Even before film was invented, early portrait photographers first discovered the exhilarating pleasure of exposing nude images on silver copper plates. Since then, the male gaze has largely influenced how bodies are rendered in print media.
Many of the most iconic body images have been taken by men—think a tender black-and-white photo of your muse Edward Weston or Mario Sorrenti’s erotic ad campaign with Kate Moss for Calvin Klein. Meanwhile, pioneering women like Imogen Cunningham or Ana Mendieta were given less space, who turned their lenses on themselves.
But a new exhibition at Fotografiska New York features 30 contemporary female artists who offer a new take on the nude form as a symbol of beauty, self-expression, identity, eroticism or politics — and not just the slender female forms overrepresented in the media, but a range of cis- , non-binary and trans figures of all skin tones and body types.
“Jackie and Megan” (2019) Bettina Pittaluga Credit: New York photography
Linking countless images is a sense of human connection, from French photographer Bettina Pittaluga’s alluring portraits that welcome the viewer into the homes of her characters, to Israeli-American photographer Elinor Carruci’s candid documentation of her marriage as she and her husband age.
“Historically, the female perspective has been excluded from this narrative of what the nudity means and how it should be shown,” said Amanda Hajjar, the museum’s director of exhibitions, in a telephone interview. The show previously ran at a museum in Stockholm and was curated by Johan Wikner.
In Nu, the body is not just an object of desire, but a repository of power, wisdom, and intimacy; transition marker; and a place of history and violence.
Tranquilo (2016) Dana Scruggs Credit: New York photography
Australian photographers Prue Stent and Honey Long captured the vibrant and playful images of women wrapped in fluttering cotton candy, imbued with the magic and vitality of life. Japanese photographer Momo Okabe captures intimate nude portraits of her transgender friends and acquaintances, using intense neon lighting to heighten emotion. American photographer Dana Scruggs focuses on the beautiful subtlety of dark skin and the elegance of the naked male body, both of which are rarer in fine art and editorial images. And Swedish photographer Arvida Byström questions how objects and colors are coded as feminine through daring social media-savvy images.
A photograph of Arvida Byström, taken in 2016, is presented at the Nude exhibition. Credit: New York photography
There are also installations, videos and performance-related works, the latest of which includes photographs of Nigerian artist Genevieve Aken, who speaks out against violence and injustice against women by taking on the spiritual form of “Beauty Elvira”, a 22-year-old girl. An Italian girl who was murdered in a village near Pisa 75 years ago and whose case has never been solved.
In general, women represent 20 nationalities, ranging in age from 20 to 50 years.
“What really stands out is how global this show is. There is a real understanding that Western ideals of nudity are not necessarily something that everyone in the world experiences,” Hajjar said.
“We need more African artists, Asian artists (and) South American artists at the forefront of contemporary photography.”
Nude will run until May 1st at Fotografiska New York.
Top image caption: The Shape of the Wind (2014) by Prue Stent and Honey Long.