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Letter of the week, from Emilio

"Meanwhile, Ashton has been casually lounging around in the nude, even swinging from a low branch, as if it were the norm for her..."

I have a little story about these pictures, perhaps of interest to your newsletter readers.

The girl in the photos, Ashton, is 20 years old. She was only 19 when I first met her, at the gym where we both go. She likes to exercise and to hike, and she was friendly, so I thought she might be a good candidate for a photo shoot. As much as possible, I like to steer clear of jaded professional models, and instead photograph ordinary girls. Well, maybe "ordinary" is not the best choice of word; from the moment I first saw her, she blew me away. There's a very enticing radiant quality about her.

When I ran into her at the gym two times in a row, I took that to be a sign. I proposed taking photos of her hiking in the woods... nude!

Alas, she demurred, claiming she was too shy. However, she sounded quite intrigued. We ran into each other periodically, and she sometimes joked, all covered in sweat after a hard workout, "So you still want to take my photos?!" With a smile, I'd say, "The sweatier, the better!"

And then, a few weeks ago, after our usual bantering, she says, "What the heck, let's do it!"

"What's changed?" I ask. She blushes and explains that, upon turning 20, she has made a resolution to be braver.

So, at last we go to a lovely location in the woods. I try to ask her if she's nervous, but she doesn't even let me finish my sentence, and says, "Oh, yes!!"

Fortunately, she really loves being in a place like this, and she relaxes a lot when she starts meandering among the trees, touching things, smelling things, climbing on things.

I had always known that there's a "nymphet" quality about her. To emphasize it, I brought along a beautiful pair of butterfly wings that I own.

Ashton is shy at first. She takes off her shirt, her pants and her shoes with s-l-o-w, deliberate movements. Even slower and more deliberate when it comes time to take off her bra, at last freeing up her lovely breasts.

Interestingly, when she takes off her socks, she livens up, saying that she really likes the feeling of the soil under her bare feet. For the last item to come, I hold out my hand. She looks around nervously. Even a passing bird seems to spook her.

Finally, she lowers her panties and steps out of them, gloriously naked, bathed by the warm rays of the sun, and surrounded by trees that almost seem to cheer her on! She drops her panties on the ground as she's passing them to me. As she apologizes, I pick up the tiny panties, shake them and slip them into my breast pocket (our backpacks are some distance away.)

For what feels like a long time, Ashton remains more still than the trees -- like the proverbial "deer in the headlight." However, the moment she puts on the butterfly wings, she transforms! The nymphet comes out, and she resumes her earlier flitting around the trees.

She says that she has never hiked naked before, and that it feels "strange... but kinda nice." She obviously likes it, and acts so much at ease that one would think she has been walking around naked her whole 20 years!

Only with difficulty, I can get her to stay still long enough for some of the longer exposures...

At one point, two hikers -- a young couple -- come our way. I notice them from a distance, and inform Ashton, offering her a towel. To my surprise, she says she doesn't care anymore! The couple greets us, and they seems cool about it, even apologizing for intruding on our photo shoot.

The woman in the couple says something about the photos being a lovely souvenir of this enchanted forest. I say, "Absolutely, but also for a web site," The guy asks what "DOMAI" means. I explain the acronym, and tell them that it's run by a Danish artist who wants to reclaim the expression "Dirty Old Man", and cast it into a positive quality of respectful appreciation for the glorious beauty of women, bordering almost into a worship. (Eolake, I hope I didn't misrepresent your site!) [actually I think that is uncannily accurate - Eolake] They both laugh, and then the woman gently jabs her partner, saying "I want to be appreciated like that, too!" They both say they're "going to check out that web site," as they walk away.

Meanwhile, Ashton has been casually lounging around in the nude, even swinging from a low branch, as if it were the norm for her... We resume the photo shoot, and use other props as well, such as a wide-mesh net that she wears like a veil. Photographers, always make sure to use a camera strap -- because a sight like that could easily make you drop the camera!

By this time, Ashton has reached a fascinating, child-like quality of apparent lack of self-consciousness. She appropriates my large photo-reflector disk and plays with it as a sled, and lies on it like a mattress. She even goes to pee in a bush, still completely naked, hardly making an effort to conceal herself from me!

When the light starts to wane, Ashton agrees to call it a day, sounding rather disappointed. She reluctantly gets dressed in a hurry. In a BIG hurry, because later -- as we drive away -- it dawns on her that she didn't bother to put on her underwear, and she thinks we left it behind. "Maybe some other hiker will wonder what on Earth some pink underwear is doing in the middle of the woods!" she says.

I tell her that I remember packing her socks and bra in the blue duffle bag. "And my panties?" she asks. Feeling like a magician conjuring up a rabbit, I just pull them out of my breast pocket!

- Emilio Galante, Italian photographer living in San Francisco, California

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