Nude art has been around for a long time. It has been documented extensively along the history of human civilization. It has been used in graphic detail in the ancient temples of India (e.g. Khajuraho) and carved into the architectures of the mid century and even modern day Europe (documented here in this great piece by the Met Museum). But as civilization progressed, the exponential rise in technology and communications (movies and the internet) was used very early on for fulfilling one of mankinds base desires. This led to an explosion of lewd and erotic nude photography and videos which gave birth to the commercial industry of pornography while darkening human sensibilities towards the very portrayal of nude images or videos and over the years we evolved into a society where public nudity is not only looked down upon, but is legally banned in many parts of the world.
Wikipedia defines nude art as ‘the presentation of a nude subject wherein the subject is not merely copied from nature, but transformed by the artist into an aesthetic object, usually without significant utilitarian, commercial (advertising, illustration), or purely decorative purposes…
Mainstream Nude Photography follows exactly the same principles defined so aptly above. Led by legendary photographers like Helmut Newton, Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz, this style abides by a completely different standard of presentation where the nude body is photographed in a moment of natural behavior or action, either staged or real, captured forever in perfect lighting and edited to perfection using the latest in technology to ‘transform’ mere humans to gods and goddesses who are to be worshipped, admired and longed after.
Modern day mainstream nude photography can be roughly split into 4 categories.
These categories do end up having quite some overlap as Art in its true sense does not ever follow clearly demarcations and ‘lanes’. That said the primary categories we see today are:
Glamour Nude Photography
This category was singlehandedly defined in the 1970’s by the legendary men’s magazine Playboy. While Playboy created the most glamorous and loud portrayal of the ‘All American Blonde’ it’s style of nude photography and portrayal of what it considered the ‘perfect female form’ also created massive segregation among women. It also led to the rise of cosmetic surgery to be most commonly associated with ‘breast implants’ as every woman in the 70’s and 80’s wanted to look like a Playboy model.
Recently however glamour nude photography is a waning style. Most glamour images, pressured by the incessant censoring by Social Media giants like Facebook and Instagram most glamour photographer tend to keep a small amount of clothing On their glamour models to make sure that these images can then be freely distributed on the main source of artistic distribution of our age… Instagram. Remnants of the Playboy era is being followed by some websites like PlayboyPlus and International editions of the publication but American Playboy has conceded to the ‘censorship’ dictates and decided to move on to the category defined above with ‘no more nude images’ on their pages.
Erotic Nude Photography
Erotic nude photography as the name suggests is captured and presented in a manner which arouses sexual thoughts or feeling in human beings. We present this as the second category in this list because Glamour nude photography mostly bleeds into Erotic nudes and is mistaken for such. Peter Hegre of Hegre Art is arguably the most accomplished and successful erotic nude photography artist in the world. His website is one of the major destinations for the seekers of erotic portrayal of some of the most beautiful women in the world. Closely following Hegre Art is another website called Met Art which by its name may suggest a relationship to the illustrious Metropolitan Museum of Art, but is quite the opposite. The portrayal of women on this site borders on pornographic if not exactly so. Unfortunately these two sites are also the major reasons of the inherent stigma surrounding Nude Photography in our times. These sites not only use the term ‘Art’ in their names and definitions, but also continue to use the term ‘Art’ in multiple photo and video content pieces where the portrayal of the female subject is solely for erotic purposes.
Fashion Nude Photography
Helmut Newton singlehandedly defined this category by mixing his love for the nude female form and his incredible skills as fashion photographer into pictorials that amazed and outraged at the same time. Gifted with an incredible range of photographic imagination, Helmut painted incredible stories with still (and mostly black & white) images which left a lasting impact on anyone who saw the pictures. While being outrageous and sexually suggestive, these images did not cross the line into eroticism. They portrayed women in a position of strength elevating her to goddess status and leaving people longing for her without any hint of crudeness.
Mario Testino, another giant of our era followed in the same line of thought and through his access to the top supermodels of the world, he managed to create the most incredible #fashionnude images that were featured on the covers and pages of some of the most popular magazines of our time like Vogue, LUI and LOVE.
Artistic Nude Photography
Artistic nude photography has long been confused with ‘fine art’ nude photography, but the scope of artistic nude photography extends far beyond the capture of black and white figure art on mostly monotonous or white backgrounds. With the advent of the digital age, artistic nude photography took wings and spread its scope and expressions into many different forms. VOLO Magazine which was founded in 2012 in the Silicon Valley of California became of the primary patron of this category of photography and helped defined this category by publishing, guiding and helping photographers around the world with defining their styles in this field.
‘Artistic nude photography is the portrayal of the nude female form in its most natural state with minimum embellishment of makeup, clothing, styling or props.’
While agreeing that Artistic Nude Photography captures the model in a most natural state, the #VOLO definition of Artistic Nude Photography takes a page from the traditional definition of art nudes and adds
‘Artistic nude images should portray the nude body in its natural state, in natural surroundings be it outdoors or indoors, capturing it with the most pleasing of angles lit in a way which showcases the body in its most beautiful form without modifying it’s truth’.
Art is beautiful and the guiding principle of Artistic Nude Photography is beauty and power. The showcase of the human body in a way where its strength, character, erotic features and even weaknesses are captured in the most pleasing of way, elevating the stature of the model is the very principle of Artistic Nude Photography that is becoming prevalent with the advent of a new generation of incredible artists like Vassilis Pitoulis, Andrey Lucas, Jeremy Gibbs , Ingo Kremmel and Dan Van Winkle to name a few. These photographers are defining and inspiring a whole new generation of artists who are understanding the subtle differences between Glamour, Erotic and Nude Art Photography and creating content which is pleasing yet controversial, beautiful yet sensual.