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Photographing the Male Nude (NSFW, Duh)

A friend of mine is a photographer, who I believe is considering doing some male nude shots. Before going to the trouble of procuring a model and setting up a shoot, she wanted some sense of what worked for her in terms of lighting, posing, and composition. She recently commented (I paraphrase) that the male nudes she saw in other photographers’ work tended to either look like they were posing for an art class or saying, “Hey, baby. I got what you’re looking for right here.” Neither was what she wanted to do.

I’d recently seen some work that I thought might be the kind of thing was interested in, so I was pretty sure I had a good idea where to look. It turns out that a number of queer artists are quite good at taking pictures that appreciate the male form without either making it asexual or reducing it to sex. Go figure.

Tucked below the fold are some links, as well as some pictures. If you’re going to be offended, kindly don’t click through.

Yul Brynner by George Platt LynnesThe first photographer who should be on any list of this sort is George Platt Lynnes. He photographed actor and dancers in the first half of the Twentieth Century, usually in dramatic poses and with vivid lighting. He also took photographs that beautifully captured the male body. His male nudes were collected into what looks like a gorgeous book. There doesn’t seem to be a good gallery of his work online, although a Google image search brings up quite a number of photos.

Yes, the photo at the right is of Yul Brynner.

Cobre III by Jayro MontesinosJayro Montesinos takes a more playful approach to the male form, treating skin as a canvas and being silly/suggestive with props. What is particularly interesting, as one looks at his non-pinup shots, is the discovery that when it comes to nude photography, many of the differences between photographs of men and women are reduced compared to erotic photography.

Nude with Tattoo by Mark GebhardtThe same dynamic is visible in the work of Mark Gebhardt. Male erotic nudes, particularly those intended to appeal to heterosexual women as well as gay men, tend to emphasize hardness, and not just in the obvious sense. Lighting is more stark. Upper bodies are inclined forward and arms flexed to bring out muscle definition. Faces are stoic.

Female erotic nudes, on the other hand, are generally stretched out. Backs arched, arms reaching. Faces are smiling or ecstatic, more often aimed at the camera. Less is edged or hidden in shadow.

There is variation in both, of course, but the tendencies are there much more than they are in nudes that are more simply intended to be portraits or art (no matter how erotic they may actually be). More awkward poses are acceptable for both men and women, more variation in facial expressions, less traditional gender presentation, more variation in body shapes.

Model on Painter Studio by Raphael PerezOne of those artists who uses less traditional body types is Raphael Perez, who appears to be primarily a painter. I didn’t include any of those photos here, because I particularly liked how this models legs looked like they should be shelved with the canvases, but Perez has taken a number of pictures of older, less muscular men that are quite interesting.

In addition to these artists, there were several who took interesting nudes who specifically did not want any photos reproduced on the internet, even for promotional purposes. The following photographers are well worth checking out for anyone thinking of photographing male nudes.

  • Marcelo Maia–Strong use of close-ups and light on dark skin.
  • Jeff Palmer–Mostly erotic and kink, but not all, and with a brilliant use of light.
  • Conrad Hechter–The nude at home and in dreamscapes.

Comments

  1. says

    This is one of those topics that I often struggle with as a male photographer. I find it much easier to photograph women in ways I find appealing. At the same time, I am very aware of the objectification, infantilization, and general unlikely awkwardness present in most photographs (particularly nudes) of women.

  2. Jodi says

    Nice!
    Thank you for posting this, I had no idea you planned to address my comment, for me it’s just this constant puzzlement in the back of my mind that I’ve never really worked out. I still feel confused, even after looking at your (really very good and much closer if not spot on in some cases) examples. I think I’m going to have to go and think on in a bit more and come back later but I wanted to say that I both read it and appreciate it. :)
    You rock!

  3. kerfluffle says

    No discussion of male nudes would be complete without some mention of Baron von Gloeden and F. Holland day – turn-of-the-century photographers who recreated fine art studies of the nude using mythological or religious symbolism.

    Bruce Weber’s commercial work is well known, mostly for his Abercrombie and Fitch ads. That “selling out” means that he draws a sweet paycheck but that his less glossy stuff is often overlooked.

  4. says

    Wow…I had completely forgotten about Day and his Christ fixation. Can’t really leave Maplethorpe out of the discussion either. While he did some very ‘I’ve got what you want’ type photos, he also worked hard to fill the gaps between pornography and art.

  5. Jodi says

    Unfortunately after giving it more thought and study I can only conclude that it just needs more thought and study. Something really bothers me about a lot of male nudes that I see but I don’t really know exactly what it is. Perhaps it’s as simple as I’m not bothered in the same way by female nudes only because I’ve seen so many of them.

    Though I do feel that the cause lies somewhere in connection with facial expression. Often the ‘statue’ like poses have one statue-like facial expression and the more creative, relaxed, or natural poses have the men looking … uncomfortable, like they’re not really wanting to be photographed. When you do get emotion in there it unfortunately seems to be of the “this photographer wants to show a more sensitive side of men and has thus told me to stare off into the distance and pretend someone just stole my puppy.” variety.

  6. says

    Cool post! I love thinking about the way we represent the human body in these kinds of contexts, and what that suggests about the way we view different identities. How certain kinds of identities are more objectified or subjectified, familiar or exotic, kid next door or rare, fascinating other. How do these illuminate our social dynamics? Why are women facing the camera in sexual photography but men turn away? Did the portrayal of men of colour in gay pornography contribute to the racial myopia of the gay rights movement, and perhaps helped lead to the conceptualization of “gay” as a “white thing” to the extent that many black men who prefer same-sex intimacy will often prefer to avoid the term? Why are trans women an entire sub-set of pornography but trans men are rendered invisible? Why only pre-op or non-op women? Etc.

    How much of our strained social relationships along lines of sex, race, gender, disability and class are tied directly into our conception of the body, the “ideal” human form, our viceral reactions to variation from this idea? …how much is tied to our sexuality? How much of our sexual desires are mediated by those social dynamics?

    Always fun stuff to think about.

    And beautiful and fun photos, too. :)

  7. Stacy says

    Lovely.

    (And I’ll echo Ben Zvan @ #4; Robert Mapplethorpe did some wonderful work and we can’t leave him out of the equation. And I say that as a (not absolutely but pretty much) cisgendered woman.)

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