Photo Essay

The Essence of Femininity Through the Lens Part II

We shall now look at a much more contemporary artist's portrayal of the nude, Lucian Freud (1922). Freud represents the female form in a much more sexually evocative way.

If however we look at his painting "Naked Girl" illustrated below, we view a much more sexuality based image which holds much less sensuality, we are drawn into an erotic world where femininity is dissolved and our ability to lust rather than love is much more to the point. In the image can we still recognise femininity beyond the obvious female attributes, or does our own sexual desire in itself prevent such recognition, or perhaps it is that very reaction that associates an image with femininity.

As photography gains recognition and enters with rapid steps towards acceptance as 'fine art', the techniques and approach to nude photography becomes daring as well. In between 1960-1970 feminism and psychoanalysis raised political issues regarding the female's use in imagery. The purity is almost non-existent and perhaps represented a misused approach to the female form. Saying that the photograph by the anonymous photographer, 1850, the example below was taken nearly 130 years before Cindy Sherman's composite from the series 'Sex Pictures', which brings back my question regarding femininity through the lens. How may these images be interpreted?

Take the image by the Anonymous photographer, easy to find (Anonymous, (1850) Nineteenth-Century Nude [Photograph]: Clarke, G. The Photograph, Oxford University Press, (1997, p.131)

is he trying to illustrate in a shocking way the female liberation from old conception of a role like motherhood, and through that enable the viewer to perceive the femininity of the model? Or does it make a statement that the female is just a sexual object despite any attempts at the time by women trying to gain independence from the constraints of a society that viewed them as an artefact, a possession controlled and owned by men. Victorian times may well be known as being quite liberal, but this was very much an opinion and practice held behind closed doors; it was not a societal view in any direct way.

Back to Cindy Sherman, in an interview with Wilfried Dickhoff, text below, claims she has nothing to do with politics or any relation to the female form, but her series of "Sex Pictures" in the1990s prove otherwise, see the examples below, Untitled 250, and above Untitled 255.

'I am always surprised at all the things people read into my photos, but it also amuses me. That may be because I have nothing specific in mind when I'm working. My intentions are neither feminist nor political. I try to put double or multiple meanings into my photos, which might give rise to a greater variety of interpretations...'

(Sherman C. Interview with Wilfried Dickhoff, Prospect: Photography in Contemporary Art.


Available at:,Cindy

Although she finally removed herself from the picture, she managed to create a straightforward allusion regarding the female form, the lens captured the lines and shapes very crisply, but the series and the example on the page above and below are intended to shock rather than enchant the viewer.

Both photographs put together enhance the debate raised by Cindy Sherman. Perhaps the anonymous photographer image, along with Sherman's not trying to say anything beyond the ability to shock or titillate. Again, viewed side-by-side the two images, the public with less knowledge about Sherman's background or reasons to create such a composite are not able to see any kind of femininity or judge correctly the aesthetics of the photographs produced by the two photographers.

Nonetheless Cindy Sherman makes a strong statement regarding the female body being wrongly exposed, or being used for men's pleasure where the female herself is almost non-existent by creating such a strong composite example. But regarding such images as the ones above; does it simply dehumanize the female with questionable artistic style; is femininity or even her human existence taken in consideration?

Further these photographs debate very well the issue of femininity being important to the view of the forms expressed. Is it that these images show the female form in a base way and as such stop being either sensual or human?

If Cindy Sherman had shocked the art world and the ordinary viewer, Nobuyoshi Araki has gone even further with his pornographic images.

Now the images below are not from his documentary images about Tokyo nightlife, but still Araki has photographed the women in a cruel way, femininity is rarely seen in his images, the aesthetics so desired by the viewer to be seen, is perhaps non-existent.

If the anonymous photographer tried to state the functions of a woman in his picture, Araki Nobuyoshi simply classified the woman as a creature, with little attempt to portray femininity. Moralists simply comment and dismiss his artistic approach, and the normal viewer could be forgiven at being even more shocked by what the art world consider being Art.

How the viewer perceive the images.

Reviews by people regarding his style could be as hard as his pictures to look at, and to enforce my statement I have copied the text below from Amazon online bookstore, reviews regarding the book called 'Araki Gold', by Filippo Maggia.

'11 of 28 people found the following review helpful:

2.0 out of 5 stars

Low quality porn for the furtive fiddlers, 12 Sep 2006

By: Madly Bobbington-Blyte "MadBob" Cardiff

I'm not sure I know what Araki is trying to do. Is he saying that the increasing Westernization of Japan is bringing with it its own perversions and degrading the average Japanese person? Or is he saying that there has always been a seedy underground in Japan? Whatever he's up to, it doesn't look like art to me. Taking photographs of Japanese prostitutes in varying stages of undress (even one in the middle of an orgy, with Nobuyoshi himself checking things out) would seem an infantile and indulgent use of his time. It's not erotic - it has very definite pathos (perhaps his true purpose) and seems fairly cruel to some of his subjects. One to avoid, unless you enjoy the degradation of women for your own pleasure.'

(Bobbington-Blyte, M. (2006) Low quality porn for the furtive fiddlers. Text [Review] (Online) Nobuyoshi, A. (2005) Tokio Lucky Hole, New edition, Taschen GmbH)

Available at:

(Accessed: 16 OCT 2009)

By this review I could see that not only the female was wrongly exposed beyond her social class and well being, but also the voice of a man, the general viewer had been appalled by his images, looking for more reviews about his style of work a woman had strongly responded to his strange approach, so I have added below just a part of her text:

'Bad taste? , 20 Sep 2008

By: Iain McClumpha Glasgow, Scotland

The nudes and portraits are beautiful, as are the flowers and the diary, as well as the opening 1960s section. However, what leave a really bad taste in the mouth are the bondage photos. How the hell this sicko can persuade women to allow themselves to be suspended from ropes, tied up like meat and exposed is beyond me.

Some people find images like these thought provoking, others might find them erotic. To me these bondage photos are just perverted.

Sad that they are the images that linger, rather than the beautiful ones - like the girl on the cover.


(McClumpha, I. (2008) Bad taste? Text [review] (Online) Nobuyoshi, A. (2008) Araki Gold, Skira Editore)

Available at:

(Accessed: 16 OCT 2009)

As much I would like to disagree with the two reviews I cannot!

Trying to accept his series of photographs about Tokyo nightlife, I look at other images from his book simply called "Araki". Obviously images created in a studio make me even more to agree with the above reviews. Is necessary to tie them up, to splash a watermelon all over to achieve a photograph? Or is it necessary to prove that you are the photographer of such equivocal images? What is the photographer trying to communicate with the viewer?

Back to similarities with other forms of Art, below the painting 'Naked Girl Asleep ll' (1968) made by Lucian Freud we see as opposed to Araki's image of a girl laying in bed, perhaps sleeping, a woman we could love both emotionally and sexually, the vulnerability of the female is expressed in terms which we can in this day and age relate too, that is as both a sexual and feminine being. We apply our modern ethics upon the image, we are not shocked or persuaded into our response to her, but rather we relate to her natural right to be, her equality with us the viewer.

Lucian Freud painting available at:

Araki image is available at:

From shocking images where each photographer had presented their 'artistic' approach to such a sensitive subject, Helmut Newton instead portrays the female in motion, in a cinematic style, perhaps cold in some people's opinion, but very impressive.

The artist captured femininity and overpowered the woman emphasizing it as she is in her own environment, a beauty powered by men's desire, which is only one side of the female nature.

As we know Newton has a different approach to nudes, and his artistic view is not to diminish the female integrity in any way, from cropped frame to full frame the femininity emanate through his images, the female ego is untouched, the viewer being male or female can admire the pictures for their aesthetics, the curves and lines which he managed to capture in a very erotic style. Newton's images are framed with elegance around the female ego, she is a human being, not an object, but in the same time far away from the candid style of Harry Callahan. Newton showed the strength of the female shape and identity in interaction with the male, but not the weakness and especially not in a dehumanizing style like Nobuyoshi Araki showed in his nudes.

Moving away from dehumanized, overpowered and candid nudes, another photographer Guido Argentini, perhaps less known, frames the female form from a totally different angle.

Argentini not only photographs the woman as a nude, but also from a very realistic point of view as to what in theory a woman might be, in contrast to Newton or any other photographer. The women who love and admire themselves above all, sensuality and eroticism surrounds the frames, but the viewer is enchanted with bliss and beauty. There is no desire for anything else in his images more than the female we look at. Elegant poses and vivid colours captivate the viewer straight away.

As we can see in Argentini's photographs, the female herself is in love with her own image reflected in mirrors and in any props imaginable. Although the images evoke sensuality and an erotic charm is added to it, femininity is appraised in all the frames. The viewer will be enchanted with beautiful shapes of female form at a high standard, the female in our imaginary world that we fall in love.

Now both photographers, Guido Argentini and Helmut Newton have framed the female in a cinematic style, but we can see the differences in approach to the female nude. In Argentini's nudes, the female appear rich and very confident of her beauty, is not just strong, but very feminine, glamorous and desiring to be photographed and looked at, but is also in her element in front of mirrors and other props. Newton's nudes are about the strength and power the woman holds over men's desires.

How the viewer perceive the images.

I've copied just a part of one review from simply to confirm the opposition to Araki's style of work.

"The women are absolutely stunning and I adore the opulence of the surroundings in many of the photos which adds to the feeling that you are being drawn into a gorgeous private boudoir as a silent bystander. The moods captured in the photos range from self appreciative, flagrantly sexy, exhibitionistic, retrospective and wistful.'

(Killer, H.(2009) Opulent and Erotic..., Text [Review] (Online), Argentini G. (2007) Reflections: teNeues Publishing.)

Available at:

Through my research Alex Waterhouse-Hayward (1943) photographs the female body with high sensitivity, the relation in between him as a photographer and his model develops in a wonderful strange way that leads to potential projects beside the artist intentions initially.

In an article found online at Arts & Opinion the artist writes with the same sensibility about the project called THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S MODEL III as he photographs her.

'I decided I wanted this elegant and graceful woman as my photographic subject.'

I sent her a letter expressing my desire to photograph her undraped. I first heard this soft and quaint euphemism for the word nude during a stint at teaching photography at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.'

The answer arrived as delicate as his strongly wish 'The envelope addressed to me in elegant handwriting arrived one day in 1999. In it was a postcard of an Amedeo Modigliani nude. The postcard was from Helen Yagi, a shy woman of few words who believes in unconventional methods to communicate her wishes.'

(Waterhouse-Hayward, A. (1999-2000) THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S MODEL III, Article [Online]

Available at:

(Accessed: 12 October 2009)

As he keeps photographing her, she leads him into a new direction by bringing into the studio a friend, a pianist, asking the photographer to include him in the images as well, and we can see in the examples below the wonderful trust in between the artist and the model. The artist managed in a very artistic way to add softness and delicate movement in between the two sexes, the barriers of gender are non-existent, the interaction between female and the male is without any sexual references.

Even if we look at the face of the models, we do not sense any erotic feelings, unless we wish to do so, the two images by Hayward are simply melting the two opposite sexes with finesse and the male is unobtrusive in the frame. The male's touch on her skin is like a breeze, a soft touch that caresses her nude body with tenderness. The viewer could be transported into an imaginary world, a love world.

Rarely has a photographer captured such intense feelings, but faced with these images the viewer recognizes him or herself. Nothing will be more evocative than the pure feelings and ecstasy illustrated and captured by this sensitive photographer.

As I have commented above about Ruth Bernhard and Cindy Sherman, another female photographer, Mona Kuhn, reveals another side of the female nude; integrity and humanity, and delivers images where the viewer can connect with the soul of the model through her gaze.

From strong images produced by Anonymous photographer 1850, Araki's pornographic style, Cindy Sherman composites of female form, overpowered females by Helmut Newton style intended or not, luxurious nudes by Guido Argentini, and candid nudes of Harry Callahan, we now see a totally different technique, we see the woman in dreamy posture and gaze, we admire intensely what is revealed under our eyes, and through soft focus and strong depth of field Mona Kuhn manage to achieve and show to the viewer the mind behind the nude, not just the body, the feelings of the sitter, not just the shape.

The picture 'Repose' by Mona Kuhn is so candid compare even to the painting of Lucien Freud. Mona Kuhn somehow managed to obscure the gender identity, being nude in between males in her images seem to be so natural, both sexes are equal, and nothing suggests sexuality being promoted in these images below or above, the feeling of paradise on earth and pace in her images any viewer will be enchanted with.

The transparency of human body is not sexually related anymore, and although we can see similarities with Edouard Manet (1832-1883) painting "L�© D�©jeuner sur l'herbe" and Mona Kuhn through her views about gender, she managed to go beyond the theory or the female finally being seen and accepted in society as equal with the men, she managed to combine the two sexes successfully, femininity is not anymore perceived as taboo or explored by any masculine desire, femininity is exposed and blends in naturally with masculinity very successfully.

To be continued...

Thank you for reading,

Roxana Brivent-Barnes

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12 responses

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (19 Jul 2011):

    This thesis is for the ones interested in history of Photography, for the ones who would love to learn more, and for the ones who would like to improve their work, and not just a poor attempt to show what they would like to possess!

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (19 Jul 2011):

    Mona Kuhn available at:

    The little book of well known classic photographers is titled

    Lacey, P. (1964) THE HISTORY OF THE NUDE IN PHOTOGRAPHY, Bantam Gallery Edition, New York

    Manet painting available at:

    Araki pictures are available at:

    Alex Waterhouse-Hayward available at:

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (19 Jul 2011):

    I am sorry I cannot illustrate the thesis as it should, like this you will have to make a bit of research, but The above gives you plenty of links to document my theory, and statements!

  • peggy gardner

    peggy gardner gave props (19 Jul 2011):

    you are a never ending vat of talent.

  • JPGirlrazzzi

    JPGirlrazzzi gave props (13 Aug 2011):

    Voted. Great

  • The Man Who Isn't There

    The Man Who Isn't There (Deleted) gave props (6 Oct 2011):


  • The Man Who Isn't There

    The Man Who Isn't There (Deleted) gave props (6 Oct 2011):


  • Pedro Teixeira

    Pedro Teixeira gave props (28 Oct 2011):

    My Vote!

  • Carlo Pagan

    Carlo Pagan gave props (22 Nov 2011):


  • Chrisso Newton

    Chrisso Newton (Deleted) said (24 Dec 2011):

    Fantastic essay Roxana. Too often even a glimpse of flesh leads to people pontificating about the end of civilisation as we know it...nature never intended to be so polarising, I'm sure...Voted!

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (12 Aug 2012):

    Wonderful! voted

  • ! Mario Scattoloni ¡

    ! Mario Scattoloni ¡ gave props (5 Nov 2013):

    A passionate woman with a cause is a fabulous thing.

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