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The History of Nudes in Art and Nude Photography
The Nude in ArtIt goes without saying that the beauty of the human nude form has been a source of inspiration for as long as artists and sculptors have felt the need to create works of art. From the earliest of times people have appreciated the naked human body and it’s thought that the very first work of nude art on record is the small, 35,000 year old ivory carving of a naked woman found in Germany’s Hohle Fels Cave. Found several years ago, this tiny but explicitly detailed carving has even been described by some as prehistoric pornography!
The Nude in AntiquityThe nude form was celebrated by the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern culture with works of art depicting the various Gods and Goddesses as the embodiment of physical perfection. Male nude works of art celebrated the strength, power and athleticism of the body with female works of nude art celebrating fertility and the innate seductive nature of the female form. However these early nudes of ancient Greek and Roman times were not necessarily created to be sexually appealing; the emphasis was on physical human perfection.
The Nude of The Middle Ages and The RenaissanceAs Paganism gave way to Christianity, attitudes towards the nude changed. Chastity, celibacy and purity were emphasised and so there are very few depictions of the nude in medieval art. However with the birth of the Renaissance the nude once again became something to celebrate in art form, with artists such as Donatello, Pollaiulo, Michelangelo and Titian creating classic works of nude art during this era.
The Nude in Later ArtThe Baroque period of the late 16th to the early 18th Centuries saw a continuation of the appreciation of the nude as seen in antiquity. Male nudes were still based on mythical heroes however this is also the era when Rubens painted his female nudes with their famed generous proportions. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the Neoclassical and Romantic movements and nude art moved away from the mythological context, setting nudes in contemporary situations thus challenging social boundaries. Manet created his infamous Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe and Gustave Courbet of the Realist movement created increasingly erotic and, at the time, scandalous works such as The Origin Of The World and Sleep. Renoir and Degas continued depicting erotic nudes in their work and nudes became more acceptable as the 20th century progressed with the appeal of the nude in art remaining strong to this day.
The History of Nude and Glamour Photography
Early Nude PhotographyAs a natural progression of the nude in art, nude photography probably began with the invention of Louis Daguerre’s ‘Daguerreotype’ photographic process in 1835. Since this method of producing images was costly, nude images were only available to artists and those with money such as the Upper Classes. Nude photographs at this time were only legally passed for artists to use as studies however surviving examples of these early Daguerreotypes depict seductive and sensual nudes, suggesting that they were in fact privately circulated as erotica or pornography. With the development of William Fox Talbot’s calotype process in 1841 it became possible to create multiple copies of images. Paris is arguably the place where trade for nude images began, with photographic studios making money by selling illicit nude images. Where there’s a will there’s a way! La Beaute was a monthly French Magazine for artists and nude images could be mail ordered as postcards to provide inspiration for life-drawings. However as we know erotic appreciation of the naked female form has an undeniable, almost innate, attraction and soon street vendors and tobacco shops were buying the images to secretly sell to the curious. Postcard size images being easily hidden in pockets! Around 1855 it become increasingly hard to prove that nude images were being created purely for artistic inspiration and at this time no more were registered as ‘académie.’ So the business of trading nude photographs had to go completely underground to avoid people being prosecuted.
The Early 20th CenturyAs camera design and image processing improved and progressed so too did the art of nude photography it also became more widespread. Early nude photographers of this era include E J Bellocq who created nude images of prostitutes in the legalized red light district of Storyville in New Orleans and Julian Mandel whose nudes in natural settings were part of the German avant-garde ‘new age outdoor’ movement. Other notable nude photographers from this era include John Everard, naturist photographer Zoltån Glass and Horace Roye.
Mid 20th CenturyThe first magazines dedicated to the nude were coyly marketed as either art or naturist publications. British weekly magazine Photo Bits was published between 1898 and 1914 and is often cited as the first ‘pin-up’ magazine and the naturist magazine Health and Efficiency, also British and still running, began in 1900. In a different style altogether the pornographic Tijuana Bibles published in America were under the counter comic books depicting nudes in cartoon form. The curious had to get their hands on whatever was available!
Nudes from 1920's, thanks to Retro Porn ArchiveIn the second half of the 20th Century the launch of Hugh Hefner’s legendary Playboy magazine in 1953 began a whole new era for nude photography. The first ever issue released in December 1953 featured a naked Marilyn Monroe on the cover and as the centrefold. Monroe’s status as a star and likeable personality helped to water down the controversial nature of the magazine and set the precedence for future female film and television personalities to pose nude for magazines. In Britain Harrison Mark’s publications included Spick and Span, Beautiful Britons and Kamera were also popular mid-century.
Both Hefner and Harrisons’ magazines featured nude and semi-nude images without a glimpse of any pubic hair however around 1965 Bob Guccione’s Penthouse magazine featured the first image of full frontal nudity complete with pubic hair – a move that was considered scandalous at the time.
The Evolution of Nude PhotographyIt was around this time that the term Glamour Photography came into use and it can be useful to consider the various paths nude photography has taken since the 1960s.
Contemporary Nude and Glamour PhotographyBy the 1970’s full frontal and pubic area focussed images were becoming more commonplace. Paul Raymond launched Men Only in 1971 and Club International the following year and it is still the Paul Raymond Publications Company that produces many of the UK’s soft publications such as Escort, Mayfair, Men’s World and Razzle to this day. Hustler magazine established in the US in 1974 by Larry Flynt became the more explicit alternative to Playboy and Penthouse.
Daily nudes gallery thanks to MC NudesBy the late 1990s however demand for magazines featuring nudes declined and sales dropped with the rise in popularity of the internet. Many of the long established ‘top shelf’ magazines now have their own website featuring nudes and also include films featuring their models. The ‘Lad Mag’ movement (Loaded, Nuts, FHM) in the UK saw a swing back to soft and glamour style nude images often featuring television personalities only known in Britain.
The Internet And Nude PhotographyThe birth and success of the internet created a surge in the rise of nude photographers, with digital imaging and the accessibility of the internet making it the place to promote nude photography and filmmaking.
Notable nude photographers presently redefining eroticism via although not exclusively through the internet include Terry Richardson, Richard Kern and Natacha Merrit to name just a few.
The rise of the internet has also seen an explosion in photographers and sites that use this medium solely as the showcase for their work. The prolific Norwegian photographer Petter Hegre created Hegre-art.com a site that updates every day with a new gallery featuring nudes and weekly with a new film. Some photographers who work in a similar way include the German photographer simply known as Jan with jannudes.com, Argentinean Walter Bosque with WalterBosque-art.com and Ron Harris with RonHarris.com.
Other internet nude art sites feature the work of several photographers and include Met Art, FemJoy and Domai. These websites and the websites belonging to the previously mentioned individual photographers all have in common a leaning towards erotic nude art as opposed to pornography, although there can be some crossover.
As the internet continues to expand, new and previously considered ‘amateur’ photographers can now, with the aid of viral marketing, get their works of nude art out for all to see. Thus showing that attitudes towards the art of nude photography have come a long way since the early days of the illicit daguerreotype nudes of the 19th Century!
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