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Monday, August 20, 2012

When Nudes aren't Naked

What does a photographer do when he takes some time off ? This one goes to view other photography and with a title like " Naked Before the Lens" I couldn't resist. Showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this exhibit draws a timeline in the progression of nude photography from the 1800s to the 1900s. 

Leaning more on works done from its beginnings rather than today's, one can see the struggle an artist had with censorship and what the public was willing to openly accept. With nude subjects paintings were just paintings an art representation, but photography was real life with real people, engaging the viewer as a witness to a graphic world that existed rather than a painted one. Maybe it was this reality that made it disturbing enough in the era to make models hide their faces in one form or another and photographers to title early works as " an artist study" rather than feature them as art nude for own sake. The photographs from that time period mimic classic paintings and sculptures rather than today's images that stand alone as fine art nudes. Finding a ulterior reason for their existence they were shown as anatomy or figure studies etc. that equate to not too long ago when some men said.." I buy this for the articles"  when that brown paper wrapped magazine shows up in the mailbox.

This very early 1860 photograph by Nadar was taken to help the painter Jean-Leon Derome depict his painting of Phryne before the Areopagus.

Eugene Durieu made this as part of many studies for Eugene Delacroix's paintings

Rather than for a painting, this one,by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, is influenced and taken from paintings by Raphael,Titian,Rubens and others.

As the show progresses, we start to see nude photography evolve. No longer done for other artists, faces revealed, among other things, engagement with the subject becomes more direct. 

Brassai's "Introductions  at Suzy's"… is a favorite of mine, a glimpse to a place where fantasies take place including being there for those who wondered what was inside. While this is nude, it borderlines naked, a raw, candid with that "you shouldn't be there feel" yet you have to keep staring. It moves me differently than the nude studies shown prior.      

The show was well done as usual with the Met, except for the glitzy sign NAKED that looked more like a triple x marque. I felt it deserved something better, but that just me.  
I felt that where the show missed were nudes in the present. We have come a long way of what is acceptable since early photography with extremism at both ends, and hopefully to a better visual understanding  between nude and naked.