The naked truth behind one man's nude photography 

Revealed Beauty

Meet the Nude Photographer Day
March 14, 6-10 p.m.
1300 Savannah Hwy., West Ashley
(843) 478-7777

A woman's image of herself is a powerful thing most men don't and can't understand. Ed Coyle is no exception. He doesn't get why women, even gorgeous women, are quick to find fault with their bodies.

But Coyle has something other men don't.

It's not just a camera. Anyone can take pictures, and anyone can make beautiful women seem ugly if he doesn't know how to use light, angle, and the equipment. What Coyle has is a vision of beauty that can't be realized until it happens. And there are only two people who know when it happens — Coyle and the nude woman relaxing in the frame.

"It's a creative process," Coyle says. "There's nothing linear about it. Sometimes, I know right away that this is going to be an iconic image. But other times, it's a discovery for both of us. I don't know a shot is good until my collaborator [the model] tells me it's good."

Coyle, 62, is part of a growing trend in the Lowcountry — photographers who offer clients a unique look at themselves in rare lights. St. Jane Photography in Moncks Corner ( creates campy 1940s and '50s-style pin-ups. The folks at Babe Rouge ( have broadened the menu to include racier styles like glam, burlesque, cupcake, and pole-dancer.

While the others focus on scenes, costumes, and poses, Coyle concentrates on letting the moment happen in sensual black and white. He has to. Nudes are different from posed shots. They are sensitive to artifice, for one thing. Sure, Coyle's ultimate goal is "to dress women in shadow," but when you pose nude, you look like you're posing. It's better to just be.

"I ask them to get comfortable in the space they're in," Coyle says. "My studio is awash in natural light. They relax and I work around them."

Coyle's clients come in three categories. Brides, usually in their 30s and 40s, who want to give their husbands gifts (in the form of booklets, jpegs, or portfolios). Women who want to preserve their youth. And women who understand, and want to contribute to, Coyle's artistic vision.

That includes his wife. For many years, Pam Coyle was the bread-winner (she's a physician) while Ed raised their children in rural Arkansas. After the kids grew up, the Coyles decided it was Ed's turn to pursue a career. About a year ago, they moved to Charleston. Pam is a radiologist at Roper Hospital.

Edward Weston, the legendary American photographer, is Coyle's greatest influence while Lucien Clergue, the French photographer, is his greatest teacher. Clergue, himself a student of Pablo Picasso (yes, that Picasso), is renowned for putting nudes in natural settings, mostly water, so that it's hard to tell where the landscape ends, the female body begins, and vice versa.

Like Clergue, Coyle doesn't pre-visualize his images. Unlike Ansel Adams, who envisioned a mountain range before photographing it, Coyle waits for the right curve, the right time, and, especially, the right light.

That requires patience, but it's rewarded in the end. In fact, it never fails — women think they know what they look like and are startled to discover they are more beautiful than they ever imagined. All you have to do is wait, Coyle says. Allow enough time and you're bound to find beauty.

Young women usually don't get this, Coyle says. They are too concerned about looking good. It's the older women, in their 30s and 40s, who really understand that what they are hoping for is that fleeting ineffable moment in which they feel they are part of something greater than themselves but with the knowledge that that moment couldn't happen without them.

Coyle doesn't always think such lofty thoughts.

"As long as it's legal and doesn't involve snakes, I'm good with it," he says. "And if there's enough money at stake, I can deal with the snakes."

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