Before film was invented, early portrait photographers first discovered the titillating pleasure of exposing images of nudes on silver copper plates. Since then, the male gaze has largely shaped how bodies are visualized in printed media.
Many of the most iconic images of the body have been taken by men – think Edward Weston’s gentle black-and-white photograph of his muse, or Mario Sorrenti’s erotic campaign of Kate Moss for Calvin Klein. Meanwhile, less space has been given to female pioneers like Imogen Cunningham or Ana Mendieta, who turned their lenses on themselves.
But a new exhibition at Fotografiska New York features 30 contemporary female artists who offer new perspectives on the naked form as a symbol of beauty, self-expression, identity, eroticism or politics – and not just the slender female forms overrepresented in media, but a range of cis, non-binary and trans figures of all skin tones and body types.
Linking the myriad imagery is a sense of human connection, from French photographer Bettina Pittaluga’s inviting portraits that welcome the viewer into her subjects’ homes, to Israeli-American photographer Elinor Carruci’s candid documentation of her marriage as she and her husband age.
“Historically the female perspective has been precluded in this narrative of what the nude body means and how it should be shown,” said Amanda Hajjar, the museum’s director of exhibitions, in a phone interview. The show previously ran at the museum’s Stockholm location and was curated by Johan Vikner.
In “Nude” the body isn’t just an object of desire, but a vessel for strength, wisdom and intimacy; a marker of transition; and a site of history and violence.
Australian photographers Prue Stent and Honey Long depict vivid, playful images of women wrapped in billowing cotton-candy fabric, tapping into the magic and vivacity of life. Japanese photographer Momo Okabe takes intimate nude portraits of her transgender friends and acquaintances using intense neon lighting to heighten emotion. American photographer Dana Scruggs focuses on the beautiful subtleties of dark skin and the elegance of the naked male form, both of which are less seen in fine art and editorial imagery. And Swedish photographer Arvida Byström questions how objects and colors are coded as feminine through cheeky, social media-literate images.
There are installations, videos and works around performance too, the last of which includes photographs of Nigerian artist Jenevieve Aken, who rallies against violence and injustice toward women by taking on the spirit form of “La bella Elvira,” a 22-year-old Italian girl who was murdered in a village near Pisa 75 years ago, and whose case was never solved.
Overall, the women represent 20 nationalities, with their ages ranging from mid-20s to mid-50s.
“What really stands out is how global this show is. There is a real understanding that Western ideals of nudity are not necessarily what everybody is experiencing in the world,” Hajjar said.
“We need more African artists, Asian artists (and) South American artists at the forefront of contemporary photography.”
“Nude” runs through May 1 at Fotografiska New York.
Top image caption: “Wind Form” (2014) by Prue Stent and Honey Long