Monday, December 28, 2009

The Nude as Art Work

I love getting photography books as gifts. This year was no different. The one that I received worth a comment is "Nude Visions" from the German art book publishers Kehrer Verlag. Most of the photographs are part of the vast photography collection at the Münchner Stadtmuseum. This book is a catalog of over 200 nude photographs spanning the history of photography and including many great photographers.

At first glance, I was excited to see a collection of photographs that explore the human figure as so many artist have over the millennia. My anticipation was that this volume would take a look at photographs that treated the human form as a beautiful object to be admired and rendered with light and shadow that celebrates the figure. Yes and no.

The book is just what it intends to be; a catalog of nude photographs. Yes, there are many pictures from artists that reproduce images modeled from the great master painters, and many that explore the human form in modern ways (Edward Weston, Willy Zielke, Lucien Clergue). My disappointment comes from the many photographs that are without aesthetics, that are clinical in their presentation of the nude. Photographs taken where the figure might as well be a piece of furniture instead of a beautiful sculptural object. These are the ones I skipped over in search of the unique vision. And, they do exist throughout the book.

The photographs that are true works of art are indeed magnificent. Many are worth spending time studying and enjoying both the art of the image and the form of the figure. There are many photographers that I was not familiar with that had stunning images; Rudolf Lehnert & Ernst Landrock and Franz Grainer from the 1920's, or Marianne J. Leissl from the 1930's. And there were wonderful discoveries; Josef Breitenbach, Ed van der Elsken, and Gerhard Vormwald.

On balance, I rate the book a B. I am glad to have it in my library.