“The goal of the project is to shoot each country of the world. One man, one woman in their own bathroom.”
Meet Natalia Del Rio. A 25 year old Mexican American who’s cycling around the world to take naked pictures of locals in their bathrooms. As steamy as that sounds, her goal is to break down that stigma and the sexualisation of the human form through her project, Full Disclothesure.
The project started 6 years ago through a domino effect Natalia experienced of self acceptance, self discovery and authenticity to oneself. She is currently riding through South America capturing raw and symbolic photos inspired by cultural differences and society’s pressure on physical beauty.
When did Full Disclothesure Project begin?
Full Disclothesure originally started back in 2013 and was indirectly sponsored by my university. I was granted a scholarship to do a project whilst studying abroad in Paris so the whole time I was there, I was very anxious in finding what the project was going to be. It wasn’t till I went to Madrid and I met up with one of my friends, Oscar. For me, Oscar is someone that’s super important and is the person that birthed this project. He studied with me in New Jersey and that was one of the first years that I was out of the closest. It was his first time in a new culture and when he had to go back to Costa Rica, he told me that being around me had made him feel more comfortable with his body and sexuality. I thought this was amazing. Fast forward and I’m in France, doing my study abroad and he is in Madrid for whatever reason. I drive to Madrid to see him and he introduces me to one of his friends, Gresil, who’s a lesbian Mexican woman. I’m talking to her and she tells me that she really appreciates her friendship with Oscar and because of him she’s more comfortable with her own body and sexuality. That, right there, is where the whole project was born. It was like an ah-hah moment and right there and then, I told Gresil — “Listen, I’m supposed to be doing a project while I’m out here, can you go into the bathroom, get naked and I need to just shoot you raw, just the way you are.”
For a while, I couldn’t handle or deal with the fact that I was gay. Mirrors and reflections have a lot to do with self acceptance and that is exactly why it’s straight up in the bathroom. It’s a very intimate moment with yourself.
So is that why you chose a bathroom setting, it’s kind of like a self reflection, metaphorical moment?
Absolutely. I studied literature so symbolism and all this stuff is really embedded into what the project is. It also has to do with the cultural differences and how different cultures use a bathroom. For example, in Italy, they have the bidet, which is something that I don’t even think about and then in Asia you have the squatting toilet and it’s just how different cultures use that private space. If you think about it, it’s one of the only places in your house where you can absolutely be in privacy.
You can see certain cultures or different routines in the smallest, subtlest ways.
Yeah, absolutely and something I also want to focus on is beauty products. In Asia, they’re so concerned of being white that everything that has to do with cleaning your body, all have bleach in them. Everything has bleach, bleach shampoo, bleach conditioner, bleach soap. Everything is just bleached. Yeah, so you see how maybe we’re not as conscious as the same things in another culture and how society implements their beauty products and how it’s so embedded in their culture. That’s what I’m kind of trying to document. I’m trying to do a lot of things haha but at the core of it all, the impact I want to make is the liberation of the body.
When you’re shooting people, do they open up on how they perceive their own bodies?
It depends where they’re at with themselves. I usually do the photoshoot and then show them the photos from my camera and we look at them together so I’ve definitely had a lot moments with these people. I remember doing a photoshoot with an English girl in Vietnam and after we did the photoshoot, I was showing her pictures and she began to cry hysterically. It can be a very special moment.
It seems very intimate. I think it would be nice to have that connection of both of you sifting through and collectively agreeing on photos. Especially when you were strangers to each other.
For the most part, it’s a always a great experience, for both parties I think.
These shoots feel like they can get pretty emotional and intense, do you ever feel drained after a shoot?
No, it’s the complete opposite. I have another project that has to do with funerals and death so when it comes to doing that project and being in a morgue or seeing people cry, that’s very draining. I do need a drink and I do need to take a nap and just retreat from the world. Full Disclothesure is the complete opposite, these projects are at two ends of the spectrum. What I get from Full Disclothesure is pure happiness, I feel so happy after every shoot. It’s very rewarding for both, photographer and the model.
When you first started doing this project, did you ever feel uncomfortable going into a strangers house and getting them to strip naked? Was there any miscommunication on the project?
Absolutely because I’m closing myself in a bathroom in such a close vicinity with someone I don’t know and more of the issue there is being closed in a bathroom with a man. I don’t really worry about women, if women come to me wanting to be apart of the project, I don’t think of who I need to come with me. When it comes to shooting men, I need to make sure someone can come with for the shoot and stays outside.
If it makes you feel safer and comfortable with the person having friends around, of course. If you’re constantly thinking about your security, you’re not really focusing on the task at hand.
Sometimes, I ask myself am I going to traumatise myself because of Full Disclothesure, so sometimes I think I should focus on shooting women rather then men. But I also don’t want to do that, I don’t want to have one experience to ruin the progression of Full Disclothesure. Also, I’m going to these people’s houses and I want them to be as comfortable in their own home. I always suggest to put on some music or something that will get them happy and comfortable with me being there, even take a shot of vodka. It’s funny because a photoshoot usually lasts 20 minutes and the first 5 mins, you see how rigid the person is and how slowly they start letting themselves go and gaining more confidence.
How do you approach your models?
I prefer to shoot people I don’t know. I’m not usually asking my friends and I have already shot some friends initially when I started the project. The whole point is to get complete strangers and people I don’t know. Because I’m travelling, I’m constantly meeting new people, nobody knows me and the conversations normally go like “Hey, what’s your name, what do you do, where do you come from?”. So it’s always the topic of conversation and I either ask if they’re interested or someone they know who’d be interested.
Are you staying in hostels or homestays?
When I’m on the road, I usually stay in my tent, I have my own kitchen set. I’m pretty self efficient, it’s only when I come into big cities, I stay in a hostel. If not a hostel, I’m doing couch surfing, fire stations or straight up in my tent, off the road somewhere. The reason why I do that is because this is all out of my own pocket, I don’t have anyone sponsoring me, it’s purely just me and my passion trying to make my career.
Of course, you got to start somewhere and what better way than travelling the world taking photos of locals in their bathroom.
Absolutely. I’ve shot in over 23 countries and I have over 100 participants and over 6 exhibitions.
Where was your top place?
For sure, Shanghai because one of my exhibitions was in Shanghai and that was like a huge topic of discussion in the sense that the day before my exhibition, the director straight up told me that I couldn’t hang up any nudes on the wall.
What? Haha did they know about your project before organising the exhibit?
Yeah, I was like “did you not look at my project, why am I here?”. Haha, she told me that if there ends up being any Chinese spies, they can put you in jail because in China censorship is a thing and nudity isn’t allowed. So I’m about to have an exhibition and there’s even an article online including Full Disclothesure being in the five exhibitions you should see in Shanghai.
What did you do?
You know, this came down to the core of censorship and what this whole project is about and revealing that authenticity. I really did ask them saying maybe I should change the pictures I put up. But then I realised that’s censoring my artistic creativity and what it’s all about.
Did any spies come?
Luckily, no spies came and nothing happened haha.
Haha and what about a favourite bathroom?
I am a bathroom lover, every time I’m in cities, I’m always asking where is the bathroom haha. I can’t say I have a favourite one, I think if I found one with a gold toilet that would be it.
So you’ve said that the bathroom has private and intimate energy, what made you choose bathrooms rather then a bedroom?
The reason why bathrooms are at the forefront here because it’s also a place of cleansing. That’s what really inspires this, showing off your body organically and authentically. You know, you’re taking off your clothes and washing away the dirt. The bedroom is a completely different energy, having naked people in the bedroom it’s already way more sexualised than the bathroom. It’s like do you have tootsie pops in Australia?
I have never heard of them before.
Oh, so this is an American candy, it’s a lollipop. It’s hard on the outside and in the inside it’s like nice little caramel type of thing and the spokesperson for the lollipop use to be an owl and he would always say “how many licks does it take to get to the centre of the tootsie pop”. I really don’t even know why I’m even telling you this but it’s like shedding those layers and getting to the middle, getting to what is the core.
Well, I love that metaphor haha. Most people have a bathroom ritual, for most girls, you’re either taking make up off or putting it on, it’s a place where you decide who you want to be that day.
Exactly. Also if you think about it this way, you’re drinking and partying or you indulged in one of your vices, the first thing you wanna do is shower and get the shit off of you. It’s very symbolic.
Any stories to tell?
One of my last photoshoots in San Francisco, I’m with this girl and she’s in the bathtub and I couldn’t get the angle I wanted so I stepped onto the toilet so I could get an above shot and I ended up the breaking the toilet seat. The whole toilet seat falls right off and I fall down, it definitely broke the tension haha.
So where’s the next country after Argentina?
Basically Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Peru. Pretty much I want to hit every country and after that I want to head to either Africa or Asia heading to London, always on bicycle.
Is Full Disclothesure ever going to end?
I mean, maybe after I finish shooting from every country but really, the goal is to get funding and recycling that money to communities and the people that have helped me with this project. I think that’s the ultimate impact.
Cover and inset images by Natalia Del Rio