Runcible Blog


I bought Nudes: Developing Style in Creative Photography, a remainder from that book store in Harvard Square (not that one -- the other one). It bills itself as part fine art book and part creative technique book. It seemed intriguing when I flipped through it, but after digging deeper, I'm a little disappointed.

Most of the photos are figure studies of professional models or elaborately set-up shots illustrating an eccentric concept. Commentary by each artist (there are 21 different photographers featured) accompanies the photographs. They explain the technique used and offer tips (like using nifty props to snazz up a boring picture). I won't knock what is in the book — the text is informative without being too pretentious, and the reproductions are pretty good. But I feel like the author/editor missed a whole category of nude photography: the nude portrait as character study.

Well, I don't know what the artists might call the category, but I think one can use nude photography as another form of portrait. If a portrait can reveal something deep about the subject, then so can a nude photo; maybe more so. Stripped of their familiar clothes, people react differently to the camera's gaze. That reaction alone could be photo worthy; is the subject timid or bold? How does the subject handle himself/herself? The intriguing part is when we start to delve into identity issues and self-perception. Those areas interest me more than a well-lit macro shot of a perfect rear end.

The other sub-category of nude photography that I think people overlook is the illustrative nude. David Penprase, featured in the book, comes close to this category, but I feel like his photos don't really illustrate anything more than his hyper attention to detail in setting up the shot. I don't know. I've tried to show something substantive when I've done some self portraits, and I hope that the nudity isn't overt or unnatural. I mean, I think that clothes can be distracting if I'm trying to make some point about isolation or the human relationship to nature. In those cases, the photograph isn't about a nude person; it's about something more important but features nudity as a device to further the point.

So, I would've liked to have seen more adventurous nudes in the book than the faceless, featureless models on many of the pages. Sure, texture, form, lines, and light quality will always be topics that photographers explore using nude models. But I think the genre can be much more intellectually or sociologically fulfilling if photographers take the nude a little bit further than showing the bare skin.