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Fine art nude photography is a genre of fine-art photography which depicts the nude human body with an emphasis on form, composition, emotional content, and other aesthetic qualities. The nude has been a prominent subject of photography since its invention, and played an important role in establishing photography as a fine art medium. The distinction between fine art photography and other sub-genres is not absolute, but there are certain defining characteristics. Erotic interest, although often present, is secondary, which distinguishes art 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. Fine art photographs are also not taken to serve any journalistic, scientific, or other practical purpose. The distinction between these is not always clear, and photographers, as with other artists, tend to make their own case in characterizing their 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.
|Photography and the Traditional Arts|
While some early nudes were classified as "studies for artists" in order to avoid censorship, others were used as references by artists to do drawings and paintings as a supplement to live models. Eugène Delacroix was an early adopter of the practice using photo taken specifically for him by his friend, Eugène Durieu. Edgar Degas photographed models himself.
Other photographers in Western cultures, seeking to establish photography as a fine art medium, posed models in accord with traditional practice in other media. The Nude in art through most of the 19th century often used allusions to classical antiquity; gods and goddesses, nymphs and warriors. Poses, lighting, soft focus, vignetting and hand retouching were employed to create photographic images that were comparable to the other arts at that time.
Alfred Stieglitz is a major figure in bringing modern art to America by exhibiting the new genre of art in his New York galleries at the beginning of the twentieth century. He is known to the public perhaps more for his relationship with Georgia O'Keeffe, whose nude photos he exhibited in 1921 while married to someone else. "Stieglitz used the camera as a kind of mirror. 'My photographs,' he wrote in 1925, 'are ever born of an inner need--an Experience of Spirit. I do not make pictures . . . I have a vision of life and I try to find equivalents for it sometimes in the form of photographs.' Often he would write of true seeing and of inness. As O'Keeffe noted rightly, the man she knew so well was 'always photographing himself.'" 
Imogen Cunningham began taking photographs in Seattle in 1905, in the soft-focused pictorialist style popular at that time; but is best known for the sharp-focused modern style she developed later. She is also attributed as the first woman photographer to take a nude photo of a man (her husband, Roi Partridge).
After World War I, avant-garde photographers 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.
Begininning in the late 1920s Man Ray experimented with the Sabattier, or solarization process, a technique that won him critical esteem, especially from the Surrealists. Many of the central figures of Surrealism—Breton, Magritte, Dalí—followed his example in using photography in addition to other media. Other photographers, such as Maurice Tabard and Raoul Ubac, were directly inspired by Man Ray’s techniques, while photographers such as André Kertész and Brassaï were indirectly influenced by his innovative approach to the medium.
Edward 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.
Bill Brandt is best known for a series of nudes developed primarily between 1945 and 1961, that are both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder” that is paramount in his photographs. Brandt’s work is unpredictable not only in the range of his subjects but also in his printing style, which varied widely throughout his career. This exhibition is the first to emphasize the beauty of Brandt’s finest prints, and to trace the arc of their evolution.
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 first 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.
At the beginning of the 21st century, it has become difficult to make an artistic statement in nude photography, given the proliferation of non-artistic and pornographic images which taints the subject in the perception of most viewers, limiting the opportunities to exhibit or publish the images. When they appear in mainstream consumer magazines such as Popular Photography, PC Photo, and Shutterbug; the editors receive sufficient negative response that they tend to reject the work of serious nude-image photographers.
Several photographers have become controversial because of their nude photographs of underage subjects. David Hamilton often used erotic themes in books such as The Age of Innocence, which have caused controversy in both the US and the UK. Jock Sturges celebrates the beauty of people in naturist settings and states that his work is not exploitative; however in 1990 the FBI raided his studio and made charges that were later dismissed. However, due to the local nature of US laws on the issue, books of both Hamilton's and Sturges' photos have been ruled obscene in the states of Alabama, South Carolina, and Colorado.
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. Some writers characterize many of these images as sexualizing children regardless of artistic merit.
Body image has become a topic explored by many photographers working with models who do not conform to conventional ideas about beauty. Leonard Nimoy, after many years photographing conventionally beautiful professional models, realized that he was not capturing individual personalities, so he created a series with women interested in "Fat Liberation". Sally Mann's more recent nudes have been of her husband, whose body shows the effects of muscular dystrophy.
Many contemporary artists push the boundaries by having work with both aesthetic qualities and explicit sexuality. Late in his life Robert Mapplethorpe created work that was controversial in part by being on display in Washington, DC in a gallery receiving public funds. When a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective opened at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center in 1990, Dennis Barrie became the first American museum director to be criminally prosecuted for the contents of an exhibition. Charged with "pandering obscenity" and showing minors in a state of nudity; a jury acquitted Barrie and the Arts Center of all charges.