The Photographic Nude

I had the great pleasure of hanging out with a fellow blogger yesterday. Dave Levingston, photographer of Exposed for the Shadows, was in town visiting. He and I were lucky to find a few mutually convenient hours to meet at the Met on a positively gorgeous New York afternoon. Dave was most interested to see the “Naked before the Camera” exhibition and I was delighted to see it with him. The show explores the history of photographic nudes, from the earliest examples of the 1800s to the present.

I’ve learned that it’s advantageous to see a photography exhibit with a photographer. They share with you their passion and enthusiasm, and provide opinions and insights that not even the informative wall texts can offer. Dave was no exception. The man knows his stuff.

Because all the photographs belonged to the Met’s own collection we were allowed to take pictures, which I did. But as I prepared this blog post I found that the images on the exhibition page were really amazing. So the choice was between my crappy pics with glares and glass reflections all over the place, or the superb resolutions on the museum site. Kind of a no brainer. I’ve chosen just a few which I admired for various reasons, but do visit the selected works as there is much more to see.

[Seated Female Nude]  Eugene Durieu

Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1853-54

[Two Standing Female Nudes]  Felix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin

Daguerreotype, ca. 1850

[Thomas Eakins and John Laurie Wallace on a Beach]  Thomas Eakins

Platinum print, ca. 1883

Nude No. 57,  Irving Penn

Gelatin silver print, 1949-50

10 thoughts on “The Photographic Nude

  1. violinhunter says:

    Practice makes perfect. I noticed that the sophistication of the photos increased as we got closer to the present. There is more expression in the more recent photos. However, I think that from about 1990 forward, the “boundaries” for what can be expressed (and shown) have sort of disappeared. It has also become possible for photographers to do nude self-portraits. Witness Erica Simone in public. Her work is not the usual studio portrait. There is another New York artist who does nude self-portraits but I do not remember who she is. You are lucky to live in New York Claudia. 🙂

    • artmodel says:


      Photography has evolved that’s for sure! I really enjoying looking at the earliest prints, they fascinate me.

      Yes, I am lucky to live in New York 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  2. Dave says:

    I really enjoyed seeing the exhibit in your illustrious company. Great conversation. It was great to see you again, as always. Thank you!

  3. Bill MacDonald says:

    It’s ironic — you would expect to connect more easily with a nude subject than a clothed one yet, when there is a feeling that comes from the person, it often seems to be defensive or confrontational. Removing the clothes does not necessarily seem to promote artistic intimacy. I think that the photographic nude is the perfect subject for many contemporary artists, if for no other reason that it often seems to be so innately disquieting.

    • artmodel says:


      You make such an interesting point. A lot of black and white nude photography lacks warmth, and maintains a certain distance between the viewer and the subject. I usually take from it an appreciation of the lighting and the forms. You used the word “disquieting”, and that is very applicable to some of the other works in this show that I didn’t choose for the post. They are on the exhibition page. Absolutely, simply stripping the clothes off a human subject is not enough to create intimacy. it’s so much more than that.

      Thanks for your comments!


  4. You’ve piqued my curiousity – using the above photographs as fodder, what are some things that you and your friend noticed that aren’t immediately obvious? I particularly like the last image and the personality of the model’s belly.

    • artmodel says:


      The last image, the Irving Penn, is a powerful one. The daguerreotype of the two nude women I found striking because it is so old (1850!) and the models are presented in such an explicit fashion. It’s full-frontal and candid. I thought that was astonishing even though it was created in the privacy of a photography studio.

      I liked the first picture, the seated female, not just because it’s a lovely, pleasing image in terms of light and composition, but because the detail of the braid in her hair makes her more of an individual woman. At first glance the photo seems like just another gauzy old picture of a woman, but you look carefully and see the braided hair, and it suddenly changes. For me at least.

      And I chose the Eakins for a few reasons: he was a pioneer in photographic work, the composition and stances of the male models is a little strange, and it’s a platinum print which is photographically unique in its luminosity and tonal qualities. See how it contrasts with the Irving Penn below?

      Hope this adequately explained my choices. Thanks for your comments and interest!


  5. fredh1 says:

    There’s something about black and white photography, the way it captures light in salts of silver, that is still magical to me even after more than 150 years of photography and in this age of full color digital wizardry. It’s alchemy. I especially find original daguerrotypes uncanny – like a moment from the past is preserved in smoke on a mirror, and it breathes! Thanks for sharing your great selections.

    • artmodel says:


      I am so with you about the daguerreotypes. You described it perfectly with “preserved in smoke or mirror”. I think they are my favorites of the early photographs. Funny story, when I was at the exhibit I was taking my own pictures – or trying to! – and when I was taking a picture of the daguerreotype above (the two women) I stopped because I kept seeing my own reflection! And I didn’t even know why at first. “Why am I seeing myself??” LOL. Then I realized, “Duh!’.

      What an incredible evolutionary journey photography has taken, yes? All the guys in the 1800s who worked with plates and metals, I wonder what they would think of today’s digital photography and Photoshop!

      Thanks for your comments, Fred 🙂


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