Naked/nude/etc photography


(Elle Stone) #1

Naked/nude/etc photography

It seems a fair number of people on the forum have an interest in nude/etc photography. I’m sort of hoping the following links might inspire a discussion of the whats/whys/consequences/etc of how we as photographers choose to present images of naked/nude/etc women and men.

The first two links show radically different approaches to photographing women. On the one hand, Stieglitz was deeply in love with O’Keeffe and fascinated by every aspect of her being. On the other hand, American Apparel assumes that men wear pants and women - don’t:

Stieglitz’s photographs of O’Keeffe (google image search plus a more or less randomly chosen article):

Google image search:'keeffe+photographs

American Apparel Unisex clothing catalog:

Another article on American Apparel unisex ads:

The following links are to parodies of photographs of women in stereotypical “sexy/alluring/etc” poses, wearing similarly stereotypical clothing and facial expressions:

Dad recreates his daughter’s sexy selfies:

Men Dress And Pose As Ducati Motorcycle Models:

When Guys Try To Parody Women Photos:

Men Photographed in Stereotypical Pin-Up Poses:

In the next three articles everyone is fully clothed. The first two links feature photographs of women who have chosen to break gender roles/stereotypes to fulfill roles more usually associated with men as breadwinners and leaders. These photographs don’t have even the slightest resemblance to stereotypical “nude photography”. The third is an awesomely well done illustration of changing conceptions of “perfect” female bodies - it’s amazing and scary how fast and how often current conceptions of “perfect” female bodies keep changing:

Women’s Work: Dramatic Portraits of Women Who Do ‘Men’s’ Jobs:

Portraits of Albanian Women Who Have Lived Their Lives As Men:

Woman Shows How She Would Look Like If She Had The ‘Perfect’ Body Throughout History (don’t forget to notice the changing artwork behind the woman):

The next links are to photographs of naked/mostly naked people taken by a diverse group of women photographers:

Eating spaghetti:

Covered in spaghetti:

Judy Dater’s “Imogen Cunningham and Twinka”:

Nudes by Imogen Cunningham: (this link is just to put Cunningham’s nude photographs into historical context - I was struck by the similarity between Cunningham’s flowers and O’Keeffe’s flowers)

Kate Bellm’s commercial shots of naked women:!/commercial/photo/51b4be099a2d4/Kate%20Bellm%20-%20Lika%20Mimika

Abigail Ekue’s naked men:

So what do you all think about these diverse ways photographers have chosen to portray naked/nude/etc people?

Ashely Graham by Mario Sorrenti
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(Stefan Schmitz) #2

Interesting choice of examples - especially because some are way off the matter

As a photographer of nude portraits, I am sometimes confronted with that “sexual exploitation” thingy and how I don’t shoot male nudes and yada yada yada …

  1. I’m not attracted by nude men. If you are, grab a camera and shoot nude men. Don’t tell me what to do, do it yourself!

  2. I very much respect the models I work with, and I always fall deeply in love with each and everyone of them - for the 90 minutes we work together. This may also be a reason, why working with men isn’t on my list.

  3. Every (!) model I have worked with was absolutely happy with her work. I haven’t ever worked with a woman who was uncomfortable with her part in photography or who felt like she didn’t really have a choice and had to undress to survive … I might add that I am married to an ex-model who has looked down from billboards in several countries in the 90s.

Tomorrow (Dec. 17) tumblr will apply the same rules like Instagram for nudity - America is more afraid of sexuality than of guns. You are allowed to publish Nazi propaganda everywhere, but beware of a female nipple - that’s obscene! Guns are in every TV-show, 50% of films show people getting killed, non shows people getting made.

I personally haven’t tried to kill someone recently, but I still practice the act of making someone regularly with my wife. I am not afraid of nudity and nude people rarely tried to act aggressive with me. I am afraid of people with guns … so in my world every kind of nudity is OK. There is more female nudity, consumed mainly by men? Yes. It’s a genetic thing.

Playboy has always catered to the heterosexual man, Playgirl never attracted female readers and quickly became a magazine bought mainly by gay men. Men like to look at and fantasize about bodies (mainly female), that’s why we have all that “sexist” advertising with bikini-girls and sports-cars. Get used to it.

Photographs of 500 nude men or photoshopping a female body through the ages … are political statements. There is no political statement in my photography and I truely hope that we will get back to a normal, simple and natural approach towards nudity and nude photography. Keep that crappy “political correctness” out of it.


Nudity and sexuality inherently and inevitably come with a lot of baggage because it is so personal and intimate. Unfortunately, a large portion of the population has seen its uglier side. It is triggering because of that and not by some abstract notion. That said, we still need to talk about and explore its positive and negative sides through dialogue and photography.

I wouldn’t say that people are afraid (some truly are), but rather, people are explosive about or deaf to certain subjects, which makes it very difficult to carry a proper and meaningful discussion about anything. It is easy to be swept up in the us-vs-them mentality now more than ever.

(Stampede) #4

If nothing else, thanks for leading me to Stieglitz’s pictures of Georgia O’Keefe. Several of them are hauntingly beautiful.

As for the diverse ways of portraying nude people - they are diverse.

American Apparel is using sex appeal and vanity to sell their flannel shirts. Stieglitz is trying to preserve the spiritual essence of a woman he loved and express it with photography.

So what do they have in common?

The creator, be it the starry-eyed artist in love, the flannel shirt advertiser or the political propagandist, is using naked bodies to achieve his objective.

Nudity, particularly nude females, trigger an emotional reaction in people, which then becomes a tool for the person crafting the image. You’re dealing with sex drive, physical vulnerability, all sorts of powerful lizard-brain urges, so of course people with a message to tell will want to utilize and manipulate those urges to make the message more compelling.

(Elle Stone) #5

Hmm, actually I wasn’t sure what “the matter” might be, which is why I made the post in the first place. As you seem to know, could you pretty please explain what the matter actually is?

Here is what prompted me to make this post with its rather diverse set of links to images - and please note I wasn’t particularly interested in the text surrounding most of the images:

@Stampede posted his play raw for Women’s legs through a scrim - Abstract Photography. His image brought to mind several things:

  1. The use of a cloth scrim and the angle made by the lady’s very straight legs reminded me of Adolf de Meyer’s wonderful image Glass and Shadows.

  2. The outlines and gradual alteration of tone and color across the lady’s legs was oddly reminicent of similar outlines and tonal transitions in many of O’Keeffe’s abstracts and flowers.

  3. The lady in @Stampede’s photograph perhaps was holding a yoga pose and seemed very athletic. I was wondering how much effort it took for her to hold that particular pose - some yoga-trained individuals can hold such poses for a long time.

  4. The title of the post suggested the image is intended to be an abstraction. But as one person commented in the play raw thread, the image didn’t seem all that abstract, or rather, speaking for myself I wasn’t sure what aspect of reality it was an abstraction of.

  5. As O’Keeffe’s paintings had already crossed my mind, I went to the library and checked out a book she wrote, in which she gives an awesome explanation of “abtract”, the quoting of which hopefully falls under “fair use”:

Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint (text on the page facing Plate “88 Dark Abstraction, 1924” in the book “Georgia O’Keeffe” by Georgia O’Keeffe, The Viking Press, NY, copyright 1976; Penguin edition copyright 1977).

I think what O’Keeffe says is a good summary of what we try to do as photographers: We already abstract from reality by virtue of composing, lighting, and framing a scene, and sometimes we abstract considerably further resulting in less immediately recognizable “real stuff”, which clearly @Stampede was doing with his photograph.

Presumably our goal when taking photographs is to clarify by the resulting image something that we saw and responded to, that prompted the desire to take the photograph in the first place. That “something” doesn’t necessarily have to be, almost surely can’t be, expressed adequately using words. But surely words can help in explaining the whats and whys of a given image.

So in this sense I guess all photographs and all paintings are abstract, though some are a lot more abstract than others in the sense of “how abstracted from recognizable stuff”. And surely some abstractions speak more powerfully and plainly than others. Also the “thing in [one]self” (as O’Keeffe puts it) that prompts the reaction that led to the photograph surely does vary from one photograph and photographer to the next.

Anyway, while trying to figure out what the abstracted reality might be in @Stampede’s photograph, I started thinking about photographs of naked people that I had seen in the past and liked, including a series of black and white images of women around a dinner table. Try searching the internet using search terms like “naked”, “women”, and “eating dinner” - a lot of odd stuff shows up! - did you know that there are restaurants where people take off their clothes before sitting down to eat? But finally I remembed, “Oh, the women were eating spaghetti”, which led to the actual photographs and also to a photograph of a person who had covered herself with spaghetti and take a selfie.

Other portrayals of naked/nude people came to mind starting with Imogen Cunningham. Tracking these images down on the internet likewise turned up a lot of stuff I wasn’t particularly looking for, some of which provided interesting counterpoints to the stuff I was looking for.

In the process I did figure out a bit about why I dislike most nake/nude/fashion photography: totally vacuous facial expressions.

(Pat David) #6

Those Stieglitz images of O’Keeffe have always been high on my list of wonderful images.

It was a revelation to me once upon a time to come to the realization that all art is a view of the world as filtered through the artists mind. It’s the view through the artist that inherently produces the art to me. How it is represented could by a myriad of ways - painting, photography, writing, or more. They all end up being a means for connecting to another human being (or representing ourselves by making our own little marks - even if they are never to be seen by someone else).

I love seeing how others see things. Sometimes they might be nude women. I try to keep my interactions and consumption to those that are providing something of value to me or my sense of aesthetics. As such, images like Stieglitz’s speak volumes to me and can wrap me up every time I study it. The commercialization of the same thing I try to avoid personally, particularly for a tone-deaf company like AA (who regularly makes it a habit to shock and get mentioned - no such thing as bad publicity I suppose).

The line gets blurry when dealing with some idiots like Terry Richardson. I don’t consume his material generally because of the exploitative nature of multiple accusations against him. It gets interesting when considering his general esthetics (that on-camera, raw, straight exposure work he’s known for). I digress…

It’s interesting to see what new ways photographers find for filtering a view of the female body, but it’s a great question about why we may not see the same from an opposite gender point of view? To be fair, I’ve seen a few interesting shoots and images from (male) gay friends of male subjects that seems to me to indicate a desire by males in general to capture what they find alluring or interesting (I could get lost for hours looking through Robert Mapplethorpe prints). Maybe it’s just a male thing to want to capture those images. Maybe it’s just over-represented because of general male-dominance in online discourse (not sure on this, but it seems like it might be the case). This sucks, because I’m 100% certain that there’s an equally alluring and awesome body of work that we might be missing from talented female photographers.

On that note, I was recently blown away by a shoot by Mario Sorrenti for V Magazine with the model Ashley Graham. The image are wonderful, and in the abstract cases well captured and gorgeous.

In particular, from that shoot, is this damn masterpiece:

You can go nuts drawing triangles and convergence lines in this image, and I have to believe that the models right leg, and shadow continuing the same line was purposeful. Wow.

I will say that the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen a woman wear is a smile.
The most gorgeous thing a woman has probably ever seen me wear is lots and lots of clothing. :slight_smile:

(Stefan Schmitz) #7

when talking naked/nude photography, I don’t see the point of daddy’s selfies or body ideals over the centuries (and please understand that Europe doesn’t get all that excited about - well - ghetto bums. Less is still more here).

Which is good. I don’t care who goes for what - I just like the fact that there is no universal ideal. Beauty is not normed yet.

(Stampede) #8

Elle - thanks for your thoughts. It’s flattering to me that one of my pictures triggered that sort of introspection and philosophical musing. IMO, that’s actually the highest compliment I can get about something that I do.

I’ll admit the title of the post was a bit of a sales pitch - “these are abstract legs” does not make logical sense. So to resolve the cofusion, you click on it and see what an abstract leg looks like.

Back when I was 11 years old, in a report for school, I wrote about some artist’s work and described it as “almost abstract depictions of…” The teacher docked points off of the paper because of the term “almost abstract.” It either is, or is not abstract, she said.

So to this day, I am uncomfortable with the word due to this childhood trauma, but what word is better? “Ambiguous?” “Heavily stylized?”

Here’s a painting that hangs in the museum near me. Whenever I visit, I spend about 10 minutes looking at it. Street Music, by Norman Wilfred Lewis (1950)

Is it abstract, or isn’t it? I think I see people, trumpets, trombones, bass cleffs, quarter rests in it, but I’m never quite sure. And would I see those things if the painting hadn’t been titled “Street Music?” Or would I see something different? I really can’t answer that with certainty. And I love that about this painting.

I sort of enjoy reveling in the gray area, and that’s what I was trying to do with that leg picture. Give you just enough to get you to fill in the blanks.

It reminded me also of a Morris Louis painting in the same gallery. Louis’s trick was to dilute his paints with water, then fold the canvas around them. You can’t really tell from the image online, but in real life, there’s this crazy soft transition in the lines of paint from the saturated center, moving out to the edge of the line as the paint softens.

So I sort of like this idea of deliberately obscuring a photo, to turn it into fodder for your own imagination.

Contrast this with an ongoing discussion happening on this site here where the poster’s concern is eliminating noise, maximum image sharpness, good color reproduction and not blowing out any highlights, even in the unimportant parts of the picture.

I could talk all day about this, so I’ll stop now.

Last thing @patdavid, thanks for posting the link to the Sorrenti series. Fantastic shots, and I agree the one you posted in this thread is a damn masterpiece. And yes, that shadow over the face was deliberate. 100%. Brilliant!

(Elle Stone) #9

Well, I think your teacher was just wrong. The museum you linked to had an exhibit called extreme abstraction. Which logically implies there is “less extreme”, as in “partial” abstraction from reality. It’s a continuum. The more representational, the less abstract and vice versa. Checking, the Wikipedia article on abstract art says much the same thing:

Abstraction indicates a departure from reality in depiction of imagery in art. This departure from accurate representation can be slight, partial, or complete. Abstraction exists along a continuum. Even art that aims for verisimilitude of the highest degree can be said to be abstract, at least theoretically, since perfect representation is likely to be exceedingly elusive. Artwork which takes liberties, altering for instance color and form in ways that are conspicuous, can be said to be partially abstract. Total abstraction bears no trace of any reference to anything recognizable. In geometric abstraction, for instance, one is unlikely to find references to naturalistic entities. Figurative art and total abstraction are almost mutually exclusive. But figurative and representational (or realistic) art often contains partial abstraction.

Deliberate partial or complete abstraction seems to include just about all modern art, after artists got over the shock that cameras were pretty much faster and in many ways better at recording realistic images than artists were at painting them, including artists making use of optics:

So returning to your legs photograph, it’s slightly abstract and also pictorialist in that it uses a standard pictorialist technique to soften and alter the version of reality that would otherwise be captured by the camera:

I’m still curious as to the whys and wherefores of the making of the image, what artistic quest and inspiration, what the lady thought about the proceedings and the images, whether she’s in a yoga pose, and etc :slight_smile: . And what’s next, of course, assuming an on-going exploration of themes/topics that have meaning to you as the artist-photographer.


Adults and their careless words. Story of my childhood and youth. :cry: Street Music is awesome! I wouldn’t mind having a replica on my wall if I had the money for that sort of thing.


On the topic of nudity and photographs, personally there’s photographs with efforts and then there’s photographs that are only meant to invoke sexual responses to the audience, and then there is those two combined. The issue with the third part is that when it does, it can take away the other part of photography, and mainstream pornography reinforces that. So, I can understand why people dislike some photographs that can be seen as sexual regardless of one’s sexuality (I am an asexual man). To me, a artistic photograph with a nude body can be enjoyable to look at from the aesthetic point of view, and every bit as much as a beautiful landscape.

Robert Mapplethorn prints for example are nude photographs I can like looking at. And then there’s another nude here which shows geometry.

On the topic of nude men, yes there is those stigma, but some of those photographs could be seen as sexual. Now, some photographs seen in bare men link are undoubtly sexual despite lighting and composition and detail consideration. If stigma has to be reduced, there could be more male nudity without overt sexual intentions. I do support equality on this aspect.

By the way, for the person that mentions Americans and sexuality. Americans have pretty diverse viewson sexuality. Some are open, others are not, and you have people like me that is almost indifferent on sexuality.


Completely irrational, but this picture looks scary to me. Like something that Mads Mikkelsen does to human bodies, when playing dr. Lecter.

(Stampede) #13

Here is the picture that Elle and I are discussing. Photo by me:

Yes! Thanks for posting this. After reading this as well as your links, I can say that I sometimes like making abstract photography and not be self-conscious about the use of the term “abstract.” So you’ve freed me from the trauma that my grade school teacher inflicted. Thanks!

Before you brought it up, I was unaware of the pictorialist style. I read the wikipedia article, and recognize the pictorialist look from seeing it in old photographs. So I guess you can say the leg picture is pictorial, and the softness is coming from the lighting setup versus the glass on the camera, or the chemical tricks that the pictorialists used back in the day.

As for the picture “being slightly abstract.” Would you have known those were legs if I had referred to the picture as “orange and red” instead of “abstract legs?” Maybe if you looked at it long enough. Or maybe it would be immediately obvious to most. It’s hard to tell because my reality is tainted by the fact that I was there when the picture was taken, and I know how it was made. (hint: it was made with a camera and legs).

The why’s, wherefores and inspiration, I talked about briefly on my blog. What’s next is that I’m soliciting more models to further develop the concept. I really like the idea of mixing realism with not-so-real-ism. One gal I contacted had posted a portfolio on model mayhem. I reached out to her to ask her about modelling because she has a nice figure and the overall shape of her body was attractive to me. She would take good silhouette photos.

And in our correspondence, she came clean, and said that she had a lot of scars on her body that were covered up in the airbrushed pictures I saw in her portfolio, and would that be a problem? And to me, that idea was so cool…that she has these scars, which she normally goes through some trouble to hide from public view, but what if I took a picture that left her scars right out in the open, but her attractive figure (somewhat) obscured behind the scrim? How do we choose what to reveal to the world, and in what degree do we reveal it, and what happen when we start messing with the normal way of making those decisions? I dig the juxtaposition.

The scrim is nice because the closer the subject is to the scrim, the more detail you can make out. Otherwise, you have to infer by the shadows.

@Elle, you’ve given me a lot to think about and I will take better photos because of it. Thanks for starting this thread!


(Elle Stone) #15

I hesitated to make a post at all about photographs of naked/nude people. Having done so anyway, responses have varied quite a lot, some responses are very interesting to me personally, and some a lot less so. I’m going to start by responding to some of what @beachbum had to say. He covered a lot of ground, so this will take more than one post:

As @Reptorian said, America is a rather diverse place with a wide spectrum of views on sexuality, nudity, guns, and just about everything else you can think of.

Regarding Nazi/racist/etc tendencies in the US, sadly it doesn’t seem that France or Europe as a whole is doing any better on this front:

Regarding “allowed to publish Nazi propaganda”, American policy of free speech is deeply grounded in John Stuart Mill’s thoughts on freedom of speech. This is why America allows the publishing of documents that espouse Nazi and other beliefs grounded in the odd notion that ancestry/race/religion/etc somehow justify some groups of people going out and harming/killing/ostracizing/ other groups of people.

Personally I’m inclined to think that the only thing worse than allowing the public to read this sort of garbage, is to forbid the reading of same, because where do you draw the lines between what is allowable to read and what isn’t, and who exactly gets to draw these lines?

Mills himself drew lines between acceptable and not acceptable free speech. Shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre when in fact there is no fire, is the standard example of something that with a high degree of certainty will lead to harm that overrides the individual’s right to shout fire.

But the situation is more complicated today than it was in Mills’ time. Mills was writing in a time when communcation was slow and reaching/recruiting/inciting large numbers of like-minded individuals was a time-consuming task requiring a great deal of dedication. There are a lot more people on the planet today and communication via the internet is instantaneous, which means reaching/recruiting/inciting like-minded individuals is hugely easier than it ever was before.

Regarding the amount of violence on American television, studies going back several decades have shown how powerfully television and violence on television influences actual behavior. But people still keep watching violent shows anyways. I greatly admire Mandy Patinkin’s decision to leave the popular TV show “Criminal Minds” because he was deeply disturbed by the content of the series during Season 3. In my household we stopped watching that show for the same reason, and then we stopped watching television altogether. I wish more actors, producers, writers, and (most of all) television viewers would respond similarly.

Is French television is less violent than American television? If yes, is this from censorship? If yes, who does the censoring? Do French viewers watch violent American movies and TV shows?

(Stefan Schmitz) #16

First of all I live in France, but I also lived for four and a half years in Miami, FL. Before that I lived in Germany - and I still am German.

French TV is pretty open towards sexual content, German TV is even more of that. There are TV-Shows in Germany where people date another totally naked, and there are camera-zooms onto everything that you expect to be “pixeled”. It is not pixeled, it is clear and in full screen and it starts at about 2200 in the evening.

Yes, that is trash-TV. Nobody cares about the couples that have found another there (for one night or less). It’s all about voyeurism, but nudity is nowhere forbidden or even “problematic”. Films like “9 songs” have been broadcasted at 2015 on public free-TV. Including very explicit sexual intercourse and camera between the legs during long sequences.

This is what I mean when saying that I have a problem with showing how to kill people but not how to make them. Is that important? Not so much when you need a starter for some private handiwork - there are millions of websites where you can see it all just a click away, and you don’t have to respect the broadcasting schedule for that. But it is important in the sense of being cool and relax about a very natural thing: nudity (and maybe a bit more).

Next to that some great US TV-shows have been sold to European networks; we partly watch the same programs you do and I am a huge fan of Justified. I think i’m in my third tour, having watched it on TV in 2012 or so and then on amazon prime 18 months ago and re-started last week. Not exactly free of gun violence, I know.

Nazi propaganda and even just drawing a Swastika is forbidden in Germany and gets punished. I never felt that being a problematic shortage in free expression. If you grow up in Germany, the twelve years from 33 to 45 are a (too) big part of your history lessons and you will most likely not feel the wish or need to be identified as a nazi or just extreme right-wing supporter.

2017 was the first ever election that an extreme-right party (the AfD) made it into the German parliament, collecting 13% of the votes. Now, one year later, their star is already falling, because people start to understand that they are all talk and no game.

Yes, Germany and France are quite different from the USA.

(Elle Stone) #17

Well, it’s nice to know that unpixelated image of nake people can be seen on French television. Now how’s your Gypsy/Romani population doing?

(Elle Stone) #18

The question isn’t whether you feel your free expression is being restricted. The question is whether such restrictions are actually accomplishing anything:

(Pat David) #19

Well, we’re slightly off topic now? :slight_smile:

(Stefan Schmitz) #20

I honestly do not have the slightest Idea how those Roma-people made their way into this discussion (and I don’t care - I care about photography), but I agree that the success of a veto on Nazi symbols is questionable.

Why don’t we return to naked/nude/etc?