Already an accomplished paparazzo of subjects throughout Europe and Africa, Heilberg was inspired to try nude photography in 1957 when, in Stockholm, he encountered some naturist magazines and submitted some casual shots he had taken. The next year, Leif went to a beach in Bulgaria to capture nudists on film; he returned in 1959 and also nude shots of some of his acquaintances in Hungary. Those were the very early years and the genesis of naturist photography career. It was in California where Heilberg joined a nudist club in 1960 and began his professional career as a naturist paparazzo.
After gaining notoriety as a professional naturist magazine photographer, Leif says many club owners or managers actively help secure members’ support in order to get the publicity value when illustrated articles appeared in the nudist press. He prefers natural naturist action to static poses but it differs in some cases according to the assignment. The objective is the display the normal club life in pictures.
Heilberg describes the most worrisome moment came on the island of Kaua‘i when an overly zealous person saw Leif and his wife photographing a family on Donkey Beach and called the police, claiming it was “pornography” since children were also in the pictures with their mother. Fortunately (or otherwise) some of their equipment failed and the entourage left seconds before the officers arrived — a narrow escape from what could have been an ugly situation.
International Nudist Diplomacy
In the West
Many people within nudist or naturist circles are familiar with Heilberg, have seen his imagery and contacted him. When visiting different countries, he gets in touch with small groups of amateur photographers with whom he has provided all kinds of equipment and films, and even compensated them for their labour.
One of Heilberg’s favourite challenges is to obtain fun pictures with nudes in non-naturist locations. Some locations include the 1967 Montréal World’s Fair, at the Victoria railway station in Melbourne, before the San Francisco City Hall or on streets fronting the Royal Theatre and Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Such gag shots require the coöperation of local naturists familiar with law enforcement and not squeamish about trying to accomplish those shoots.
Sometimes guards would catch Heilberg and confiscate his film; other times he was able to out-maneuver them. Whilst taking nude pictures atop the Temple of K'uk'ulkan El Castillo at Chich'en Itza' in México. When a couple of guards were seen approaching, Leif quickly changed the film with the images for a fresh roll and the guards thus only seized blank stock.
Behind the Iron Curtain
Eastern Bloc countries visited includes Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. Leif had previously toured communist Europe before embarking into naturist photography and was curious to return to document nudism, especially on some of the sanctioned Black Sea coasts and the island of Krk in the Adriatic Sea. His ventures behind the Iron Curtain took him east as far as Moscow where, in 1959, he received warning from an Intourist guide to stop taking pictures of the city. Surprisingly enough, they had no connection to his naturist photography!
Heilberg also ran into problems in Bulgaria — again, not due to nude photography but for being a provocateur. As a Westerner, he was often the centre of attention for those living under the oppressive and omnipotent governments. He was answering peoples’ questions about life in the West, his earnings, costs of items, &c., when he was arrested by CSS agents and brought before a militia court. Convicted speaking in public against the Government, the Communist Party and the USSR — fabricated charges from a regime that shielded its people from Western influences — Heilberg was sentenced to deportation back to Montréal, his home at the time.
Heilberg became a member of the Internacia Naturista Fakgrupo Esperantista — later the Internacia Naturista Organizo Esperantista — in 1960 and began editing a small membership bulletin Naturista Vivo, which continues to-day as the official journal of the INOE. “I naturally got into contact with more naturist Esperantists in various countries, this helping my contacts when travelling abroad.” Leif found the use of Esperanto quite useful in communication than with less familiar languages like Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish or others.
Changes in Nudism
Naturism has changed a lot here and there according to Heilberg. “Some places it is now more organized, while in others the novelty has worn off and sometimes antagonistic forces have won out.” He feels that it may be religious groups who try to counteract naturism or, like on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i, commercial interests wanting to annex naturist beaches for lucrative hotel and residential complexes. During communism in Poland, the Catholic Church was not strong enough to openly oppose nudity on Baltic beaches; “now [they] try to assert their newfound freedom to battle against naturism on some of those beaches. It is crazy but the world is ever changing, depending on locality.”
Although Spain is still a staunchly Catholic country, the Spanish have a remarkably relaxed attitude towards nudity on their beaches. Since the late 1970s, hundreds of beaches — both official and unofficial — have been attracting naturists from around Europe and beyond. Naturists are well catered for in all areas of coastal Spain. One of the most famous naturist resorts is Vera Natura in Almeria in the north-east corner of Andalucia where there is a huge gated tourist complex with access to a three-kilometre stretch of nudist beach.
As many foreigners have found, Spain can be a paradoxical place. Whilst elderly widows dress permanently in black in honour of their dead husbands and good Catholic women don their mantilla lace headscarves in church, naked flesh abounds all around the Spanish costas. Topfree sunbathing and swimming is common all over Spain and there are many beaches which are not officially naturist but where nudes happily co-exist with their scantily clad counterparts.
American and Canadian tourists, generally more prudish than their European counterparts, are often shocked to find holidaymakers of all shapes, sizes and ages baring all on the beaches of the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish islands.
It’s probably no coincidence that the country’s first official nudist beach, Costa Natura near Estepona on the Costa del Sol, received formal approval from the authorities in 1979, just four years after Franco's death.
El Toro Bravo
These photographs were taken by Leif Heilberg in 1983 at El Toro Bravo naturist campsite near Barcelona; sadly, the facilities closed in the 1990s.
United States of America
Jardín del Sol
The owners and members of Jardín del Sol took pride in its good location that enabled its guests to enjoy tranquility whilst taking in nature’s beauty. Overlooking the town of Marana on a vast 52-hecatre portion of Arizona’s Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson, the garden of the sun was truly a majestic oasis where guests could go and leave all their worries, stress and problems behind. The club folded in 2005 but, like the namesake state capital, nudism in Tucson soon rose again like a phœnix in the guise of Mira Vista at the old Coyote Moon Resort & Spa.
This set was photographed in 1977.
- Set I
- Set II
Mountain Terrace Ranch
Olive Dell Ranch
- Set I
- Set II
Island of Hawai‘i
- Set I
- Set II
- Set III
- Set IV
- Set V