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Post-Dispatch photographer walks the path of totality at a Missouri nudist camp
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Post-Dispatch photographer walks the path of totality at a Missouri nudist camp

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During Monday’s eclipse, Chief Photographer J.B. Forbes saw many moons. He shot the eclipse from a nudist camp near Lonedell, Mo. — likely the only such place in the path of totality.

As photographers, we try to make pictures that the public could not make on their own. The eclipse, which would be seen by literally millions of people, made for an especially difficult subject to show uniquely.

Forbes, a 45-year newspaper veteran, thought his plans were set after getting permission to shoot prisoners watching the eclipse from inside a medium security facility in Illinois. A few days before the eclipse, the prison canceled the plan, which sent Forbes scrambling. 

He found refuge in the Forty Acre Club in Lonedell, which describes itself as “America’s Gateway Family Nudist Club.” The 40-acre camp is situated about 45 miles southwest of St. Louis and features a heated swimming pool, tennis courts, walking trails, a clubhouse and rental units. 

Watching the eclipse from a nudist camp in Londell, Mo.

A sign at the Forty Acre Club in Lonedell, Mo., as seen on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

More than 350 people came from neighboring states and as far away as France and England. One man, who had come from Dallas, said it was the only nudist spot that he found in the entire country where he could watch the eclipse. 

Anytime someone’s lifestyle is portrayed in the paper, we try to be respectful. Shooting the eclipse from a nudist camp is unique and amusing, but it’s important to respect people who make it part of their lives. There is nudity, but it is not obscene. 

"It was an alternate universe for me," said Forbes. As one camper told him, “God created nudists, sinners created clothes."

"This is probably the place you could come to be the least intimidated about your physical appearance," said Frank Muegge, 60, of St. Louis, who has been in a wheelchair since being injured in a motorcycle accident in 2006. "The social structure outside of Forty Acres doesn't exist here. Material things aren't important here. You could be a garbage man or a CEO."

Watching the eclipse from a nudist camp in Londell, Mo.

Frank Muegge, 60, of St. Louis, at the Forty Acre Club in Lonedell, Mo. Muegge has been in a wheelchair since being injured in a motorcycle accident in 2006. After his accident, the camp made itself wheelchair accessible. Photo by JB Forbes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Getting permission was easy; making pictures suitable for a family newspaper was hard. Forbes had to be very careful of what to include in the picture. Questions soon followed: Are butts okay? Can we blur parts of photos? How recognizable is too recognizable? "I was so stressed out," said Forbes.

We did not blur any photos. There was no digital manipulation nor deletion. We did, however, crop pictures. We decided butts were okay, and Forbes made sure that everyone included in his photos knew that they were going to be pictured. A camp board member escorted Forbes during his visit.

Forbes recalls shooting at a nudist colony once before. Clothing was optional. However, after arriving at the 40 Acres Club, Forbes texted, “BTW — clothing is Not optional.”  It seems that to get his pictures, Forbes had to walk his own path of totality.

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Lynden Steele is photo director at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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