The way a nude is photographed can have quite an impact on the way the resulting photo is perceived.
Now, I don’t want to get involved in the (soft) porn versus fine art nude distinction in this discussion. I just want to try to demonstrate how two photos of the same model in the same photo session can give off quite different visual “connotations” depending on various factors.
In Exhibit A, we have a fairly suggestive and sex-imbued image. The pose is fairly sexual (a twisting, pelvic thrusting sort of motion) and the low lighting and smoke add a hazy aspect that sort of emulates one’s perception being distorted by drinking, drugs, or just being sexually aroused.
In Exhibit B, the model’s upper half is actually slightly more exposed than in Exhibit A, but her lower half is covered (with black tights). More than this though, the lighting is brighter (more prevalent) and the model more clearly presented (e.g., without intervening smoke). Add to this that her pose isn’t especially sexual (it just looks like she’s goofing around dancing) and that you can clearly see this is all happening on a constructed photo set…and the sexiness of the image and scene is quite reduced!
Here’s a question: which of these is more like “art”?
Both seem to have been shot without “art” being the primary goal per se; but just play along with me on this…
At first, I thought: “of course its the first one, right?” But then I thought: “well, it is if you consider ‘art’ in the classical sense in which it should be simple, aesthetically beautiful and/or painting-like”.
The problem is that “art” is a pretty loaded word and it’s culturally and time period sensitive.
In our current culture and time period, the second one may actually be considered more like “art” because it could be perceived as making a cultural statement. Also, the sexual nature of the first one (Exhibit A) steers it away from being art-like toward being more soft porn-like.
Personally, I’m not interested in taking images of the type in Exhibit A (though I took this one). I don’t know what to do with them. I know there’s a market for selling prints of “home-grown nudes” (i.e., there are collectors of these); but that’s not where I want to go with my photography.
The Exhibit B photo may not be exactly what I’m going for either, but it’s closer than Exhibit A–i.e., the Exhibit B image is closer to conveying some sort of message and not mostly being (however beautifully) about a sexy woman/model.
If I’m going to feature a nude in a photo without a message that is just supposed to be visually stunning, it’s going to be about the surrounding scene as much as the nude within the scene….which a lot of my past work with nudes has been.
Just for a contrast, here’s a more “classic art nude” photo I took that is a close-up, but tries to downplay sexuality via: a) conversion to a b&w image, and b) explicit sexual parts hidden:
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