Bask in the mask and feel free - Women all over South Yorkshire are shedding their clothes to take part in a new art book...

Coffee table art: An empowered Nik Brear
Coffee table art: An empowered Nik Brear
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...These are everyday women with lumps-and-bumps, body issues and shy, reserved natures, so why are they doing it? Digital reporter Nik Brear went to find out more about the power of The Mask...

IT IS my firm belief that every woman has a little exhibitionism in them.

Another anonymous participant in the art project

Another anonymous participant in the art project

Whether it’s taking to the stage on karaoke night or strutting down the catwalk at a charity fashion show, most of us have the impulse to feel all eyes upon us every now and then.

The mere suggestion of posing nude, however, is enough to send most of us running for the hills.

Well now women all over South Yorkshire, and indeed the country, are shedding their clothes for a new coffee-table art book.

‘The Mask’ features 100 women, all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages, posing completely naked except for one item; a porcelain Venetian ball mask.

The Mask: Nik Brear in the exotic porcelain Venetian ball mask

The Mask: Nik Brear in the exotic porcelain Venetian ball mask

The Mask is the brainchild of logistics director and photographer-to-the-stars Mark Tasker.

Mark has photographed some of the most beautiful women in the world, including Elle McPherson, Danielle Lloyd, Jordan and The Sugababes. The idea for the book first came to him after a number of his female friends told him they’d love to pose for him, but didn’t feel brave enough.

“More and more women were saying to me ‘I love the nude shots you’ve done, I’d love to do it myself, but I just dont have the nerve,’” he explained.

“These were women from all walks of life - teachers, lawyers, mothers - with insecurities about their bodies and about being seen a certain way by people - but they still had the desire to feel glamorous and daring.

Cameraman: Mark Tasker

Cameraman: Mark Tasker

“An idea started to form in my head about giving them the opportunity to do something they’d always wanted to, with the added benefit of remaining anonymous.”

What started as a small project with a few friends has now taken on a life of its own. Mark has photographed 66 women already - 22 in South Yorkshire alone, including a tv presenter, a banker, a judge, a shopworker and a teacher. The youngest lady to take part has been 19 and the eldest 83! The concept of ‘The Mask’ means that nobody, besides Mark and the women themselves, will ever know who’s in the book.

“Some women have told me they won’t even tell their husbands, it’s their own little secret,” Mark said.

“I try to put everyone at ease so that it’s an enjoyable experience. I really do just want to get the best out of every lady and everyone has loved their final photo.”

Mark, originally from Whirral, is director of logistics company Fruitition, which puts together all Sheffield’s major events, including ‘After Dark’ and ‘Mayfest,’ Real Radio’s Winter Garden performances and Sheffield and Meadowhall’s Christmas light switch-ons.

After meeting with him and hearing the concept of The Mask, I was fascinated. The women I spoke with had nothing but positive things to tell me about their experiences, so when Mark invited me to try it for myself, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Far from being nervewracking, as I’d imagined it would be, the experience was oddly liberating. Slipping the mask on puts the lid on your ‘normal, everyday self’ and allows you to push boundaries you otherwise might not dare. My shoot was a lot of fun and I felt as though I were creating something truly artful.

“The mask is freeing,” another of Mark’s ‘Mask’ models, a fitness instructor from Barnsley, agreed.

“My inhibitions went right out of the window and I felt like a braver, sexier version of myself,” she confided.

“This exhibitionist side of me that I didn’t even know existed appeared.

“If anything, it was hard putting her away at the end of the shoot!”

Another participant, a nurse from Sheffield, admitted she’d been incredibly nervous beforehand.

“I wasn’t relishing the idea of walking around with nothing on, but I felt completely in control,” she explained.

“The mask has a transforming effect and sometimes I can’t believe how brave I was, I’m so proud.

“I haven’t even told my boyfriend what I’ve done! It’s something I did just for me.”

Mark is hoping the book will hit shelves - and indeed coffee tables - next summer. In the meantime he is still looking for the last few ladies to take part.

“Women have completely embraced The Mask and I’m grateful for that,” he said.

“It’s as true celebration of the female form - and these are real women,” he added.

“It could be your mother, your best friend’s wife or your secretary in there, you’ll just never know it.”

So if a copy pops up on your coffee table at home, or in the waiting room at work, it might be worth stopping and have a flick look through to see if you recognise anyone...

Are you interested in taking part in The Mask? Check out www.marktasker.com