Friday, May 27, 2011

The Friday Evening Nudes

The nudes of Edward Steichen

One of the most influential figures in the history of photography, Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was also one of the most prolific and diverse. No other photographer can claim a leading role among the Photo-Secessionists, vibrant innovation in fashion photography, chief photographer for Condé Nast's Vogue and Vanity Fair, war photography born of two world wars, signature celebrity portraiture, and the title of curator at MOMA/NY where he conceived the groundbreaking exhibition, The Family of Man, viewed by nine million people in thirty-eight countries.  more here

 Nude with Cat


In 1913 Alfred Stieglitz devoted a double issue of Camera Work to Steichen's photographs. He wrote in the magazine: "Nothing I have ever done has given me quite so much satisfaction as finally sending this number out into the world." 

(Dust Grain Sheet Fed Photogravure)

"Every artist undresses his subject, whether human or still life. It is his business to find essences in surfaces, and what more attractive and challenging surface than the skin around a soul?"
~ Richard Corliss


  1. Back from too much travel (for several weeks) and I'm delighted to find this post.

    Since one of my current obsessions is my attempts to capture what I see and love about the human form (in my life drawing studio visits), this set particularly struck me. The deliberate soft focus on many of these emphasizes the simple patterns of shadows and lights on the models. There are no lovelier shapes (to us humans) than the forms created by light on the nude. As Georgia O'Keefe discovered, there is a similar fascinating beauty in the light on bones - and that makes sense since bones play a major role in the beauty of any figure, as well. In the seated nude (in front of the small mirror) notice the way the figure is defined by the elbows, the shoulders, the hips, and (most of all) the spine. All bones which the body is stretched around, or from which the shapes of the body are suspended. Gravity, tension of muscle and skin, and the give and take of masses at rest and at work on the leverage of the skeleton. And those tensions and forms in repose in concert make up the language we read as emotions. The human face, of course, as well as the human hands, carry out these same complex relationships at another level entirely, allowing even more detailed communication of feelings and information. But those are also collections of tensed and relaxed muscles over bones.

    I particularly love the dimples in the lower back of the last model in this series. Steichen was obviously fascinated with them, too, since he deliberately lit the form to their best advantage. Somehow they create another whole layer of connection and response to the complex basket formed by the human hips, and the amazing column of grace which is the human spine.

    And I completely agree with the final quote in the post...

    Now picture these in color. They would not work as well because the color would distract us from the message. It's the same experience I have when I see a white car on the highway, and realize that I am realy seeing the shape of the automobile, and it's relationship to the dark windows.

  2. A nice review, Gina. All are impressive portraits. I think the last woman could join the satyr's party in your banner.

  3. the works are so honest. he did it all without photoshop and textures. imagine that. he and Stieglitz have been an inspiration since forever and probably my favorite photographers. thanks for sharing these amazing amazing photos. I could look at them forever.

  4. Again, I learned something new. I love your art history posts. The photos themselves are striking to say the least. What I noted was the soft focus. Not everything has to be razor sharp to get great results.

  5. These are beautiful in their simplicity and are inspiring me to put some time into photographing people.

    I know, that's a stretch from landscapes and macros, but I'm imagining I'll learn something which will translate to my other work. Besides, I love the human form, and can't help smiling when I dive into its details.

    Thanks for yet another view of the broader world - you've been gracing me with that for half my life now!


  6. They are superb Sphinx. I wish I could do portraits of that calibre.

    Thanks for the info about Leonora Carrington

  7. Beautiful selection! The top image is my favourite.

  8. What he captured with these soft focus views is the essence of female beauty. In these ephemeral yet substantial images, he forces us to stop and see a moment of transcendence in human form.

    Thanks for another wonderful collection.

  9. Steve - I thought of your figure drawing classes when I was deciding what to put up for the Friday Nudes. I also looked at a lot of drawings of nudes that I saved to a folder and I'll be featuring those in the near future.

    Again, you bring so much to these posts and always enthusiastically await your comments!

    I have been loving the ink and marker drawings you've been making lately. The one of the boutique is amazing! I need to go back to look at it again!

    Jack - :-D I like to believe that the party is actually the nymphs! I'm sure if I let my imagination go wild, I could come up with quite a story for that one. As far as I'm aware, there is no specific myth being depicted in Nymphs and Satyr.

    Becky - I found the history of the fotogravure so interesting. So much more of an art PROCESS. The history of photography as an art form fascinates me. So many more photography masters to explore and not not enough time!

    Yogi - the fuzzy focus is something I would have no idea how to achieve with my fancy point-and-shoot unless I fogged up the lens really well! These are amazing, aren't they?

    CR - I'd love to see you start looking at people as photo subjects. I look forward to it! Our daughters, please! :-)

    Jams and JM - thanks for stopping by!

    Susan - beautifully said. Thank you, my friend!


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