New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 8 March 7 to 13, 2012

Nudes on Broadway

The Nude Interpreted
Ed Barnas
Un Regard Oblique, 194 by Robert Doisneau. Source:
Robert Doisneau, "Un Regard Oblique, 194" 1948

The nude is one of the classic themes of art and many photographers have attempted to capture the unadorned human form since the invention of the camera. Approaches over the years have varied in style and execution: from the early pictorialist attempts to mimic painting, to the “artist’s studies” of the late nineteenth century, to the sharp focus of modernism, and surrealist experiments in the early twentieth. The photographer’s predominantly male gaze directed the viewer’s eyes over a frequently female form, rendered anonymous with face turned away or headless (treated in a formalist manner to preclude charges of pornography). With the loosening of mores in the 1960s, the nude, while still treated as a formal element, regained an identity and could often be seen looking out at the viewer, a living presence and not just an abstraction.

The current show at Staley Wise Gallery offers the visitor a variety of interpretations of the nude, both in the studio and in natural and man-made surroundings. On display are thirty-four monochrome images from fourteen photographers, ranging from the 1930s to the present. The mix leans heavily toward those with fashion expertise. Of these, only one is a woman – Louise Dahl-Wolfe – so the male gaze predominates.

Male Nude with Tumbleweed,
Paradise Cove by Herb Ritts. Source:
Herb Ritts, "Male Nude with Tumbleweed,
Paradise Cove" 1986

Some of the images are familiar ones (e.g., by Helmut Newton and Bert Stern). But most photographers are represented by just one or two pieces that act as teasers, awakening an interest in seeing more by Herbert Matter, John Swannell and Denis Piel, among others. The earliest images on display are a pair of 1933 “Distortions” by Andre Kertesz, but the rest of the images are straightforward. Four of Horst’s classic studio male nudes appear along with a half dozen of Herb Ritts more environmental studies. Two of Ritts’ studies with tumbleweed on a beach make an interesting contrast – the female nude presents a sinuous undulation of the body while the male nude appears somewhat coy and stiff (perhaps due to the placement of the hand obscuring his genitals).

The images by Robert Doisneau seem a little out of place in this collection of mostly posed or directed subjects. In one, the nude is a statue, in another a painting (Un regarde Oblique), and in the last a dancer backstage (unposed). The prints on display are a mix of gelatin silver, platinum palladium, and archival pigment. However, the four by Wayne Maser are large-scale (35 x 58) archival pigment on butcher paper that adds a “toned” feel to his photos; his models also switch between a direct and averted gaze in the images.

A survey of the nude in photography is a difficult task given the wide variety of interpretations possible. The photographs on display at Staley Wise provide a nice beginning, but nowhere near a comprehensive overview given the limited size.

The Nude Interpreted

560 Broadway 3rd Fl
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

212 966 6223

Friday, February 3 to
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sat 11 to 5