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Milly Cope, Body Ceremony (2023)
Photography Milly Cope

These confessional images explore nudity, vulnerability and shame

Milly Cope’s upcoming photo book, Body Ceremony, examines the chronic disconnect so many of us feel towards our own bodies

For photographer Milly Cope, taking pictures is an act of love as well as a form of revelation. “I think we spend too much time hiding ourselves,” explains the 23-year-old, reflecting on why she is drawn to the naked body, “not just through clothing but also by concealing our innermost thoughts.” Approaching photography as a means of honouring vulnerability – both physical and emotional – her perception of nakedness as “facing yourself from the inside out” is the guiding principle of the imagery in her upcoming book, Body Ceremony.

Attempting to explore the sensation of corporeal detachment so many of us acquire over the years due to learnt shame, the book explores what it means to be naked and why we should celebrate melancholia. Body Ceremony (published by Snap Collective) collates work which celebrates the spectrum of complex emotions that make us human, encompassing confusion, discomfort, joy, and fear. In a landscape of overly curated perfection and filters, Cope’s photographs feel confessional. Evoking cinematic stills, they hint at the glamorisation of bodies on screen, and heighten the beauty of bare reality: “It feels evermore beautiful to reveal a truth.”

“Photography itself is a melancholic act... a fear of what is being lost; a desire to hold something close for a moment longer” – Milly Cope

Having posed for her own pictures from the age of 15, Cope’s self-portraits serve as journeys of acceptance. Even after almost a decade, she still finds it challenging to shoot herself, explaining, “It’s easy to feel insecure, but it is an invitation to fight against that.” The nature of analogue film means her body remains invisible after being shot, kept safe from judgement in the roll until it is developed. The medium’s dependence on time encourages trust to be built, into her body like into herself. During a time when self-reverence can sometimes feel like a rebellion, she enshrines in her book her admiration for what the body endures and what it can process emotionally. 

Through her lens, Cope metaphorically holds herself and people she encounters, whether she knows intimately or whether they’re virtually strangers. Human connection and friendship are indeed at the centre of the imagery, documenting significant but fleeting moments with people from her recent life. It’s with a seemingly invisible camera that the photographer captures intimacy while managing to retain the moment’s honest and natural true essence. When asked what she would want people to take away from her book, she tells Dazed: “If Body Ceremony makes anyone feel a little bit less alone, that would be rather lovely.”

But taking pictures isn’t only a means for Cope to appreciate, it’s also to remember. “Photography itself is a melancholic act,” she explains, “a fear of what is being lost; a desire to hold something close for a moment longer. I find it quite hard to remember things clearly. My head is in the clouds a lot. Maybe this is why I take so many photos.” Accordingly, memory and love are woven into the fabric of Body Ceremony, radiating from every page. 

Body Ceremony is published by Snap Collective and is available to pre-order now.

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