Paris Nudes

I’ve written in the past about the history of nude photography, and Paris was certainly one of the major centres of production of ‘academies‘, those early nude figure studies, ostensibly made for the education of artists, but in fact gratifying a rather wider section of the middle-class male population.

The exhibition ‘Books of Nudes: an anthology‘ at the MEP until 6 Jan, 2008, shows work from the astonishing collection of Alessandro Bertolotti of published nudes gathered over 30 years (and those unable to visit the show may be interested in the catalogue or the book, Books of Nudes, published by Harry Abrams, which is the English version – and rather cheaper.)

It is a splendid collection, and a book that might well go on Christmas lists for photographers – and those with an interest in the subject. But although it is a great source of material – particularly work by lesser-known photographers – I found the organisation and exhibition text less than satisfying.

The work is organised on a chronological basis, and this allows for a reasonably sensible grouping and analysis of work in the early years, but begins to fall apart early in the twentieth century. When it came to the section covering work in the period immediately after 1945, it is clear that it breaks down completely, lumping together work such as Bill Brandt‘s with work that I would dismiss as ‘glamour’ rather than nude. And things can only get worse.

I’ve always refused to write about or feature ‘glamour’ photography. To me it is just a dishonest sibling of pornography. Of course porn covers a very wide range of material, some of which truly disgusts me – and I think it is more than a matter of taste. So-called ‘glamour’ merely saddens me to think that there are some who find it glamorous. It is the artificiality I object to, not any nudity.

We each have our boundaries, and our interests. I’d be quite happy never to see another picture of a ‘celebrity’, with or without clothing. Although there was nothing in the show I’d want to see banned there was certainly some material which I think the show would have been better without.

But there is plenty there of interest, including fine work I’d not seen before, for example by Germaine Krull, as well as much by photographers I’m familiar with and have written about, including Man Ray, (select ‘Nude‘ in the Themes drop-down), Willy Ronis, Jan Saudek, (but not Sara) and many more.

Peter Marshall

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.