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Challenge for Pictures in a Series: Motif or Concept Portraits of Nudes

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Maris,

I'm honored and moved that you've given so generously of your time to comment on the process of making nude pictures and the value of working with vision and an eye on beauty for its own sake. To show Courbet's epic work in this thread is both generous and an added treat!

I’ve been looking at your pictures of Larva and Marcia and thinking about the critiques you are getting. Here are some digressive musings:

On first look the complementary picture that jumps into my mind is Gustav Courbet's 1866 painting "Le Sommeil".
Le Sommeil​

I heard that the local police planned to issue a citation to the gallery owner for the showing of two women in bed together. So we're always on the cusp of the carnal being considered before the esthetics! Still, expression of ideas is part of art and being 3 score and 10, I want to live a truthful life and besides showing life as it is, I enjoy expressing ideas, both for the metaphors and as expressions of beauty for its own sake.

I like the challenge of making pictures so large that folk can experience the presence in the room as if the image is part of reality. So the picture must work from a distance and up close too.

We're so spoiled with digital imaging in that it's not just the nature of the subject that writes the images itself, but manipulations after the fact that dominate the process. In balance, I seek to get closer to the presence of the original subject with as little work afterwards as possible So the 5DII becomes it's sketch pad.

If something like this is your underlying theme then an 8x10 film shoot (in colour, no less) is a monumental undertaking. Combining a strong theme, high production values, runaway costs for studio, models, film, processing, post-production, and perhaps exhibition is like jumping in at the deep end. I would not have the courage to attempt it. My usual working pattern is one amateur model, outdoors, natural light with maybe a reflector, no assistants, and no costs except for film, photographs for the model, and lunch.
I am fortunate that my wife fully supports my new work and even the hiring of a part time assistant. I have been engaged to shoot a new opera, "Crescent City", so I need an assistant anyway. I have found Yeney, herself a photographer, who will help out. What this does is allow work on setting up lighting and adjustments to be made without getting sidetracked and tired before the model is even ready! Also, it helps to have another woman present, making everyone comfortable and more able to concentrate on the creative process.

The nude remains an eternal metaphoric space in which aspects of the human condition can be explored and commented upon. The unclad figure, taken out of humdrum context, becomes every-man or every-woman at any time or at all times. If you have a broad visual statement to make about humanity, uncluttered by the here-and-now, the particular, and the picayune, then the nude is what you should use.

It is a blessing born of long tradition that most people are familiar with the nude in art. They can accept the surface view, "this is so and so with their clothes off", and then pass beyond to read the underlying message. The tension between the nude as carnal and the nude as sublime has existed for a long time. Praxiteles (4th Century BCE) knew this when carved his Aphrodite for the city fathers of Knidos and employed his mistress, the famous courtesan Phryne, as the model. The city fathers were embarrassed (some knew Phryne "commercially") and grumpy but they paid Praxiteles fee and the statue became the most famous Aphrodite ever. Photography can likewise celebrate the clash between eros , as felt, and logos, as thought, and it can do it with wit and wisdom.

The second celebration of the nude that will never run dry is celebration of real beauty for its own sake. I think of "What a piece of work is man... Hamlet, Act 2, scene II" and assert that if we cannot admire our common humanity at its best then we fully deserve the miseries of body-denying asceticism. Heaven forfend! Beauty beyond the cliches of fashion and celebrity is everywhere and everywhere fading. The photographer's tout accosting women in the street with "C'mon luv have yer pitcher done. You'll never look more beautiful than today" spoke more truth than he knew. The ancient tombstone inscription "As you are now so once was I. As I am now you soon shall be" is grimly true as well. It is absolutely legitimate to use the photographic time machine to capture beauty in the here and now, a face , a nude, a sentiment carnal or chaste, and defend it against an uncaring past and an uncertain future.

Asher, don't worry too much about the lighting unless you are pandering to a client's expectations; or if you seeking acclaim by matching the lowest common denominator of popular acceptance. Trust your own eye. If it looks right it is right. I reckon it is often forgotten in the arts that a competent artist in command of their medium cannot, even in principle, be wrong. The lighting becomes right by the fact of you having chosen it. The audience's role is not to fret "Why is the light wrong?" but rather enjoy "Why is the light right?!"
Beautifully written and a lot to learn from. Thanks!

I'm glad you may be able to work with nudes in your personal studio. It is a big advantage to have your own set-up, equipment, and necessaries nearby and familiar. And it is a hazard also. Do you really want to bring your work home? How far do you mix art and life? The history of nude photography is punctuated by cautionary examples. Maybe Flora Weston should have said "No nudes" to Edward in Mexico or elsewhere. Maybe Georgia O'Keefe should have kept Alfred Stieglitz from photographing and seducing Rebecca Strand while Paul was away on assignment.

My casual observations of photo-culture indicate photographers and nude models have sexual encounters more often than chance would allow. And it’s not through severe moral laxity from either party. People who model nude tend to be attractive, to be self-aware, and to be confident in projecting their attractiveness. Photographers tend to be highly responsive to that same visual attractiveness. (That's why they become photographers in the first place.) The scene is set and human nature sometimes follows through. Harm or no, audiences titter.
I'd be honored if the models were so moved, but I doubt I'll be at risk! Still, one could fantasize.

There are exemplary figures in the art of the nude: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, all serious and intellectual, and Helmut Newton, all fun and naughty games, who never jumped the camera (ok, AFAIK). But even here a suspicion of prurience clings. It comes with the territory, it’s often unfair, and some people can’t abide it. Ansel Adams never photographed nudes but enjoyed looking at Edward Weston’s efforts.
I was photographing for editorial work a female photographer. She was fully clothed, wearing a large summer hat and sitting on steps in my house under a skylight. To my surprise, the front door opened and my daughter-in-law entered with my 3 year old grandson. She was aghast! "What on earth's going on here! Is Wendy here? Does she know what you're doing, granpa Asher?"

So if that's the reaction when the lady is dressed, Lord help us if she were not!

A photograph of the nude is a conspiracy between the model and the photographer. It is not iron-clad certain, Asher, when you work with Larva and Marcia who rules. Perhaps the ladies are performance artists who culminate their art by inveigling a man with a camera, a factotum, to give their talent permanent form.
Maris, you may be more correct than you might imagine. It's like a "threesome". The two models work to be comfortable together. The man does not have sole authority if one wants to permit creative iterations to occur. In fact, I like to call a shoot a collaboration, although, I still claim sole authorship as far as the finished product. I design the ideas and they respond. Sometimes, they contribute new twists that fit really well. That's the benefit of having good models with a background in drama, ballet or the arts.

Asher, good luck with your project. There may be costs: financial, intellectual, social, repute even, but I reckon it’s worth it.

Enough musings. We both have pictures to make.
Thanks for your encouragement. Yes, we have work to do. Even brilliant ideas are 10 a penny. Actually getting projects finished is much, much rarer.

Asher
 

Rachel Foster

New member
Asher, I think I need to explain that the body snatchers comment was merely a feeling that I've become "someone else," in my approach to art, someone with far more expertise and understanding than I ever thought I would have. That's largely due to what I've learned here.


When looking at the images, I was unsure of how to process it. (So, you see, I still have much to learn.) I feel like I need to know more about what you intended with these images before I can react to them. I see two women, one or both nude, in an intimate position. In the first one, the positions are a bit unnatural. In fact, the clad woman looks either like a mannequin or a a corpse. In the second, she appears more alive, and her body language is suggesting tenderness while the second woman is posed to suggest pain. The third looks post-coital.

There is too much here, too much of a story, for me to evaluate without some guidance. As it is, I'm left unsettled and unsure. So...arc of intent matters for me, anyway.
 

Doug Kerr

Well-known member
Hi, Asher,

Wonderful commentation to augment a wonderful essay. What teamwork!

Best regards,

Doug
 

Doug Kerr

Well-known member
Hi, Rachel,

When looking at the images, I was unsure of how to process it. (So, you see, I still have much to learn.) I feel like I need to know more about what you intended with these images before I can react to them. I see two women, one or both nude, in an intimate position. In the first one, the positions are a bit unnatural. In fact, the clad woman looks either like a mannequin or a a corpse. In the second, she appears more alive, and her body language is suggesting tenderness while the second woman is posed to suggest pain. The third looks post-coital.

There is too much here, too much of a story, for me to evaluate without some guidance.
Don't sell yourself short - I think you read the shots very well.

Best regards,

Doug
 

charlotte thompson

Well-known member
Asher

well! I did miss this not here so much anymore work work but glad I saw this

for me it's #3 all the way
it has emotional passion and life-
it is human!
the colors alone spell that out
way to go!

Charlotte-
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Asher

well! I did miss this not here so much anymore work work but glad I saw this

for me it's #3 all the way
it has emotional passion and life-
it is human!
the colors alone spell that out
way to go!

Charlotte-
Charlotte,

We did miss you! glad to have yo visit my new work. Working with models is unlike working with ordinary folk that want to be presented at there best. These talented professionals try to express the compositional ideas of the photographer. So it's really a collaborative work and very different from portraits, editorial or promotional pictures of people.

Thanks for your kind comments.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
In this case, my photographs were influenced by the tragic loss of the gift to our civilization of John Lennon, his last picture with Yoko Ono and the art of Annie Leibovitz who memorialized their wonderful relationship. Now I want to admit the art that has influenced me. I have tried to post the lineage of my pictures, even when I didn't realize a previous work that inspired me. Read this new thread here, where you are invited to show your own work and the art that it pays homage to.

Asher
 
Asher,

In the first image, I'm struck by the woman that is a little rigid and clothed. Her skin seems so pale and she so lifeless. The nude's skin, to the contrary seems very alive and colorful. I get the impression that the nude girl is her child or lover and I get a sense of weeping or sadness. I see her touching her hand and neck softly. Is the clothed woman dying or is it just her love for the other that is dying. She seems gone. The one on top in deep emotional agony.


I also get this same impression in the second one, where the person on her back is obviously not dead but perhaps dying. The other is weeping. The one beneath seems to be reassuring her that everything will be alright, not to worry. They both have a sense of the nude being either a child or lover and not wanting to let go.

The third photo although beautiful does not give me exactly this same impression. The woman beneath seems quite alive, she seems to be soothing the other; the girl on top. The girl on top seems calm except for the hand that is reaching for the other's neck. That hand to me feels a little stiff and out of place.

In all three images the person on top gives the sense of holding on and not wanting to let go.

As for inspiration from Yoko/John, I definitely see it. My first impression of their portrait is of John hanging on to his beakon of light, Yoko. The person that keeps him sane. Of course, the fact that John dieds that night is almost like a premonition of what is to happen. He, nude, without any possessions (like in Imagine) ready to leave this world yet one last long kiss for his love. She, ready for a harsh world without him. Do your images have similarities, yes, very much, although in yours, for me anyways, the one leaving this life is the one that is clothed and the nude is the one left to weep.

I'm not an art connoisseur and can only give you my humble reaction to your photos. They are beautiful, by the way. I attempted to give here my sense of the story without any hint of what you were attempting to achieve without any preconceptions.
:)
Maggie
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Maggie,

I appreciate so much the time you have taken to describe your experiences with my pictures in this series. I value your readings of the stories that might be the groundwork for these pictures. This means to me that the pictures work and allow you to bring to it's reaction with you your own imagination. I like your interpretations. The pictures that will follow liberate the woman on the right from this relationship and explore her involvement with inanimate objects in her life.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I will continue the essence of this thread but exploring the use of objects for Marcia to relate to instead of Larva, the second model!

The new thread is located here

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I am a bit late, but I think I should point out Malerie Marder's Carnal Knowledge.
Thanks so much Jerome for looking at my work and for pointing me to Malerie Marder's fine exhibition. Her work is transformed when it's black and white and seems strangely distant, becoming less erotic and more documentary.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I really should look for more from this shoot. I had no intention of even doing this work. Just that in a LF get together, only one guy was willing to pay towards the models. Since i had covered travel and hotel and guaranteed the hours of work, I thought, hmmm, why don't I shoot by myself for a few hours. Hence this work. I discovered I preferred doing nude compositions rather than working in a group and having to wait my turn! Now this is part of my regular week.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
So, I am reviving this thread as once again it involves two women. But unlike the previous two, these are just friends, not models.

19269BFE-D20C-41D3-8191-E1EB85FE3BF7.jpeg

Asher Kelman: “Muses”
I enjoyed working with these two women as they genuinely values one another.
Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
EE25C962-E912-4634-AC27-C732535F33A4.jpeg


Asher Kelman: “Bathing a Muse”
The woman on the left is a wonderful German physician studying here who visited that day.

I was photographing Kate and she volunteered to assist!

Asher
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
So, I am reviving this thread as once again it involves two women. But unlike the previous two, these are just friends, not models.


I enjoyed working with these two women as they genuinely values one another.
4EA23BA9-ACCC-4C80-820B-312082FBBC29.jpeg

Asher Kelman: “Muses”
I find that picture very nice. If you read the beginning of this thread, my objection about the first picture was that the model lying on her back looked tense and that the pose was not convincing. This pose is just the opposite. We can only see the attitude of the woman on the left-hand side, but her protecting pose looks quite convincing. Her hands and arms are relaxed, the expression on her face is consistent with the idea that she would just have noticed us and turned her head.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
View attachment 8795
Asher Kelman: “Muses”
I find that picture very nice. If you read the beginning of this thread, my objection about the first picture was that the model lying on her back looked tense and that the pose was not convincing. This pose is just the opposite. We can only see the attitude of the woman on the left-hand side, but her protecting pose looks quite convincing. Her hands and arms are relaxed, the expression on her face is consistent with the idea that she would just have noticed us and turned her head.
Thanks for your great attention and the sense of vindication in my working with true friends who really care for one another!

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Jérôme,

As to the first picture in the thread:

0655BD17-A3F4-44BC-A828-C97D5F9155AE.jpeg

You are quite right about the clutter at the top! That was agarage door partially covered with cloth and the cloning then was crude and quick, merely sketched in and not used for the actual prints.

The pose is meant to be ambiguous between life and death!

Asher
 
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