The watcher and the watched
Two artists exploring notions of time and exposure to reveal different concerns in choosing to be seen naked. An aspect of nude portraiture that interests me is the relationship between the voyeur and the model, or in more plain speak the watcher and the watched. In art nudes reference is occasionally made to the artist and the muse, but it is an invisible relationship. The presence of the photographer hidden, masked by “the eye of the camera”. A sterile eye. The defining terms of the art nude, or figurenude to use a self-declared title (although it exists on Wikipedia the OED does not include it) forbid eye contact – www.figurenude.com states “Eye contact and a smile is NOT a figurenude”.
Ruth Bernhard, acknowledged as an early pioneer in nude photography said “I never have made a nude where there is a facial expression. When the model and the photographer look at each other, it’s very different than seeing a shape that is strong all on it own, without a facial expression.”
The body isolated as object, presented in a vacuum , as if there is no relationship between photographer and model. The anomaly here is that none of these definitions allow any viewer other than the originating artist. But these are works of “art” made to be presented publicly, created for an audience. An invisible audience, at no point is a relationship between the voyeur and the naked person admitted. This strikes me as strange, in denial. During the decision process in becoming an art model the thought that they will be viewed naked by strangers must occur to them, their body scrutinised, and if the image is popular or distributed through the rapid transport of the internet, very likely seen by friends, relatives and colleagues.
The work of Andrea Fam and Vanessa Ban directly acknowledges that there is a relationship between model and viewer (not body and camera). The subjects are invited to take a nude self portrait on a slow shutter speed allowing them to move therefore blurring any recognisable definition.
…a photographic experiment was conducted whereby the photographer is removed from scene, leaving only the camera and the subject. The naked subject stands before the camera with a shutter speed of 25 seconds. The lengthy shutter speed acts as the choice of manipulation for the subject. The elimination of the photographer passes the power of manipulation over to the subject, who is then able to show the viewer their perspective on their body…
Jemima Stehli does not directly refer to the unseen audience but utilises the presence of the capturer to make comment on the subject-object relationship. In part putting the overwhelming male art industry “on the spot” and making overt reference to the guilt of looking at someone nude. It is this guilt or admittance that the human body is attractive to us is ways different from a pot or vase that the figurenude seems to mask.
…By using the power of a body stripped bare to agitate and fluster, Stehli denies her subject control of his own image, while simultaneously relinquishing her own control by asking him to decide on the moment of representation. Her exhibitionism creates a complicated web of subject-object relationships, as the man is forced to objectify himself while in the process of projecting his own gaze alternately at the artist and her camera, and hence also at the viewer. Ultimately Stehli undermines the position of the privileged, removed voyeur, and its effects are visceral.
With thanks to The artist and his model