Nudity and Identification

“Late the other night on British television…” may not be the most promising way to start a sophisticated blog such as mine is, but a friend recently told me that he’d only started enjoying my writing after I started pairing it with more racy pictures. He had particularly enjoyed Elle Macpherson in a bikini.

So, late the other night on British television I managed to catch the end of a Sky Arts programme on the photographer Spencer Tunick. He has taken many pictures of those in the nude and, until he became better known, used to almost end in jail a lot because of it.

The most well known ones are his photos of hundreds of nudes together laying in strange spaces, such as a road, a library’s steps or on an airfield.

The photos are good. His older, black and white ones I like a lot more.

There is this one of a pregnant woman looking into a shopping trolley and these two girls on the American flag. I love both those images, but couldn’t find versions of them on the internet.

But what struck me the most was the comments about what the photographic subjects thought of being asked to pose and then posing.

One girl spoke about initially being terrified of the prospect and then, when she looked through Tunick’s previous work she realised that she didn’t identify any person. She didn’t even really look at them as a person or judge them. They all seemed so normal in a strange way and she looked at the photos as art rather than as a portrait of a particular person.

There was an old man who posed kneeling on a road that led away from a church. This man had been terrified of being publicly naked his entire life. He decided that he really wanted to do this to finally rid himself of this fear.

After, he realised that; naked we are anonymous. We do not assume an identification until we dress ourselves.

So, why is nudity such a social abhorrence these days?

Why did Adam and Eve make aprons from fig leaves to hide their sexual shame?

The Spartans used to run around naked, the Athenians – most probably simply to be anti-Spartan – put extra layers on as to not show off their legs. In Japan the back of the female’s neck was never to be seen in public. 18th Century French women apparently had indecent shoulders and elbows until the 19th Century when the leg became too sexual to be seen and the shoulders and elbows simply boring. Early Cretans wore long skirts with such tight waists that the Victorians would have been envious, although the blouse that this skirt accompanied – which left the breast bared to the world – may have not been as welcome.

Our view of nudity seems to be a social acquisition. The part seen as sexual is almost a cultural and timely choice.

Take clothing away completely and we are strangely non sexual.

And anonymous.

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