Black Hills Woman Magazine | Artist Profile Kim Lathe: The Bare Project

Artist Profile: Kim Lathe
by Jaci Kennison

Kim’s grandmother lent her the first camera she ever touched, and she used it to take what was likely her first photo – of grandma’s false teeth. “We were so intrigued by them,” she remembers with a giggle. She watched, fascinated, as the image came to life on the Polaroid print in her hand, and was immediately enchanted by the whole thing; the magic of the image appearing on the stiff paper, the colors developing exactly as she’d seen them, the ability of the camera to capture and freeze a moment in time. And so began Kim Lathe’s passion for photography.

What started as a hobby became something more as friends and family began asking her to document their most precious moments; marriages, pregnancies, graduations… Eventually, with tremendous encouragement and support from her friends and family, the single mother and full time Marketing Coordinator gave her blossoming business a name, and launched Kim Lathe Photography.

The portraiture work was coming steadily and she deeply enjoyed it, but found herself yearning for a challenge, a project that would push her creative limits. She wanted to connect with models, she wanted to capture something deeper. So she remodeled her teenage daughter’s playroom into a studio – “She wasn’t very happy about it, but it was really just video games anyway,” Kim says, grinning, and BARE was born. “I thought I’d have to beg a few of my friends to participate, maybe even bribe them with dinner or drinks,” she remembers. She created a private group on Facebook, invited a very limited audience – just some close friends – and within 48 hours of posting she had 50 shoots scheduled. Back-to-back, for 10-12 straight hours, every Saturday for months.

The intention of the project was simple in concept – show people as they really were, in their real bodies. No clothes, no soft lighting, no elaborate sets. It seemed straight forward enough. “I knew (the shoots) would be intimate; I was photographing nude people who were telling me something deeply personal, but I wasn’t prepared for the depth and intensity of emotion that they shared, or that I felt while I was shooting.” By the second shoot on that first day, she began to understand what BARE really was.

Her subjects came in to her studio fully clothed, their perceived flaws hidden safely away, their nerves sparking. They often left with their walls entirely collapsed, their truth laid bare, and with a sense of calm self-acceptance they’d never before known. Many cried, some shared deep secrets with Kim, and most all proudly posted their photos on Facebook, sharing them with friends and even strangers, exposing not simply their bodies, but their fears, their insecurities, their scars. Kim gave them a safe place to do all of it, and when she saw what it meant, she gave them space and time too, scheduling longer shoots and – when models were interested in doing so – spending time documenting their personal stories of transformation.

Then the messages began rolling in, on social media, in texts and phone calls, subjects reaching out to Kim to share their gratitude for the powerful experience she gave them, the new way they saw themselves and their lives, the way they had been changed. One man finally felt safe enough to explore the struggle between his religious affiliation and his sexual identity, a mother understood her own self-image issues and realized she’d been projecting them onto her teenage daughter ultimately driving her away, still another woman learned to really love the woman she saw in her photos – imperfections and all. “Even though I’m a photographer, the photos were almost secondary in this project. The amazing thing about BARE is how it made the participants feel, and how they inspired people around them,” Kim says.

She hadn’t originally planned a public showing to be a part of the BARE project, but, at the urging of several models, Kim opened herself up to the possibility and after two years, 90 shoots, and hundreds of photos, BARE made its first public appearance at the Seed Theater in Rapid City to wide acclaim.

True to her perpetually giving spirit, the entire project has been a tremendous gift from Kim; no model was ever charged for the shoot or the photos and - despite encouragement from other photographers and friends who have suggested otherwise - Kim asserts no model ever will. “I would hope that when people read the stories from the models on my website,” she says, “they will understand why I could never charge for BARE.” There will, however, be opportunities for the public to experience the project in an intimate way; many models have chosen to compile their stories and photos into a book that will both help support the photographer that made all this possible, and let the world experience the powerful, beautiful impact of BARE… and perhaps find the inspiration to bravely bare themselves. BHW

Kim LatheVisit to view the BARE project along with Kim’s many others, and to purchase her work.

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