With today’s easily accessible technology, one could pull up numerous pictures of a nude woman, whether pornographic or fine art based, in a few seconds. Surprisingly, prior to this influx of technology, these images were not that scarce; in fact, photographers have used the nude body as a source of inspiration and content since the beginning of the medium. As stated by Graham Clarke in his book The Photograph, “[m]uch of the photography of the body in the early twentieth century is an extension of nineteenth-century preoccupations and attitudes” (Clarke).
The 19th century encompassed the Victorian Era, and although it was shortly after the camera was invented, according to the Museum of Sex: “Victorians took millions of photographs; an untold number of these images featured nude and pornographic images … Though sold as “figure studies” for artists, nude photographs, similar to more graphic depictions of sex, were also bought for purposes of titillation. ” It is clear that the nude body, specifically the female nude body, has been photographed as a means of “sexual fantasy and desire” (Clarke) for centuries, as Clarke believes it is the photographs accuracy that lends it to this role.
Without ignoring “homosexual erotica” (Clarke) that takes place within this space, such as gay pornography, the bulk of nude photographs “are of women made by men for use by men”(Clarke). A prime example of this would be fashion photographer Helmut Newton. Helmut Newton was a German- Australian photographer born in 1920. Photography has always sparked Newton’s interested, and “at 12 he saved his money to purchase his first camera at a fiveand-dime” (Big Nudes, Helmut Newton). In 1936, he got his first photography related job as an assistant to female fashion-and ortrait photographer Yva, much to the disapproval of his father who told him “My boy, you’ll end up on the gutter”” (Big Nudes, Helmut Newton). In 1938 Yva had to abruptly close her studio as “the Nazis stepped up their attack on the Jews” (Big Nudes, Helmut Newton). Consequently, as a jewish man, Newton fled to Singapore and worked as a photojournalist, although not truly enjoying it and only “trying to avoid starvation”(Big Nudes, Helmut Newton). He later moves to Australia and joins the army, then moves to Melbourne determined to make a living as a photographer.
Successfully, in 1952 he began working for Australian Vogue, which lead him to visit London, where he fell in love with the city, stating “The moment I hit Paris I knew this was it for living and taking photographs. The life was in the streets, in cafes, restaurants. Beautiful women seemed to be everywhere”(Big Nudes, Helmut Newton). Additionally, Newton had numerous published books, including his well known book “Big Nudes” published in 1990. As a fashion photographer, having a book of nudes may seem slightly problematic. However, he has been labeled as “[s]omewhat of a demigod for the provocative genre in fashion” (Fano).
After a very successful career, in 2004 at the age of 83, he suffered a heart attack that lead to a car crash, subsequently killing him. Historically, the nude female body has been over sexualized and objectified by male photographers for male pleasure, as seen through fashion photographer Helmut Newton’s images, specifically “SelfPortrait with Wife and Models” (see figure 1), an untitled shot within his series “Here’s Looking at You. ” (see figure 2), and an additional untitled photograph (figure 3). “Self-Portrait with Wife and Models” is a black and white square image shot by Newton in 1981.
Newton stands on the white seemless in the background with his camera pointed directly at the long rectangular mirror in front of him. His hair is slicked back and he wears a long trench coat with dress pants and white shoes. To his left, a nude model poses, as seen in the mirror, with her head tilted to the side. She is almost completely nude, only wearing black high heeled shoes surrounded by clothes sprawled on the floor. In front of Newton, his wife, fellow photographer Alice Springs, sits on a director’s chair with her hand on her face, appearing bored.
She has short black hair with bangs and large round glasses. Her nails are painted a dark color and the viewer can clearly see a wedding ring on the hand which holds her face. Although one may be suspicious of a young man in a trench coat photographing a young naked woman, the presence of his wife truly adds a sense of innocence to Newton and his photograph. However, this does not mean he is completely uninvolved with objectification of the female body. In the left corner of the mirror are a pair of bare female legs adorned with black high heeled shoes.
The legs, cut out of frame at mid thigh, simply seem like objects – as if they do not belong to a person at all. Newton’s objectification may not be obvious at first, and one may be thrown off by the presences of his wife, but these female legs are simply used as decorative objects rather than vital and beautiful parts of the woman’s body. “Here’s Looking at You” is another black and white square film photograph by Newton. In this photograph, only two models are present, a man holding a large video camera, and a nude female lying back on all fours below him.
They are in a glamorous room, with two large windows behind them, along with what appears to be a fine art portrait under a spotlight on the wall. The male figure is wearing a button up white shirt and dress pants, coming off as a professional who is in charge of the situation, and therefore the woman. His face is covered by the camera, to not demonize one men in particular, but perhaps, men in general, specifically the men who will be viewing what is on the video. The female model has platinum blonde hair which flows behind her and is wearing a nude color high heeled shoe.
Her head is pointed upwards rather than at him or the camera, and she appears to be in a mixture of pain and pleasure. Although the man’s eyes are unseen in this image in “Here’s Looking at You”, it is clear his gaze is directed down upon the naked woman’s body, in a stance of power. According to Graham Clarke, “The gaze’ is more than a look. . . [i]t implies power, but it also implies the voyeuristic and the fetishistic: primary terms of reference in which a body is subjected to assumptions which have nothing to do with its individuality; its uniqueness in terms of the person, rather than the image, being photographed” (Clarke).
The male figure is likely videoing her specifically for the male heterosexual gaze and to bring upon titillation in the viewer, rather than showcase the beautiful young woman and her body as humanistic. Again, much like in his photograph “Self-Portrait with Wife and Models,” Newton appears to have a sense of innocence by just documenting the event rather than being a participant. However, when one thinks about the context of the photograph, it is clear Newton is a prime voyeuristic figure, a statement he would likely agree with as he stated “[i]f a photographer says he is not a voyeur, he is an idiot” (“About Helmut Newton. ). Newton’s entire series “Here’s Looking at You” was commissioned by Playboy magazine and was comprised of fourteen photographs. The title implies the importance of all forms of the gaze within the series, as well as the voyeuristic element Playboy brings to its viewers. From the male gaze within the photos, to the assumed heterosexual male gaze of the audience, to the meek female gaze, the woman “is to be looked at in her dual role as spectacle (for the male gaze) and stereotype (mistress, wife, mother, and so on)” (Clarke).
The series “Here’s Looking at You” portrays women as stereotypical sex objects, and its publication in Playboy magazine only amplifies this objectification. A third photograph by Newton is unnamed; it features two female and one male in an elegant room. Front and center are the two female’s adorning black underwear, sheer black stockings, and shiny black heels. The woman closest to the camera has several bracelets and rings on both hands while the other models arms are invisible to the viewer. Across from them, a male figure stands behind a chair grasping it lightly, wearing a black suit and has a slicked back hair.
He’s significantly blurry in relation to the prominent female figures, yet the viewer can still sense his importance and dominance over the woman; it seems as though he owns the lavish room in which this event took place and has complete control over the female figures. On the chair in front of him sits a television with white light shining out of it. In the background, there is a marble fireplace, a large decorative mirror and a lit chandelier within said mirror.
Newton’s perspective is unique in this shot in comparison to “Self-Portrait with Wife and Models,” and his shot within “Here’s Looking at You. Newton appears to be positioned on the floor pointing the camera upwards at an angle. The repetition and waist down shot of the two woman makes them feel as though they are unimportant and disposable, seeming as if any skinny white woman would satisfy this role. Once again, it is clear that Newton is not the daunting male figure within the photograph, although one must remember that he is still present and the one responsible for sharing these moments with the world.
Nude photography has unmistakably been an important part of photographic history. However, Clarke states “[t]he photograph … eeds on fantasy and on the fetish, and reinforces an assumed relationship between reader and subject that many critics would argue exists as the basis of the social differences between men and women” (Clarke). He additionally argues that “[i]t makes the private space of the body open to the public eye and, overwhelmingly, that eye has traditionally been male” (Clarke). Not only has the audience for the nude photograph been traditionally male, but the photographers as well. Therefore, historically, the female body and its nude representations in photography have been male dominated.
So from the gaze to the photographers themselves, these female nudes have almost always been male dominated. However, Clarke touches on how more current photographers, particularly women, have been “attempt[ing] to make the process of representation rather than the image of the body, the subject of the photograph” (Clarke). A prime example of this would be the Nu Project, shot by photographers and spouses Matt Blum and Katy Kessler. According to their website, “[t]he Nu Project is a series of honest nudes of women from all over the world”(The Nu Project).
All of the photographs within the project feature nude woman in their homes where they are clearly comfortable and relaxed. The models are all volunteers, so there is a wide variety of body types. In one photograph(figure 4), there are two young woman sitting on a bright red couch. They appear to be laughing, as the woman on the left has a large smile and the woman on the right has her head back as though she is laughing. It is a very warm, welcoming photograph, making the viewer want to be apart of the situation and laugh along with them.
The gaze of the woman within the project is almost always directed towards the camera, portraying a sense of confidence. It is clear that these photographs are not meant to be sexualized in any manner, but to simply showcase how beautiful the female body is, very unlike Helmut Newton’s images. Although Newton was a very successful fashion photographer who shot his female nudes in good taste, he was still never complelety uninvolved in the over sexulization and objectification of a woman’s body in his photographic work.