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Film, Form and Censorship: A discussion with film maker Veronica Crockford-Pound.

Together with Sans [ceuticals], Crockford-Pound's new silent film ‘A Quiet Observation’ explores women’s bodies and the intimate rituals around them – aiming to capture them without idealisation, objectification or judgment. 


Film, Form and Censorship: A discussion with film maker Veronica Crockford-Pound.

Together with Sans [ceuticals], Crockford-Pound's new silent film ‘A Quiet Observation’ explores women’s bodies and the intimate rituals around them – aiming to capture them without idealisation, objectification or judgment. 

With a name that in French means ‘without’ it is apt and timely for New Zealand beauty brand Sans [ceuticals] to make a strong yet simple statement around the female figure. Focusing on skin and hair, the product range is made in New Zealand from ingredients that are pure, natural and sustainable; this ethos underpins their approach to the female form and how it’s perceived and experienced. Their new silent film ‘A Quiet Observation’ explores women’s bodies and the intimate rituals around them – aiming to capture them without idealisation, objectification or judgment. 

Shot by emerging, Auckland-based filmmaker Veronica Crockford-Pound on Super 8, the effect is raw and unedited – sentiments intentionally evoked for their relation to the female form. Spanning ages of 18 to 65, each subject is presented individually, sharing a private moment with the viewer; women bath, moisturise, breastfeed. The impact is tangible – honest, cathartic and moving – and warranted a discussion with Veronica Crockford-Pound around the responsibility, sensitivity and censorship associated with such a subject.

I’ve devoted a great deal of thought recently to the female form, the realities of the human body, personal identity, and the impact (and liberation of aging). How all these are presented in the media is incredibly important to me, so seeing your film for Sans was as refreshing and personal as the bathing process featured within the work. The sensitivity that is inherently part of a project like that is incredibly moving, especially filming women in a vulnerable state of dress, undertaking a ritual that’s often (although not always) personal and private. How did you approach this concept and execute it?

I’m so happy to hear you were moved by this project because we were so conscious of this vulnerability of our nude female subjects - and also of women’s vulnerability as a whole about our bodies. The amazing women behind Sans [ceuticals] are fed up with the lack of realism, diversity and honesty about the female form. We feel a sense of responsibility to create more positive conversations in the beauty space.

The female nude is a highly loaded subject. From a personal perspective, I didn’t want the film to feel like some sort of manifesto that attempts to stand in for all female bodies or be insensitive to people’s personal experiences… It needed to feel open. It’s part of an important conversation that’s gaining momentum in the creative community and will continue to gain strength and deepen.  There were definitely nerves and the women involved were really brave and trusting to do this (so much love and thanks to you all xx). I was bloody nervous to shoot it too. 


The mother you see with her baby offered to breastfeed on camera as a gesture of support to other mothers. It was really moving to witness and shoot the purity and naturalness of this moment and tender relationship between mother and child. It’s strange that it has become a political gesture too.

Perhaps this is what comes across to you Emma - all of our vulnerability yet openness with each other. Everyone involved felt it’s important to show more realistic portrayals of women. 

What about the Sans [ceuticals] brand were you most trying to evoke and explore?

Sans [ceuticals] is a pure, active, multifunctional beauty product line for body and hair. Sans in French means “without” and the brand really lives by that ethos - stripping back to the essentials so to speak. They came up with the line of enquiry for this project “without filter, without judgement - with love.”

Sans has recently started a beautiful bathing series, looking at the personal rituals of women. So we captured the female body in action, applying moisturiser, cleansing their face, washing their bodies, breastfeeding… A kind of observational realism. 

I like that the brand is based in strong science, so we took an almost documentary style to reflect that… But the overall effect is still very intimate I think/hope because we focus the lens on the female body in action and the intimacy of touching our own bodies.

As a filmmaker and as a woman, do you feel a sense of responsibility with how you present the female figure? Is this an active or more inherent part of your process?

Absolutely, and I am becoming more and more conscious of this and actively putting it to the forefront of what I make. When I started out making fashion videos I enjoyed capturing female gestures and expressions and female relationships… Creating a sense of positive “energy” and often humour. It was a more youthful approach I guess.

I think the most powerful artworks that generate change/discussion usually make you feel uncomfortable because they’re pushing limits in some way. I’m becoming less afraid of confronting and tackling difficult concepts… Hopefully it comes across that I’m working from a space of love and respect for women – challenging the current ideal that in large part has been perpetuated by the male gaze and/or media. 

Shooting on number 8 film is quite unique and increasingly rare – what is it about this medium that makes it relevant to the subject matter you explore? How do you think it influences the viewer?

Super 8 thankfully is becoming much less rare! I’ve only just started shooting on it myself and it’s like a light switch has turned on. My work makes so much more sense to me and I’m much more prolific now. It’s so much more thoughtful and precise - you have 3 minutes in a roll. There is a fragility and risk… The image threatens to dissolve on itself all the time. There’s so much more depth to the image too. It’s much more aligned with painting. I think the viewer can feel this fragility compared to the high gloss and heavily altered digital realm. In this project for sans it was important to shoot film to reinforce the lack of airbrushing or filtering.

Does your relationship with your own body and womanhood influence your work? 

Absolutely. I’ve modelled sporadically for years and it has made me very conscious of the kind of relationship I want to create with who I’m shooting so they feel comfortable, beautiful and safe with me. I’ve had mainly positive experiences from modelling but I also take note of the kind of line of direction I don’t enjoy and make sure I actively avoid re-creating that vibe on my shoots.

From a broader sense, my relationships and conversations with my female friends hugely influence my work. We talk a lot about our experiences as women and of our bodies. Sometimes they are silly conversations, sometimes they are creative investigations, and sometimes they are really heavy and personal stories shared. These friendships affect me the most. 

I am also really grateful to work with amazing brands like Sans [ceuticals] that foster and push these discussions too and try to create positive change for women.

What do you try and capture when filming and how do you go about this? How much is planned in advance and how much do you let unfold in the moment?

I have an over the top obsession with finding references from painting and films… I almost overdose on it. I do a lot of creative direction for people too and like pulling ideas from many sources that might not normally be put together. I’ll always show the person I’m shooting some of these references to start it off, and then go with the flow from there... Allowing them space to interpret ideas for themselves, and create trust and a bit of fun and play between us. It’s super personal. The process of play and risk is what takes it away from being overly referential and into something else. I also cast women I feel an affinity with.

When is the female body most beautiful to you? When is your own body most beautiful to you?

I guess this is in a way what I’m trying to avoid in the Sans project actually – seeing the female form as more beautiful in some moments but not in others... It’s funny I’ve been shooting nudes a bit recently, and in the past I had always flat out refused to be nude for anyone else. I joke I’m a “never nude” quite a lot (quoting Arrested Development). It was because I didn’t feel comfortable about the rationale as to why I would have to be nude (I’ve heard “b&w nude art project” so many times which is such a lazy way to define your own work) but also because I didn’t ultimately feel comfortable in my own body…

My biggest shift was working on a yet-to-be-released collaborative project with my close friend, photographer Greta van der Star. We decided that if we were to shoot nudes, we really should shoot ourselves nude first and go through the experience. Shit, it was so liberating! I stopped judging my body as much. I feel so much freer in my body at the moment. We realised in our collaboration that the way you “see” the female nude in front of you is nothing like how you would look at yourself. You’re in awe of them really… As beautiful human beings.

It was disheartening to see this video fall victim to the censorship standards of Instagram. What do you think about the double standard Instagram has around nudity and the female body? 

It really fucks me off. Mainly because of the context – how “partial nudity” and “nudity” is placed within their guidelines and the loaded words it jostles alongside: “You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service” It also makes me sad because I guess someone reported our film snippet. How footage of an older woman moisturising her bottom can be seen as offensive confuses me. She is very proud of her body and offered to be nude for Sans because she too wants to see older women represented realistically. She should be admired not shamed. 

From a personal perspective, it’s so important for me as a younger woman to see that positivity and self-love. I’ve bathed my mother and my grandmother – and I have cherished that intimacy with them. These rituals are normal in womanhood and should not be censored if the women involved are comfortable to share it.

Both @sansceuticals and my personal Instagram got this warning message when this scene was taken down: “We removed your post because it doesn’t follow our Community Guidelines. Please read our Community Guidelines to learn what kind of posts are allowed and how you can help keep Instagram safe.” How did we make Instagram unsafe? Their Community Guidelines are so vague - what even is partially nude? How much skin is too much?

A nude (or even partially nude) female form is seen as sexualised and offensive yet the same is never applied to the male body - what effect does this have in public perception? I’m not sure if it’s fair to say it’s never applied to the male body… They have their own battles with public perception of their bodies and sexuality and their own experiences of shaming. I think we need to encourage an open space to have these complex discussions – again not from a space of judgement. 

‘A Quiet Observation’ can be viewed at

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The curiously progressive escapades of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift.

The curiously progressive escapades of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift.

Reflection is my current indulgence; rising house prices and living costs (not to mention the terrifying prospect of how our planet is going to fare over the next couple of decades) has led to my friends and I contemplating other avenues for happiness, hobbies and general satisfaction – doing rather than buying, and how all the small decisions we make will impact on both the immediate and long term future of this world we’re so lucky to call home. 

Lately, everyone has been collectively drawn to the outdoors, with a renewed appreciation for the beauty that’s so often found right on your doorstep here in New Zealand. For myself at least, it’s also a reactionary effect of weekdays spent indoors, plugged in, accessible to anyone and everyone all the time. Of course this idealistic, esoteric (yet obviously popular) rebellion of contemporary expectations and the status quo is nothing new. Ironically, it was when I was tucked up in bed, delving in the depths of the internet that I found the jarringly progressive yet endearingly quaint institution of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift. 

As we indulge ourselves in fresh air, purposeful exercise and all of nature’s finest (and the guilt and privelege of it all) it turns out the Kibbo Kift were immersing themselves in these back in the 1920s, with far more panache and far more purpose - believing that world peace could be achieved if we dedicated ourselves to nature and handcraft. They’re strangely, somewhat forgotten; I’ve always had an obsession for odd, English institutions, single-minded characters and unabashed eccentricity (the Mitfords of course) but as outlandish and unique as the Kibbo Kift were, I can imagine straight-laced, pre-war Britain had more pressing matters to worry about than preserving the legacy of a group of liberals hand-painting tents and doing calisthenics in the countryside.

Thoroughly British in their pragmatism and vitality, they were founded by John Hargrave as an idealistic movement centred around self-improvement; a peaceful, pacifist alternative to the Boy Scout movement that he’d been a successful part of. Inspired by heroism, mythology and a return to a different time, the Kibbo Kift rejected militaristic traditions in favour of faith in nature, outdoor life and practical skills. Hargrave’s self-belief, idealism and kindness soon drew loyal followers to the Kindred he created. The aftermath of what was then considered The Great War (as we know, not to be the last) saw social conscience react to the considerable violence, hardship and loss of life experienced across Europe; after his front line experience as a medic in the Dardanelles, Hargrave was not alone in trying to channel human energy into a more holistic, empathetic and mindful way of life for the future to prevent further pain and destruction.

His group’s lengthy manifesto was, by necessity, refined to a more succinct statement “I wish to be Kibbo Kift and to: camp out and keep fit, help others, learn how to make things, work for world peace and brotherhood.” and the simplicity and idealism of this sentiment seems even more relevant today. The movement centred around the belief that a disciplined commitment to health and creativity would help society transcend inequality, poverty and war (obviously, their idealism was particularly naïve).

Nature and the great outdoors were key to the Kift ideology, with camping and hiking the cornerstones of their activities, and naturally elements informing much of their craft, iconography and garb. Health, vitality and fitness could help an individual reach his potential, and society along with it; this idealism and almost monastic adherence to health is akin our current status quo – salvation by wellbeing. 

Given equal gravity, was devotion to handicrafts like woodworking and textiles. The high quality, modern and progressive nature of the group’s aesthetics stemmed from members who themselves were prominent in the art community. They also, along with Hargraves, understood the power of repetitive visual cues and symbology; insignias and marks were a key part of their aesthetic identity and represented the Kift’s values and ideals. Although their pacifism meant they rejected militaristic traditions, a sense of order, communion and symbology were both important – and are one of the most intriguing things when viewing images of them today.  Rituals and pageantry swathed everything they did - even the simplest hike required the appropriate costume and accoutrements, whilst more important ceremonies were accompanied by chanting, fire and outlandish costumes and regalia. Their unique aesthetic evolved from a strange combination of medieval mysticism with modernity and the practicality necessitated by their fundamental outdoor pursuits; this visual identity and influence was applied to every aspect of the movement, from robes and ephemera to their unique terminology and names.

The romantically mysterious language and titles employed by the Kift is unique to the point of awe. Members held titles like Gleeman and Tallykeeper; one assumes their meanings were quite literal. Hargrave (the White Fox) and his kindred seemed to find great pleasure in giving anything and everything the perfect name, no matter if there was already something suitable; assemblies were, naturally, known as Althings.

Although the Kibbo Kift were passionately group focused - with Tribes, Lodges, Clans and even, quaintly, Rooftree (family group) - there was also validity and respect given to the Lone Kinsman. Self-sufficiency was incredibly important. A member had to make their own clothing – namely a Saxon-hooded habit of Hargrave’s design, and suitably mystic robes. They also had to craft their own elaborately painted tents. The inclusivity of its membership truly set the Kift apart, and would even now; unlike the Boy Scouts, the Kibbo Kift was open to all ages and genders. In fact, the movement itself seemed to reject ingrained British prudishness, with both genders wearing unbelievably brief garments to exercise; the amount of flesh on show in photographs from such activities is jarring in context of the time (and moral rigidity) when they were taken.

Like most, the group slowly dissipated, as Hargrave became increasingly involved in politics; their visual identity and ritual activities fell victim of the Public Order Act of 1936 that prohibited political movements from wearing uniforms (itself a realistic reaction the likes of the British Union of Fascists and their blackshirts), providing a death knell to the pageantry that was so integral to the Kift’s practice and identity. Hargrave went on to found the Social Credit Party, informed by his ideals for the Kibbo Kift and the Party’s antecedent Green Shirt Movement. His working life spanned seven decades and saw him as, among many iterations, an artist, lexicographer, author and (of course) psychic healer.

Images from The Guardian, Whitechapel Gallery and The Conversation.