It is very difficult to separate the artistic (fine art nude photography) of the nude from the erotic and the sexual.
When is a nude an attempt to produce a meaningful picture
and when is it merely a body displayed for erotic titillation?
Even the word artistic carries certain connotations. Many of the paintings that are now considered works of art by old masters were created for his Lordship to hang in his personal salon. In a later era it conjures up an image of a 1950s bloke in a Trilby accosting a gent with the words ‘Oy mate – want to buy some artistic postcards?’
When does artistic become ‘fine art’ (and what does fine art mean)?
The two main protagonists in this debate are the photographer and the viewer.
Almost as soon as photography was invented photographers started pointing their new devices at nudes. The earliest surviving examples date from the 1850s. Jean Louis Marie Eugène Durieu (1800–1874) photographed male and female nudes. These photographs were not immediately classed as art but many were studies for his friend, the painter Eugene Delacroix and acquired the fine art tag by association.
Another early French photographer, Felix Moulin (1802-1872) started photographing nudes in 1849. He advertised his works as “académies” or fine art studies. The erotic nature of the images got Moulin in trouble with the authorities and he was imprisoned for a month for obscenity in 1854.
Other early daguerreotypes were made more explicitly as pornography, some of which still survive.
Fine Art Nude Photography or Porn? The Viewer
Since the first nude photograph appeared viewers have been praising or decrying images, often the same images, as fine art, glamour, erotica or pornography. There has been a lot of fuss and discussion about Playboy’s nudes which, even at its raciest, never met most people’s definition of porn. It could be said to have depersonalized the women in its images but then fine art or figure nude photography does exactly the same thing. Edward Weston’s nudes reduce a naked body to an anonymous composition albeit a very artistic one.
So no artist can control how the viewer categorizes their images. Moulin’s ‘fine art studies’ got him into trouble in the 1850s but would probably get little or no reaction today. Read more about The Nude in Photography
So What Are Photographers Supposed To Do?
The language used by photographers to describe images does not help. Fine art (which always seems to imply that there is a coarse or crap art) seems to be applied to everything from genuinely provocative images to basic glamour photography. Figure nude generally implies something of an artistic image whilst glamour can mean anything from a portrait through to the contents of a top shelf magazine.
One aspect you need to consider when categorizing your work is the internet. Who is going to search for it and are the resulting viewers going to want to see (and possibly buy) your work.
I use the following definitions. These are my personal interpretations so don’t shout at me if you disagree.
Fine Art Photography: I try to avoid this as it really does not mean anything specific (The dictionary definition is ‘art produced chiefly for its aesthetic value’. CED 2017) . An internet search has nearly 40 million results. I do use ‘fine art nude photography (3.5 million results) on websites as it is a commonly searched phrase. It is also quite specific and more likely to be used by someone looking for more artistic work.
Figure [Nude]: A photograph of a nude body which has an attractive composition (to me) but conveys nothing about the models character or personality (see Fine Art). Often abstract and/or anonymous.
Glamour: Images where the photograph’s intention is to make the model attractive (often sexually) to the viewer using clothes (or lack of), a setting or props that bear no relationship to the model’s character or personality.
Going Beyond Glamour
Nude Portraits: I have referred to the model’s personality in the last two definitions. In a lot of my images I try to show something of my subject’s character. Nude portraits is the only term I have been able to come up with to describe these images.
Pornography: The Entomology Dictionary offers the following quote, ‘I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. ’ [U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion, “Jacobellis v. Ohio,” 1964]. The same source also offers, ‘In ancient contexts, often paired with rhypography, “genre painting of low, sordid, or unsuitable subjects.”’
Nude or naked?
It was the art historian Kenneth Clark who claimed there is a difference. A naked human body is exposed, vulnerable, embarrassing, he wrote in his 1956 book The Nude. “The word ‘nude’, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenceless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body … ” (Jones, J.The Guardian 2006)
No matter what terminology you use someone will always claim that your fine art nude is porn or maybe vice versa. What is more important is your ideas, your themes and does the work satisfy you.
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Creative Nude Photography shows you how to go beyond the norms of conventional glamour. The book contains sections on the concept, but is it art plus practical advice on finding models and camera techniques. The final section shows examples of creative nude projects
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Want a hard copy to read? Printed edition available here
- Beyond Glamour Photography
- The Concept – Take Better Photographs of Nudes
- Future of Photography. Is the still photo a dying art?
- Nude Art or Erotic Art?
- Erotica: Not nude?
- Photographing Nudes – A Different Point of View
- How To Take Better Nude Photographs
- The Nude in Photography
fine art. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved November 9, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/fine-art
pornography. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved November 9, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/pornography