Both athlete and artist, Ben Woo Ching ’16 is combining his interests into a photography project showcasing nude athletes in a celebration of the body.

Woo Ching was inspired by the annual ESPN “Body Issue” which focuses on the forms of world-class athletes.

Woo Ching, a member of the football and track teams, wants to celebrate the effort Bowdoin athletes—approximately 30 percent of the student body—put into building their bodies. 

“Knowing how much work it is to put in between practice, film, lifting, conditioning in the mornings, games on the weekends and then school and or work on top of that—knowing all of that, I thought why not try to capture that in an image and really give credit,” said Woo Ching.
The photo shoot will be produced entirely in black and white film. In Woo Ching’s opinion, the style is perfect for capturing the details of the human body.

“I thought that aimed more to the shadows that are cast from every muscle. You can really see the definition—not as precisely as a brand-new Canon, but I like that as well,” he said. 

Visiting Artist-in-Residence Accra Shepp encouraged the idea for the project and allowed Woo Ching to make it into a semester-long study.

Working with film instead of digitals is a new creative challenge for Woo Ching, because the conditions for the photo must be set before the photographer pushes any buttons.

“You have 36 photos in a whole reel. I just developed four rolls of film, and I found 11 photos that I like,” he said. “It makes you more humble and makes you think more about what you’re taking an image of.”

The fact that Woo Ching is an athlete and knows his subjects personally helps to make the process easier. While he said it was initially uncomfortable to photograph his friends naked, Woo Ching has gotten the hang of it.

“We shower together at practice and at games, but when it’s just the two of you, music helps enormously,” he said. “The first shoot was completely silent, and that was so awkward.”

In general, students have been open to being photographed, but Woo Ching has been very sensitive to the comfort level of his subjects.

“That’s why I haven’t shot any girls yet. I wanted them to feel the most comfortable,” he said. “This is completely artistic and academic.”

Woo Ching has enjoyed photography so much that he is now considering a visual arts major or minor—something he never would have predicted when he came to Bowdoin from Colorado. 

“The thing I like about art and especially about photography is that you have something tangible afterwards,” he said. “I get a photo to look at. I can give it away to someone and it means something to me.”

He hopes to compile photos of 12 athletes to represent the athlete population as a whole.
“I’ve chosen people from all different sports for the most part,” said Woo Ching. “Hopefully it’ll turn out to be a fair snapshot of the Bowdoin athlete.”

Although Woo Ching does not currently have plans to exhibit the photos, the Department of Athletics has expressed interest in using the photos in its offices. He hopes the photos could be displayed with biographies, since the subjects’ stories are the focus of his project.