Spotlight: ‘Bare’




(photo by Carmen Winant)
Images of the human form have a long history in photographic practice, and with a few notable exceptions - Imogen Cunningham and Ruth Bernhard come to mind - it has predominantly been the male gaze upon the naked female body. This pattern has been preserved up until today in the form of the classic photographic nude, done in black and white.

Nudity, of course, is an amazingly loaded topic in the conservative cultural and political climate of the United States. Nudity is routinely equated with sex, a fact carefully and skillfully exploited by an unusual alliance of conservative politicians and the advertizing industry. Despite agitating towards different goals, this alliance has succeeded in cementing the idea in the minds of the American public that where there are images of the nude human form sexual activity is if not present, then mostly likely not far.


(photo by Hellen van Meene)

Needless to say, taken together with the fact that the kinds of naked people ubiquitously seen in advertizements for the most part represent idealized, artificial beauty standards, which are unattainable for the vast majority of the population, for a large number of people this development has resulted in an alienation from their own bodies, with eating disorders being an almost logical consequence.

The rise and acceptance of pornography in the cultural mainstream has added further toxins to the subject matter.


(photo by Shen Wei)

The fact that many contemporary photographers have responded to these challenges has so far not gained much exposure. Unfortunately and maybe not surprisingly, the only work that has gained any kind of wider attention has centered on pornography (for example, Larry Sultan’s “The Valley”, or Timothy Greenfield-Sander’s portraits of porn stars). The efforts of many other photographers - female and male - to portray the naked human body - female and male - in its most natural state, using subjects that do not conform to beauty standards unattainable by 95% of the population, have so far for the most part been ignored.

With ‘Bare’, a group show of photography, I have attempted to gather some of these contemporary photographers in a single exhibition space. The images in ‘Bare’ all show the naked or very lightly concealed human form, with the nudity not being the sole purpose of the images. Instead, what is to be gained from viewing these photographs emerges from the interaction between the photographer and his or her model(s) and from the underlying tensions, caused by the differences in genders - the latter being the only place where there is a hint of sexuality in ‘Bare’.

What is more, the photographs also show the human body in its many different forms, with its simple inherent beauty, a beauty we are almost surprised to find after being flooded with images of anorexic, oversexed, and overly Photoshopped models.


(photo by Alec Soth)

Bare, a group show of photography, is still on view at Michael Mazzeo Gallery (until 24 January 2009). Participating artists: Rachael Dunville, Amy Elkins, Ethan Aaro Jones, Richard Learoyd, Jennifer Loeber, Hellen van Meene, Josh Quigley, Richard Renaldi, Jessica Roberts, Alec Soth, Shen Wei, Carmen Winant