Photography and the Nude 2

After further research on the subject of “nude Photography” and much consideration of the many genre of the subject I have arrived at the following conclusions to a follow on from my “Photography and the Nude”, which I posted on 22/10/2013 Basically I have found no reference to the statement “The theme of decay and nude is a common one, the contrast between youth and death, beauty and desolate. It’s a very old theme too and features a lot in fairy tales and mythology.”

Most photographers interested in nude imagery follow the GLAMOUR, FINE ART or EROTIC genre of the subject. Modern and contemporary Nude photography has also found a valid use in the scientific and educational fields of study and learning, such as sex education, ethnographical studies and human physiological studies, here the emphasis is not on the beauty or eroticism of the picture but on the subject itself and the technical purpose for which the image was produced, this type of photography is also used for analysis or to accompany medical or other text books, student articles and research papers are essentially of an illustrative nature, and used in a supporting context.

Glamour and (fashion photography) is a genre of photography whereby the subjects, usually female, but open to both gender, are portrayed in a romantic or sexually alluring way. The subjects may be fully clothed or semi-nude, but glamour/fashion photography stops short of deliberately arousing the viewers sensuality. The 1910s printing experienced a breakthrough, allowing Fashion Photography to feature in magazines, making their first appearance in the French magazine “La Monde Practique” the likes of Cecil Beaton transformed this genre into an outstanding art form.

Betty Grable's famous pin-up photo

Betty Grable’s famous pin-up photo

Fine arts are concerned with the qualities of aestheticism and creativeness, having no interest in eroticism, although often present, detracts from or is secondary to the aims of the image, distinguishing nude photography from glamour/fashion which focuses on showing the subject of the photograph in the most attractive way, fine art covers many subjects and can be traced back to the Victorian era’s J M Cameron, C L Dodgson and the most notable Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen who were instrumental in photography as fine art, introducing it to museums.

Daisy_Fellowes by Cecil Beaton

Daisy_Fellowes by Cecil Beaton

Erotic photography with its’ primary purpose of erotically and sexually exciting the viewer, has a distinctive nature between the other genre of photography and it is not always made clear, photographers tend to make their own case in distinguishing their own work. The nude remains a controversial subject in all media, but more so with photography due to its inherent realism, the male nude is less popular than the female, and is much less exhibited. In early times, erotic depictions were often indigenous or religious art and culture, treated no differently than any other. The modern concept of Erotic or Pornographic imagery has only existed since Victorian times and the new definitions were added in the 1860s, the earlier definition relating to prostitution and the Courtesans. The first version of those modern definitions appeared in 1864, Webster’s Dictionary definition “licentious painting employed to decorate the rooms sacred to Bacchanalian orgies”, of which existed in Pompeii, a city with many examples, which today we would refer to as explicit pictures in general, more specific sex acts were regulated or prohibited by earlier laws, and looking at images depicting them was outlawed 1857.

Semi Nude by Michele_Merkin

Semi Nude by Michele_Merkin

Greek and Roman The ancient Greeks painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, some famous for being the earliest depictions of same sex relationship and pederasty. Art for them simply reflected daily life, some more sexual than others. The Greek male ideal was to have a small penis, an aesthetic the Romans later adopted. The mythological figure Priapus with his Large phalli was considered undesirable for men to possess and often depicted for comic effect in ancient Rome, so I suppose some of us can remain easy with ourselves. There are numerous sexually explicit paintings and sculpture from ruined Roman buildings, and the original purposes of the depictions can vary. On one hand, in the “Villa of the Mysteries”, there is a ritual flagellation scene that is clearly associated with a religious cult and this image can be seen as having religious significance rather than sexual. On the other hand, graphic paintings in a brothel advertise sexual services in murals above each door.


European Erotic scenes in medieval illuminated manuscripts appeared, but could only be seen by those who could afford the hand made books. Many medieval scholars think that fashion demanded both erotic and religion pictures in one book, especially if it was the only book one owned. Some scholars think drawings in the margins were a kind of moral caution, but images of priests and other ranking officials engaged in sex acts suggests political origins as well, It was not until the invention of the printing press that sexually explicit images entered into mass circulation in the western world, before that time erotic images were hand made and expensive, and, we must remember, that in the main books and images alike were available only to the rich and influential who are one of the same.



Contemporary Lucien Freud, one of a small group of painters including Francis Bacon came to be known as “The School of London”; creating figurative work in the 1970s when it was unfashionable but became icons of the Post Modern era, depicting the human body without a trace of idealisation, as in his series working with obesity, one of Freud’s works is entitled “Naked Portrait”, which implies a realistic image of an unclothed woman rather than a conventional nude. In my humble opinion Freud’s work has taken the “sleaze” out of imagery showing it has it is, rather than how we would like it to be, the body under the clothes “What you see is what you get” the truth of it all.


Future Painters and photographers alike will continue to make controversial images to suit their needs and those of their clients because like all things it’s about money, things never really change because if you don’t have any money, you are in the same position as the people of the past who couldn’t get their hands on the images or books for the same reasons. Most of the imagery I see is I feel pretty poor, with no real point or reason except in photographing a naked woman leaning on a wall or tree or maybe some old building, having said that I do not troll the pages looking for them, I must admit though to looking in on the RPS site now and then and the best image I’ve seen for a long time is “Holly Tree” by John McNairn.

The Holly Tree. Author John McNairn Model Ivory Flame

The Holly Tree.
Author John McNairn
Model Ivory Flame

The image in Monochrome and of a nude sat on the trunk of a dead and fallen tree “presumably a Holly tree” the model “Ivory Flame” is very much in harmony with the shapes in the image and fits nicely into the structural composition, set in a woodland setting the whole picture is technically good and aesthetically very pleasing, more than that I canned add since I do not know or understand the reason behind it. In an art history context it says to me the the viewer “here I am but you cannot look at me in my entirety not even my face, that way you are never to know me totally and only has an appendage to the tree” I still think the image very beautiful despite not really understanding it.

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