Thursday, February 20, 2014

FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY OF THE FEMALE NUDE



Historically, the human form has fascinated artists probably more than any other subject. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the same fascination has extended to photography as well.
 
While photography has generally been accepted as a valid art form, photography of the nude to this day is struggling with that recognition.  In the view of many, it is still looked upon as sleazy and objectionable, even harmful.  No such objections exist when it comes to paintings and sculptures.  People regularly visit art galleries.  No objections are generally voiced to see nude art there.  Public spaces often display nude sculptures, no objections there either.  Yet nude photographic art is still widely rejected.  Why?

Heinz Richter

Marlies Amling

I must emphasize that the key word here is art.  Many of the great photographers have produced fine art nudes like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Helmut Newton…, just to mention a few.  Of course, just as with other art forms, some like Robert Mapplethorpe or Jeff Koonz for instance have pushed the envelope by producing images that are questionable to some, but such work should not be generalized and held against other serious photographers.

I often discuss this with my sister who is a successful professional photographer in Germany.  She is often in disbelief how much more restricted photography of this type is in the US.  For instance, in her studio she has three different display windows for her work, one of which is usually dedicated to fine art nude photography.  That is simply unthinkable in the US.

Marlies Amling

That brings up the question of what constitutes fine art nude photography.  During my 13 years of teaching photography that question regularly came up during class discussions.  Of course the definition of art in general is in the eye of the beholder.  There are no clear cut instructions to be had.

Heinz Richter

Marlies Amling

Heinz Richter

When it comes to fine art nude photography, it is quite easy to take a photograph of a person without any clothes.  That, however, is not art and should not be attempted to be presented as such.  Instead the emphasis should not be so much on nudity but on shape, form, lighting, design and composition.

That adds a considerable amount of difficulty which is further emphasized that in most cases, a similar approach with similar results has been done before.

In an interview, Kim Weston, grandson of Edward Weston, when asked about his photography in comparison to his grandfather’s said that he generally does not think about him.  He went on to say whatever kind of photograph he might attempt, “Edward has done it.”  He said he cannot take a landscape without being told that Edward has done it, he virtually cannot photograph anything without the constant reminder that Edward has done it.

Marlies Amling

The same is the case with fine art nude photography.  Regardless of the outcome, someone most likely has done it before and someone most likely will do it again in the future.

The best approach in my opinion is to carefully plan a fine art nude photography session and then proceed without too much attention to the work of other photographers.  Then careful selection of only the best examples with a healthy dose of self-criticism should give the assurance that the shoot was successful.  And don’t forget, the old adage the practice makes perfect still applies.

Heinz Richter

Heinz Richter

Heinz Richter

Heinz Richter

Blaine Schultz

As of late, Photoshop has opened photographic possibilities that previously were impossible or at least very difficult to achieve.  But a lot of what Photoshop has to offer, contrary to what many seem to assume, is not available merely at the push of a button.  Anyone who has ever worked with Photoshop will agree that there is a considerable learning curve; to master it certainly does not come overnight.  However, one does not need to be afraid of it.  Photoshop definitely can be learned to quite an extend simply by trial and error, although professional instructions will definitely speed up the learning process.

Opinions about the system are diverging to quite a degree.  Some see it as nothing more than a means to cover mistakes that occurred during shooting.  While many such mistakes can definitely be corrected with Photoshop, it is not a panacea to everything that might possibly go wrong.  Just as in the past, it is definitely advisable to strive to do everything correctly during a shoot.  That, of course, requires a considerable base knowledge.  As a matter of fact, Photoshop should not al all be considered a means to become a good photographer without knowing photography as such.  Composition, posing, lighting, exposure control, camera operation…., all are still as important today as they were in the past and there is little that Photoshop can do to overcome those shortcomings.

Others criticize images modified with the help of Photoshop as not original photography any longer.  A colleague of mine recently claimed that “real” photographs are only ones that are shown as they come out of the camera.  I find that rather short sighted.  Even in the past we used retouching and a variety of darkroom trickery to alter the images as they came off the negative.  It was quite common to alter the resulting photographs with changes in development, both film and paper.  We used manipulative processes like solarization, bas relief, posterization and a lot more to create images that certainly differed substantially from what the lens put on film.  Thus I find these criticisms quite out of place.

The most important part of creating a photographic image is the end result.  How we arrive at that ultimately is irrelevant.

Following are a number of images that made extensive use of Photoshop, and while the results certainly required a lot of work, it was ultimately a lot easier and less time consuming to create them with the help of Photoshop than what would have been necessary to come up with similar results during the “good old days.”

 
This Image is from an architectural photography assignment

Studio shoot of a model with very similar lighting

Combining the images rendered a great location shoot

The original image unfortunately is lost.  This image is the result of modifying the original and making three identical copies, one of which was right and left reversed and combining them in the manner shown





The three images above were combined to render this unusual result



The two base images were combined with considerable modification into this result

As I mentioned before, most topics of photography are quite difficult to do if one tries to find a different approach, something that has not been done by other photographers before.  That is especially the case with fine art nude photography.  The nude has always been a very popular theme of the arts, including photography.  Regardless of how one approaches the subject, it probably has been done in one form or another before.

I had been looking for such a different approach for a long time, and finally decided to use Photoshop to reach that goal.  The result is “Photosculptures,” where I use photographs of sculptures and combine them with photographs I have taken of models.

That might not appear to be particularly difficult.  After all, Photoshop is used to alter images in just about any imaginary way.  However, Photosculptures require a lot more than just replacing part of the sculpture with a photograph of a different person.  It is important that the pose of the model and the lighting coincide with that of the sculpture, however, it is not my intention to produce a perfect copy of the original.  Then the two images have to be carefully matched in size.  Finally, the transferred image has to be modified to match the color and texture of the sculpture.  All of this is not an easy process, and it is very time consuming.  But the end results can be quite rewarding.

This is the most difficult sculpture I modified, because it consists of three different individuals

The original, raw images of the three models, all taken with Leica equipment.

The original photograph of the three models required considerable modifications.  All had to be right and left reversed.  Then all three had to be matched in size to the size of the sculpture.  In addition, the posing angle of the models was altered to match that of the sculpture. Then, after masking off the background, the images of each model were transferred to the photograph of the sculpture.  Then each model was altered to match the white marble of the sculpture.  That included lowering the contrast of the facial features and the hair to again match the sculpture.

The finished Photosculpture

                    Original                                                                         Photosculpture

The original is a photograph of the Rolls Royce hood ornament.  Since the pose of the model was not identical to that of the sculpture, it required considerable modification of the hair flowing in the wind.

                     Original                                                                        Photoscupture

This example required a considerable amount of work.  While the poses are quite similar, the arms did not look right at all.  It required to remove the hand on the arm of the male which, in turn, required the arm of the male in the Photosculpture to be lengthened.  In addition, marble texture and color was added to the Photosculpture.

                     Original                                                                       Photosculpture

Even though the pose of the original and the model are quite similar, this example required a considerable amount of detail work.  The upper arm of the model had to be lengthened to match up with that of the original sculpture.  The wing of the swan had to be lengthened a lot to bridge the void that otherwise showed in front of the model’s face.  In addition the head of the swan needed to be moved further from the neck.  Since the position of the left arm of the sculpture and the model are quite different, a fair amount of reconstructive work was necessary to cover the arm of the original sculpture.

                     Original                                                                       Photosculpture

This example was relatively easy to convert.  However, the strong lighting of the original required close attention to the lighting of the model.

Accurate posing of the model definitely makes this kind of work considerably easier.  For that reason it is advisable to work with experienced models that are able to strike a great variety of poses and do it accurately once they see a sample of what pose is required.  I have worked with most of the models shown here on several occasions, with some of them even for several years.  That has created a very good working relationship which is also very helpful for this kind of work.

Regardless of what approach one choses to take with these types of photography, none of it will come easy.  Especially for a novice there is a lot to learn and master.  For that reason I want to invite anyone interested to rely on my experience by asking questions, whatever they might be.  I’ll gladly help.


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18 comments:

  1. Great stuff. I am amazed by the lighting, posing and Photoshop skills displayed here. Thanks for posting.

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  2. This post should have a warning that its content is NSFW and also potentially harmful to children.

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    1. Why is it potentially harmful to children?

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    2. Children should not be exposed to nudity.

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    3. That does not answer the question, but I am not surprised. I have had the same experience numerous times in the past. People are very quick to point to nude imges being harmful to children, but then fail to come up with a valid answer.
      If any of these posts are not safe for work (NSFW) depends on the attitude of the workplace in regard to art. I definitely reject the assertion that any of these images are potentially harmful for children. We are talking about the human form here, not some pornographic distortion of it. Why is it that photography is always handled differently in this regard than other forms of art. Is anybody requesting museums to post warning signs for their exhibit’s that show images or statues depicting the human form? Are such sculptures in public places required to do the same? I am a member of MIA, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I regularly see groups of school children visit the place, as a matter of fact, they regularly have a special children’s day. There are no restrictions as to which areas of the museum are open to the children, including the photography exhibits. Apparently there is no potential harm to children in a museum or in public places, why should this blog be any different?

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    4. Are you denying that nude images are harmful to children?

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    5. I usually don't answer a question with another question, but you still owe all the readers here an answer to my question as to why you think this is the case.

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    6. Children are easily exposed to pornography and other deviant depictions of the human body.

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    7. Are you suggesting that any of the work shown in this article is pornographic in nature?

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    8. I never said that.

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    9. Then why do you want a warning on this site because the content might be harmful to children?

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    10. By the way, are you asking for the same warnings at museums and other places that depict the human form by way of paintings, sculptures...?

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    11. Heinz, why waste time on this useless discussion? This individual obviously is incapable to distinguishing between art and porn. If this person has any kids, I actually feel quite sorry for them, because they obviously are growing up with some very twisted ideas about what is acceptable art and what is not. I also wonder why this person even looked at this site, the headline should have put all kinds of red flags up for him or her.

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  3. It is obvious that segments of the US population are still mired in their puritanical past. I for one think the pictures in this article are works of art, not unlike what we see in books and other publications from famous photographers the world over. I hope that the nay sayers will answer your question of why such photographs are supposedly harmful and why other works of nude art, as displayed in museums all over the world are not.

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    Replies
    1. I have asked this question on many occasions and, so far, have never received a valid answer.

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    2. I am sure you won't, especially in view of the fact that one of the major proponents of this nonsense, the Catholic church, is also one of the main culprits of actual sexual abuses. Not only that, but they continue to sweep this under the rug in most cases. Their filthy abuses make the publication of art, like on these pages, even more of a non-issue, because it begs the question of what is more harmful, pedophiles in positions of authority in a church, or the publication of art?.

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  4. Man, if you consider anything here to be porn, there is something wrong with you.

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  5. It's not the photographs here, or elsewhere that are harmful to children, it is the puritanical, out of touch with this world attitude of some individuals and parents that puts children into a utopian environment that has little connection to reality. Then, when these children enter the real world, they often have difficulties to cope with reality.

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