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Nude photography is used for valid scientific and educational purpose, such as ethnographic studies, human physiology, and sex education. Here the emphasis is not on the beauty or eroticism of the picture but on the subject and technical purpose for which the image was produced.
The nude image may be used for analysis or to accompany medical or other text books, scientific reports, articles or research papers. They are essentially of an illustrative nature, and so nude photographs of this type are often labeled to show key features in a supporting context.
Glamour photography is a genre of photography whereby the subjects, usually female, are portrayed in a romantic or sexually alluring way. The subjects may be fully clothed or semi-nude, but glamour photography stops short of deliberately arousing the viewer and being pornographic photography.
Nudity is occasionally presented in other media as well (often with attending controversy) such as on album covers featuring music by performers such as Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Nirvana, Blind Faith, Scorpions and Jane's Addiction. Several rock musicians have performed nude on stage, including members of Jane's Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, Black Sabbath, Stone Temple Pilots, The Jesus Lizard, Blind Melon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, blink-182, Naked Raygun, Queens of the Stone Age, Of Montreal, and The Bravery.
The fine arts are concerned with aesthetic qualities and creativity; thus any erotic interest, although often present, is secondary. This distinguishes nude photography from both glamour photography, which focuses on showing the subject of the photograph in the most attractive way, and pornographic photography, which has the primary purpose of sexually arousing the viewer. The distinction between these is not always clear, and photographers tends to make their own case in characterizing their own work. The nude remains a controversial subject in all media, but more so with photography due to its inherent realism. The male nude has been less popular than the female, and more rarely exhibited.
Early photographers in Western cultures frequently chose women as the subjects for their nudes, in accord with traditional practice in other media. Before nude photography, artistic nudes were usually allusions to goddesses and nymphs. Although 19th-century artists in other media often used photographs as substitutes for live models, the best of these photographs were also intended as works of art in their own right. Poses, lighting, soft focus, vignetting and hand retouching were employed to create photographic images that rose to the level of art.
After World War I, avant-garde photographers such as Brassaï, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, André Kertész and Bill Brandt became more experimental in their portrayal of nudity, using reflective distortions and printing techniques to create abstractions or depicting real life rather than classical allusions. Alfred Stieglitz's photos of Georgia O'Keeffe are examples of some of the earliest nudes presented in an intimate and personal style rather than with dispassionate idealization. Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Bernhard, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin and Edward Steichen continued this trend. Weston evolved a particularly American aesthetic, using a large format camera to capture images of nature and landscapes as well as nudes, establishing photography as a fine arts medium. In 1937 Weston became the first photographer to be awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. For a famous example of Weston's work see: Charis Wilson. Many fine art photographers have a variety of subjects in their work, the nude being one. Diane Arbus was attracted to unusual people in unusual settings, including a nudist camp. Lee Friedlander had more conventional subjects, one being Madonna as a young model.
The distinction between fine art and glamour is often one of marketing, with fine art being sold through galleries or dealers in limited editions signed by the artist, and glamour photos being distributed through mass media. For some, the difference is in the gaze of the model, with glamour models looking into the camera, while art models do not. Glamour and fashion photographers have aspired to fine art status in some of their work. One of the such photographer was Irving Penn, who progressed from Vogue magazine to photographing fashion models such as Kate Moss nude. Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Annie Leibovitz have followed a similar path with portraits of the famous, many of them nude. or partially clothed. In the post-modern era, where fame is often the subject of fine art, Avedon's photo of Nastassja Kinski with a python, and Leibovitz's magazine covers of Demi Moore pregnant and in body paint, have become iconic. The work of Joyce Tenneson has gone the other way, from fine art with a unique, soft-focus style showing woman at all stages of life to portraiture of famous people and fashion photography.
Although nude photographers have largely worked within established forms that show bodies as sculptural abstractions, some, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, have created works that deliberately blur the boundaries between erotica and art.
Several photographers have become controversial because of their nude photographs of underage subjects. David Hamilton often used erotic themes, but Jock Sturges celebrates the beauty of people in naturist settings without emphasis on sexuality. Sally Mann was raised in rural Virginia, in a locale were skinny-dipping in a river was common, so many of her most famous photographs are of her own children swimming in the nude. Less well-known photographers have been charged as criminals for photos of their own children.