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Photographer Caitlin Cronenberg in her studio.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

When Toronto photographer Caitlin Cronenberg (yes, of those Cronenbergs) talks about her latest project, it's clear just how attached she's become to it - but the affair has run its course.

"I've loved every moment of the three years we've spent together, but I really feel like it's time to take leave of each other," she says of the collection of 136 nude photographs she's assembled for a book, entitled POSER .

The book is the first major assembly of works by the burgeoning photographer and daughter of acclaimed filmmaker David Cronenberg. The black and white portraits evoke a stark naturalism, baring every mole, freckle, wrinkle and wisp of hair.

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But they are less about nudity, Cronenberg says, than the subject's interaction with the camera, and with the photographer. For most subjects, this was their first time posing nude before a camera.

Though Cronenberg says she chatted with each subject during the sessions, she offered no direction. The result: a tableau of bold and bashful, quizzical, triumphant and shrinking interlocutors, and how they wear their nudity.

"The nerves get you right up until the moment you take your clothes off," Cronenberg said, but added most of her subjects quickly found themselves feeling liberated, exhilarated, even strangely comfortable.

The first 20 photographs of these brave souls are on display Tuesday night for the first time at Toronto's Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu for a private fundraiser Cronenberg organized to help publish her book.

The book will give the back story of each subject, illustrating the chain reaction that led her to so many willing folk. Word of mouth, Facebook and some carefully placed inquiries soon brought her floods of people offering to pose.

The project began as a school assignment while Cronenberg was at Ryerson University studying fashion. The task was to present 6 to 10 images with lighting as the common theme and Cronenberg, thinking that light plays well on skin, elected to take her first stab at nudes. What resulted was, in some ways, the antithesis of a fashion shoot. No touch-ups, no directed poses, no makeup and, of course, no clothes.

Cronenberg first courted friends, some from high school, others from elementary school. She recruited her sister, Cassandra, who is featured, but received flat refusals from cousins and other family members. Some posers enjoyed the shoot but had second thoughts about showing the results publicly. Cronenberg removed others she didn't think made the artistic grade, and one friend had to pull the plug after being hired by the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

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Soon she had people passing along roommates, friends, girlfriends and boyfriends who wanted to take part in the project, and the list grew longer and more diverse. Included in the collection are subjects with physical deformities, identical twins, transgender people, a range of adventurous body piercings and even a woman in labour.





The project has played to Cronenberg's curiosity with the body in all its variations, but she says the most intense satisfaction came from the pride and confidence many of the subjects took in baring it all for art's sake.

Nudity "was never a taboo thing" at the Cronenberg household, and she says her parents were supportive of the idea for POSER , even helping choose some of the shots for the book. She laughingly points that out one can find "pretty much anything you can dream up" in her father's films, so POSER hardly ranks as scandalous.

Cronenberg says she never tried to distance herself from the family name, and is grateful for any doors it has opened, but she remains fiercely independent about fending for herself in her young career. While her sister and brother have both worked in film, Cronenberg has "never had an urge at all to make moving pictures."

She has already been widely published in magazines and newspapers and is now juggling a number of other projects, including a CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival submission in collaboration with clothing designer Rosemarie Umetsu featuring 24 women in the arts, including Peggy Baker, Kristin Booth, Melanie Doane, Karina Gauvin and Dionne Taylor.

Cronenberg hopes to have POSER out by fall. She's become so possessive and particular about the final presentation that she's decided to self-publish, bringing onside a small printer and bookbinder to assemble her 23x33 cm photographs with hand-stitched binding of high-quality paper. "We've come too far together, and I won't hand it over to anyone," she said.

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