri而改变吗？
Nicolas：你要想，当你遇到一个女孩儿，名字在法语里面是“甜心” 的意思，（因为Sheri在法语里音同Chérie（甜心，宝贝））， 还是个漂亮的裸体模特，甚至连她的生日都跟我女儿一样！（至少不是同年哈哈）这样的姑娘，你能不娶吗？
Q : 你还在坚持拍摄人像摄影吗？还是你希望从今专攻情色艺术摄影？
Nicolas：我会坚持的，毕竟这是我的本行。从我30岁开始，我很幸运的得到了六次拍Tarantino，五次拍Woody Allen，六次拍Martin Scorsese和五次拍David Lynch等等世界级大导演和演员的机会。甚至是中国的殿堂级导演和演员，例如张艺谋，巩俐，章子怡等等。所以时至今日我仍旧热爱着人像摄影，因为对于我来说，没有什么比拍摄电影行业中的传奇更加让我激动和兴奋的事了。去年我在柏林拍了Meryl Streep，在拍摄完以后，我足足哭了有五分钟。我经常很情绪化，很容易被这些经历所触动。所以我一定会继续走这条路，但我也不能一辈子只做这一件事。
Article by Bohan Qiu
Published on the “NAKED” issue of Elsewhere Magazine