Monday, December 5, 2016

The Nude as Form

From the research that I did regarding Edward Weston's photograph Nude, I came across a viewpoint that photographs of nude women cannot be taken by men with only a focus on form. This is apparently because men cannot take sexuality out of a photograph at all; I set out to disprove this idea. I explored this theme of form-focused art and found connections between this theme and Weston’s still-life photographs as well as his nudes. Through these studies I conclude that his focus was, in fact, the form of figures and not an objectified sexuality. I believe this is due to Weston’s masking of the identities of his models, the specific forms and compositions that are meticulously thought out by the artist. He gives his figures a sense of nudity and not nakedness in that the figures nudity in the composition is necessary to achieve emphasis on form. This is also evident in some of the artist’s children’s works especially Brett Weston's underwater series and Kim Weston’s photograph Infinity Nude. Similarly, Irving Penn’s nude is distorted making it mimic an abstract landscape that is seen in Weston’s Nude as well. Finally Edgar Degas’ print contorts the body and directs the viewer to see something more than a nude figure. All of these works are by men and consist of nude women and I argue that all of them are form focused and they are not as sexually charged as some argue due to their emphasis on crafted forms and parallels to inanimate objects or settings.

1. Edward Weston, Nude, 1925, Gelatin silver print, 2005.100.142

In Nude by Edward Weston there is a highly abstracted body shown through a deep, tonal range photograph. On first glance the photograph looks to be that of a land form due to its highlights and shadows coupled with precise cropping just above the shoulder blades and below the buttocks. It takes a minute to see the figure as a body and it is even harder to determine the sex of the figure. The photograph is taken in a way that any sexuality identifiers are hidden by the cropping or the placement of the body. Because this composition was so carefully constructed to hide the identity of the model the focus must be solely on form and not subject.

2. Brett Weston, Untitled (Underwater Nude), 1979, Gelatin Silver print, location unknown

This work by Brett Weston, Untitled (Underwater Nude), is one work of a large series and it features an ambiguous shape that is likely a female, outlined through a silhouette shadow underneath while the ripples of light from the surface of the water project onto the plane of her back. The photograph has an element of uncertainty similar to Nude in its distinct close cropping where every sexual identifying marks are removed and the viewer is left to figure out what they are looking at. While the figure shown is clearly nude, it is not an erotically charged photograph; the focus is almost entirely on form rather than an erotic body.

3. Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30, 1930, Gelatin silver print, 57.519.11

Pepper no. 30 by Edward Weston is photograph that focuses on a voluptuous, abstract shape that at first glance may be confusing but after reading its title and closer examination, the object’s identity is revealed to be a bell pepper. Weston loved to play around with the mystique and the ambiguity of the form of objects, while revealing their beauty such as the smooth rounded forms found in his other works. This pepper is a great example and and through this, the viewer witnesses insight into the mind of Weston and how he focuses on the sensuous angles of still life objects. He is transforming the focus from being on the identity of the bell pepper to a more form focused piece.

4. Edward Weston, Nude, 1936, Gelatin silver print, Art Institute of Chicago

Edward Weston’s 1936 Nude, is an example of how Weston tranforms the body into a complex shape. The focus of the photograph is not on the model's face or sexuality due to the fact that both of these are obscured. Given that these characteristics are not present, to the extent that we do not even know for certain the gender of the model, the focus must be purely on form. The limbs all weave through each other which creates a complex shape in the composition. So while in Pepper no. 30, Weston was trying to transform the pepper into something more sensual, he is turning the human figure into something less sensual and more of a form in the photograph.

5. Irving Penn, Nude No. 58, 1949-1950, Gelatin silver print, 2002.455.21

In Irving Penn’s work Nude No. 58, we see a similarity to edward weston's Nude in that it is a contorted figure that looks more like a landscape than a human. This shows the emphasis on the form and not the sexuality of the model, especially since the viewer is not aware of the gender of the person in the photograph. The precise cropping, as the contortion of the body, and composition of the photograph leave the viewer with a puzzle to piece together about the meaning of the photograph. The focus is undoubtedly on form, given that any sexual identification of the model is masked. The carefully thought out contortion of the body makes it look less like a figure and more like a landscape.

6. Kim Weston, Infinity Nude, 2015, Gelatin silver print, Exposed Gallery

In Infinity Nude, by Kim Weston there is a abstracted body shape that the viewer can identify as a female, laying a concrete platform overlooking a vast landscape. The shape of the figure mimics the stream in between the mountains through the curvature of the whole body. The criss-crossed tiles copy the mountain range as well in the way that the tiles create peaks similar to the mountains. The figures face is obstructed from view and her elbows and visible facial features create the same crests and valleys that are in the mountain range. These similarities give the composition balance and it also solidifies the focus is that the body is a naturalistic form of nature and not a sexualized one.

7. Edward Weston, Nude, 1927, Gelatin silver print, 2005.100.713

In Edward Weston’s Nude (1927), he shows two smooth forms that push into the composition. Upon closer inspection we understand that these are legs, and they copy a lot of the qualities that his photos of still life objects do. It is almost impossible to deny that this is focused on form because of what is depicted and how much the viewer sees. The viewer sees two knees, halfway up the calf and thigh, this cannot be a sexually charged piece because the focus is on one of the more unsexualized parts of the body. This photograph looks far more like mountains cascading into a calm body of water than it does the knees of a person, and I believe Weston does this on purpose. This photograph is another case of Weston choosing form over sensuality and it supports that his whole body of work does as well.

8. Edgar Degas, After the bath, woman drying her back, 1896, Gelatin silver print, Getty Museum

In Edgar Degas piece After the bath, Woman drying her back he depicts a contorted female figure with a towel pushing off into the shadows. The main emphasis of this piece is the juxtaposition between smooth and rippled plains. Reading left to right we see as the minimal smooth forms becoming twisted, cascading and ruffled. The back of the figure copies the towel below it creating a visual argument for emphasis on form. In the photograph, the central focus is not of her nude buttocks as everything below the waist is a lot less defined. The clearest part is actually the back with the deep-cutting muscles and the deep rolls in the fabric she holds. This focus means that the emphasis is on the contortion and shape of the figure and not necessarily the fact the figure is nude.

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