Originally published at: https://library.hrmtc.com/2018/06/06/the-history-of-the-nude-in-photography/
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The History of the Nude in Photography by Peter Lacey.
Given the purpose of the book, I suppose it’s no indictment to say I enjoyed the pictures far more than the text. Still, it’s despite the fact that the mass paperback page format is probably not conducive to best enjoyment of the images. Here’s a typical and telling sample of the prose:
“Photographic revelations of the nude will never be exhausted as long as both photographers and their audience are determined to find the meaning of the nude wherever and however she may manifest herself.” (209)
Despite such allusions, Lacey provides very little “meaning” for a reader to take away from this volume. “The nude” is always “she,” and no male nudes are included or mentioned. Similarly, the reproductions are all in black and white, presumably from black and white originals, although the author never discusses the issue. Perhaps color photography is an innovation beneath his notice?
This book claims to be the first ever dedicated to its topic. The whole is organized as a chronological survey, providing samples of the work of about twenty photographers from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th. The styles of composition and production vary dramatically, and Lacey does include some helpful discussion of the changes in technique, as well as the cultural setting of the photographic enterprise.