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P19. Style, Fashion and the Full Monty
The Art of the Nude in Photography WC 3835
“To boldly go where no man has gone before” are words which ring out across the galaxies inhabited by the self‐styled “Trekkies”, those legions of fans of the Star Ship Enterprise and its indomitable crew. Star Trek began as a comic in 1966 but morphed into several feature‐length sci‐fi movies and a tv series which comes only second after Dr Who as the most prolific series in tv history. Spock, Captain James T. Kirk, Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley
Of course, over such a long production run, Star Trek, like even Dr Who, had to make changes to accommodate to changing fashions, not only in clothes (sci‐fi wardrobes don’t usually show their age anyway) but more importantly, in changing ideologies and currents of thought. One of the biggest challenges facing what began as a male chauvinistic comic was to adapt to the influences of feminism. By the time “Star Trek – The Second Generation” went to air, the mission statement read by William Shatner at the beginning of every episode1 had changed to “To boldly go where no one has gone before” and the sister ship, Voyager, had acquired a female captain. The half‐Vulcan/half‐human character, Spock  the one with the pudding‐
basin haircut and plucked eyebrows  was played by veteran actor, Leonard Nimoy. Born in Boston in 1931, Nimoy was the son of Yiddish‐speaking Russian (Ukrainian) parents. He began acting at the age of 8 and has had an extensive film and tv career, including “The Man from Uncle”… But acting has not been the only string to his bow: this Renaissance Man studied 1
Trekkies tell me that two episodes were not prefaced by this introduction.
photography at UCLA as well as having an MA in education and an honorary doctorate from Antioch University in Ohio. Perhaps not known to most Trekkies, however, is that Nimoy has conducted a very successful career as a professional photographer for the last 40 years, and it is in this context we will look at him and his art a little later, because Nimoy  actor and photographer  demonstrates very well how changing social ideologies and artistic fashions can be reflected in an artist’ work. In particular, I want to use Nimoy along with others, to demonstrate how changing attitudes to the human body influence what in art circles is generally called “The Nude”, a term which puts a rather genteel spin on a subject which can range from the abstract through the distorted and disguised to the down‐right erotic. The changing memes of the nude in art Back in 1976, Richard Dawkins2 coined the term “meme” by which he meant ….any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets
transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.
Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances
and moods and terms such as race, culture, and ethnicity3.
Dawkins explained why he needed to invent the term: …to describe how one might extend Darwinian principles to explain the
spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples tunes, catchphrases, beliefs, clothing-fashions, and the technology of building arches.
Memes, he said …propagate themselves and can move through a "culture" in a manner
similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in
some ways resembles a gene.
There are three memes  or perhaps “clusters of memes”  I want now to examine in relation to photography and its practise down the last century or so. These concern (1) the value placed on the shape or form of the body; (2) the manner in which the body is displayed  the “pose”  as we usually say, 2
Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene 1976 and alter editions.
This and the following quotations are from Wikipedia,
but this also includes which body parts are shown; and (3) the gender of the sitter. (1) Fat Is A Feminist Issue Back in 1978 when Susie Orbach, now a professor at the LSE, proclaimed that Fat Is A Feminist Issue4 we were perhaps less aware how fat people were becoming in the Western world and the medical dangers attached thereto, but she had a good point: popular fashion in the latter half of the 20th century dictated that women had to be thin to be desirable. We know, of course, that this has not always been so: for example, one of our remote Gravettian ancestors back in the Upper Paleolithic (about 24 kya) carved a tiny figurine of a woman whose obesity was probably the ideal of the time. We know too that great painters, such as Reubens  painted the more generous figure. The Venus de Willendorf: 24-22 kya, Gravettian culture.
Peter Paul Reubens: Les Trois Graces
Penguin Books, 1978.
Renoir: A Nymph by a Stream, 1869-70
More recently even Renoir  whom we usually associate with pictures of fresh‐faced young girls  frequently chose his amply‐padded companion, Lise Tréhot, as his model. She can be seen in his work, “A Nymph by a Stream”,5 a traditional theme in French painting of the time when the female nude was associated with Nature and the great outdoors. Photographers of the latter part of
the 19th Century and La Belle Époc
were of course subjected to the same
social expectations and stereotypes
 the same memes  concerning
body shape and tended to choose
fuller figured women as their sitters
than do those of our own times. So,
for example, here is an image taken
from a daguerreotype of 1840:
From a daguerreotype c1840.
1869-70. Oil on canvas, 66.7 x 122.9 cm., National Gallery, London.
(2) Posing the Nude There is another meme which was transmitted from painting to photography in the
19th century and this seems to have been that one of the most desirable features of
the female nude was her buttocks as displayed in what is known as the odalisque
pose. The best-known example of this “odalisque” pose is the 1814 painting, later
reproduced en grisaille by Ingres:
Ingres, la grande odalisque en grisaille
As we saw earlier in this course, this odalisque pose was again used by Louis Jules Duboscq in 1854 when he photographed his model in stereo, the better (one presumes), to appreciate her ample curves. Stereo daguerreotype attrib. Louis Jules Duboscq,
"Study of a Reclining Nude from Behind" c1854 (hand tinted).
Ask an artist  painter or photographer  why he would choose this pose and the
probable answer would include reference to “curving forms” and “rotundity”.
However, one cannot help but wonder the role sexuality plays in such a choice:
while modern humans are upright bipeds, our remote ancestors went about on all
fours. In that stance, the genitalia are far more visible and  some biologists
argue  the stage of the oestrus cycle can more readily be observed. Such
speculation could probably also be applied to our obsession with female breasts in
the art of the Nude. However, the more obviously erotic aspect of female anatomy,
the vulva, is and has been off-limits for centuries in Western art even though it has
played an important part in art of other cultures. For example, the Judy Chicago
ceramic dinner service decorated with female genitalia was  and still does 
raise more than eyebrows.
Judy Chicago (coordinator) The Dinner Party – various
artists, assembled 1974-79,
permanently installed in the
Brooklyn Museum of Art in
(3) Who looks at who? There is a meme in our culture that “artistic nudes”, no matter in what medium, are
female. In fact, the French painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was once reported
as saying words to the effect that “in our society, it is women who are looked at
and men do the looking”.
As we have seen on many occasions, painters have relied on photographs as an aid
to their painting, and this was certainly true of Matisse. For much of his life he
subscribed to a magazine called “Les Modèles Artistiques” which featured rather
poorly printed photographs of nude women. Although the models were mostly
prostitutes and the poses soft-core porn, they were sufficient to inspire the great
artist to many of his best works. One of his sculptures initiated by Les Modèles
which later inspired me, was his “Les Trois Negresses” in the classic “Three
Graces” pose.
Carl Van Vechten: Henri Matisse, 1933.
Matisse painted many “odalisques” which,
he said6 were “…the fruits of a happy
nostalgia, of a lovely, lively dream…” but
which were also often misunderstood by his
critics. By this, did he mean his
recollections in old age of the sexual vigour
of his youth? Was that the reason he
believed men should only look at women
naked and not at their own sex  that he
was aware in himself of the sexual stirring
such images evoked and he did not consider
it proper for the same to happen in viewing
naked men?
Yet, despite Matisse’s misgivings, male nudes appeared in quantity in 19th and 20th
Century photographs. For example, OG Rejlander  the master of “combined
printing” using multiple negatives to produce one print  took this “Wrestling
Study” c1855. In 1885 and in a similarly “manly” vein, Eadweard Muybridge
took sequential photographs of men wrestling as part of his rather famous studies
of horses galloping, men walking and other subjects in motion in order to observe
the movements involved. More
recently, elite athletes are photographed
in the same way, the photographs
serving as an aid to improve their
OG Rejlander: Men wrestling, c1855
in conversation with André Verdet
Eadweard Muybridge: Two Men Wrestling, c1885.
Although the Rejlander photograph is readily classified as “art”, the Muybridge work is fairly strictly speaking a “scientific” photograph. Even so, when I first saw these photographs as an undergraduate in the Fisher Library at Sydney University in 1954, there were still some restrictions surrounding the release of the works for “scientific study” and the book was kept in a securely locked cupboard along with the Kama Sutra and photographs of the sculptures on the Khajuraho Temple in south India. Some of the sculptures on the
Khajuraho Temple in south India
The implication, I suppose,
is that depictions in
photographs of the body,
and certainly full-frontal or
sexual poses, were still
tabu, that they were in
some way “pornographic”
and likely to “corrupt” the
minds of young people and non-scientists! Fortunately, the memes have changed a
bit since my youth although, I must say, photographers are still pushing the
frontiers further back and images are becoming less and less restricted in what
they can show. In part, I think this is because of the ground-swell of pornography
available on the Internet, especially of gay porn in which nothing is tabu anymore.
So, what are the conventions surrounding photographs of the male nude?
The Nude in Action Earlier on, I suggested that among others, three clusters of memes dominated the
nude in photography. These were body shape, pose and gender. I wish now to take
a close look at some important photographs of the nude, in particular of the male
nude and later, of the fat nude, and see how these memes might have influenced
how and what the photographers produced.
The nude, no matter what else it might be, is always political because we have surrounded our bodies with such a plethora of considerations to do with power and morality. Without doubt, the most politically charged subject these days would have to be the nude photography of children, but that aside, there are parts of the human body which are still more or less “off limits”, one of which is as already mentioned, the vulva. Another is that part the French poets, Paul Verlaine and his lover, Arthur Rimbaud immortalised in their parody, the only poem they ever wrote together, Le Sonnet Du Trou Du Cul7. A third is the penis but not so much in its usual state, but erect or, for that matter, in close‐up. In the following photographs we will look at how these memes have been dealt
with by a variety of artists over the last century and a half. First, we will examine
photographs of the male body.
The Male Nude
While strictly speaking, a photograph of any male human being with his clothes
off is a “male nude”, but to leave it there would
be naive. Probably we have to take into
consideration how the photograph is being
presented: is it intended to be an object in itself,
capable of arousing emotional and other
reactions in the viewer which take it out of the
realm of the “snapshot” and “record
Karim Messman, Paris 1983.
In his collection l’Idole, the French Parnassian poet Albert Mérat composed a sonnet to every
part of his mistress’ body except one; Verlaine and Rimbaud collaborated to complete the
picture. The first quatrain, composed by Verlaine, reads:
Obscur et froncé comme un oeillet violet
Il respire, humblement tapi parmi la mousse
Humide encor d'amour qui suit la pente douce
Des fesses blanches jusqu'au bord de son ourlet
Is it “Art”?
That I am afraid is a question I must leave you to answer for yourselves because I
know of no criteria able to provide the definitive answer…. However, I must say
that one of the common criticisms of photographs
of the male body and especially of the genitalia, is
that “it is ugly”. But beauty, they say, is in the eye
of the beholder… In this context, personally I
believe beauty is in the eye of the photographer and
his or her challenge is to communicate this to the
Paul Emile Pesme: Leotard, Cirque Parisien, c 1860.8
How much of the body must be displayed to make it
a “nude”?
For example, is this superb photograph by Karim Messman a “male nude”? The obvious secondary sex characteristics shown
in this photograph indicate this is definitely a man
and, as far as we can see, he has no clothes on….
For me, at least, this photograph breathes male sexuality, the power and strength
of the man’s body, all emphasised by the phallic-like shape of the head in its
thrown-back pose. The fact that it is in black-and-white and not in colour also
helps to add to this illusion. This is “man abstracted” or “the essence of man”
because all other personal details have been pared away to leave this
quintessentially male form, albeit of only a part.
What body parts can’t you show?
Here we are confronted with the hypocrisy of our Western morality, particularly the morality we ascribe to art and its appreciation. Publicly, we believe that in the 19th Century and for much of the 20th, if men posed at all for nude photographs, they “covered up” by wearing posing pouches, fig leaves or loin clothes. Buttocks were OK, as in this photograph by Paul Emile Pesme of Leotard9, but the loin cloth was essential if the image was to be “decent” enough for public view. Although the Victorian  well, some of them  did put bloomers on piano legs,
those posing pouches and fig leaves were not always used. Round about 1880, for
This and following photographs have been reproduced from Peter Weiermair: The Hidden Image – Photographs of
the Male Nude in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, The MIT Press, 1988.
Leotard was the strong man in the Cirque Parisien after whom the dancers’ tights have been subsequently named.
instance, G. Marconi posed this photograph of a fullfrontal, totally naked Christ on a cross which even
today, would outrage many…
G. Marconi: Christ, c.1880
Of course, one cannot be certain how publicly these
photographs were displayed. In some instances, male
nudes seem to have been produced for a market
among “discerning gentlemen” interested in a kind of
soft-core “erotic” depiction of youths and young men.
So, for example, Wilhelm von Gloeden, working at
the turn of the century, photographed youths in Sicily
with a clearly erotic intent. Although they are not
wearing fig-leaves, the nakedness of these youths is excused by presenting them in
pseudo-Classical settings  although
it must be pointed out in the case of
this photograph and several others in
the same vein, the setting might
suggest Roman luxury, but the
Romans were rather prudish about
nudity and boys being naked together
like this is more Greek.
Wilhelm von Gloeden, 1900
So, truth was, ever since 1840 when Hippolyte Bayard posed naked for his self‐
study The Drowned Man, there has been a constant flow of photographs of the male nude even though their public access might have been restricted. The German historian Peter Weiermair called his book The Hidden Image10 for good reason in that for a century or so there has been censorship of images exposing male genitalia. Edward Weston, 1925
Of course, when the genitals were hidden,
viewing could be public. In 1925 that master
of the nude, Edward Weston, produced this “family values” study which would
Peter Weiermair: The Hidden Image – Photographs of the Male Nude in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries,
The MIT Press, 1988.
surely offend no one. The concept of “man and boy”, the achievement of the one
and the promise of the other, has been a popular theme throughout all forms of art,
but photography especially has found inspiration in this thought of things to come
and the memories we have of our own childhoods.
Weston of course produced some of the greatest nude studies ever taken in the
history of photography. Let me remind you for a moment of his magnificent study
taken in 1936, and of another of his most famous photographs, of a Nautilus shell.
This last, taken in 1927, in the way it folds upon itself, presages the human nudes
which were to follow.
Edward Weston, Nude 1936
Edward Weston, Shell, 1927.
But back to the male nude…
The 1950s were the most homophobic times, both here in Australia and in the
USA, of the entire 20th Century. Just as in pre-modern Europe, when
homosexuality was conflated with Catharism and thus with heresy, so in the US in
the 1950s, homosexuality and Communism became virtually synonymous. Even
so, there was a flourishing trade in male nude photographs, some soft-core porn,
others of much greater artistic merit.
One of the leading photographers of his day was George Platt Lynes (1907–
1955), a much respected fashion and commercial photographer who was a protégé
of Gertrude Stein and a good friend of Jean Cocteau and Julien Levy. Levy was a
New York art dealer who exhibited Lynes’ photographs in his New York gallery.
As the chief photographer to the Hollywood Vogue studios, Lynes photographed
celebrities such as Katherine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Rosalind Russel, Orson
Wells, Igor Stravinsky and others of their kind. However, it is not so much for his
fashion and commercial output that Lynes is today remembered and accorded the
status he deserves.
George Platt Lynes, self portrait
In the 1930s he began to focus on homoerotic photography, photographing friends such as the young Yul Brynner, among others. He also began working with Dr Alfred Kinsey in his famous sexological research. Indeed, the Kinsey Institute today holds perhaps the largest collection of Lynes’ work of this kind. George Platt Lynes:
Yul Brynner, 1942
Much of this body of work was not
made public until after the
photographer’s death in 1955, like
Yul Brynner, from lung cancer. His
more public mildly homoerotic
photographs were often numbered
among the posing-pouch models
adorning the “athletic” and “health
and sunshine” type magazines of the
George Platt Lynes:
Richard Avedon
Rudolf Nureyev, Paris, France
July 25, 1961
Platt Lynes’ mantle as a fashion photographer was virtually taken over by Richard Avedon whose portraits we have already discussed back when we were discussing The Art of Photographic Portraiture (P17). Avedon also had a reputation as an innovative photographer of the male nude, his best‐known (and perhaps most scandalous) being a 1961 image of dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. While this is classic Avedon minimalism (with the pure white background), there is nothing minimalist in what Avedon (and Nureyev) chose to display! Perhaps the most famous photographer of the male nude of recent years, however, was Robert Mapplethorpe, the controversial New York artist who died at the age of 42 in 1989 from HIV/AIDS and whom we have already discussed as a portraitist. While his photographs of celebrities, flowers and S&M events have gained the headlines, his collection usually called “The Black Nudes” remains as one of his greatest achievements. Robert Mapplethorpe: Ajitto, 1981.
Mapplethorpe once described photography as "the perfect way to make a sculpture." And this is no better demonstrated than in his Black Nudes, of which Ajitto (1981) is a good example. Search as I may, I could find only one example of a male nude posed in the odalisque fashion. Taken by an unknown photographer, this is a card 14
apparently sent in the 1930s to his admirers and signed on the back “Sincerely yours Lawrence”.11 Anon: Lawrence Woodford, c1930, UK.
That is not to say that men’s bums are tabu in photography: far from it, pictures of men’s muscled buttocks were legion although most were posed, as in this photograph of Australian footballer, Ian Roberts, in the standing position, as though to emphasise the athletic or warrior‐like qualities of the body on view. Roberts posed nude in 1995 for Paul Freeman and the magazine, Blue12 and created a minor stir in football clubs around the nation, although perhaps more because he “came out” as gay in the accompanying article rather than because he “bared all” for the camera. And  so I read  a view of the male bottom is preferred by women when asked to choose which part of the male anatomy they find the most sexy! Paul Freeman: Ian Roberts, 1995
The second photograph I want to show is perhaps
the most controversial of all I have so far selected. It
is a photograph from an exhibition of the work of
Peru-born Carlos Quiroz and demonstrates how far
the limits as to what bits can and cannot be the
subject of art have been pushed by modern
photographers of the male form. Quiroz grew up in
a sexually very restrictive environment but after
moving to Montreal, found photographing nude
men allowed him to find a personal freedom which
in time became an artistic consciousness. When I
first saw this man’s work I was shocked, not
morally, but artistically: I felt the ultimate rule had been thrown out  and it had!
Quiros, I came to realise, had found beauty in the penis, just as other artists have
found beauty in a woman’s breasts. Furthermore, having found beauty in his own
Emmanuel Cooper: Fully Exposed – The Male Nude in Photography, Allen and Unwin, 1990, p. 45.
(not only) Blue, premiere issue, Australia, February 1995, p.55
eyes, he has been able to convey it to the eyes of his beholders. Quiroz’
photographs give the lie to that old saying, “Sex raises its ugly head!”
Carlos Quiroz: Untitled13
On shape and form If ‘ugly” is the term often applied to
parts of the male anatomy, “ugly”
too is fat. In recent times,
photographs of fat people  women
especially  are considered either
offensive or comic. As mentioned
earlier, this has not always been so
in Western art but it has been a very
strong meme in recent decades.
Writing in The Female Nude, Lynda
Nead claims that:
Within this aesthetic, 'fat' is excess, surplus matter. It is a false boundary,
something that is additional to the true frame of the body, and needs to be
stripped away. The categories ‘fat' and
'thin’ are not innate and do not have
intrinsic meaning: rather, they are
socially constituted, along with
definitions of perfection and beauty. …..
……Over the last decade, for a woman
to be in ‘great shape' is to be firm, trim,
fit and healthy. This in turn is seen as a
quest for freedom, a way of realizing
her true self and potential…..Here, the
female body, trimmed to its essential
outline, promises new freedom and a
healthy sexuality. The rigours of the
workout signal both the need to
conform to social ideals and the force of
self –regulation, the exercise of power
over oneself.…..
Carlos Quiroz: Exhibition, Vertigo Publishers, Barcelona, 2001.
As we all know, the price of conformity in the matters of body shape is high: what
Nead called a fearsome self-regulation means that women have to view
themselves as others see them and in order to “measure up”, embark on that
endless round of diets if not personal trainers in a gym….
While the fashion industry and advertising is currently being blamed for creating
and perpetuating this meme, not all fashion photographers have seen fat as ugly.
The doyen of fashion photographers, Irving Penn, was renowned for his elegant
photographs of slim models in gorgeous dresses…
Irving Penn: Large Sleeve
(Sunny Harnett – NY 1951 – MOMA)
However, almost as an antidote to the demands of the fashion world, Penn turned to another kind of woman. His collection, Earthly Bodies, could have served Reubens as Les Modèles Artistiques served Matisse…. Earthly Bodies: Irving Penn's Nudes, 1949–50
Nude #70
Another, but not so famous, photographer
of the female nude who scornes the
conventions, is Greek photographer Eleni
Mylonas whose “Amphora” is a classic in
more ways than one.
Eleni Mylonas: Amphora, 1984
However, perhaps the best example of
photographers who have broken free of
the memes of their times and
photographed women of ample figure, is
Mr Spock, the veteran actor Leonard Nimoy, whose standing as a photographer as
well as an actor I mentioned in the beginning. His collection, known as The Full
Body Series, goes where only few photographers have gone before in the postWWII era. But that is where many more
must go as we in the West grow fatter
and the obesity epidemic spreads for,
along with this, the memes must change,
evolving into a new aesthetic to match
our new shapes and forms.
If they don’t, then photography will no
longer hold a mirror up to Nature and
we will lose sight of ourselves, seeing
not what is, but seeing only what we
want to see.
(Right) Leonard Nimoy and (below) two examples of his work in The Full Body Series