The male art nude – a workshop

WARNING: This post contains nudity

and is NSFW.

P1630076v2

Yesterday, I attended a workshop on the male art nude. It was led by Jo Suthurst, who is an MFA student at the University of Falmouth, and the workshop was part of her degree course. Jo is interested in the human body, and the parts that are usually hidden, particularly in people who do not conform to the current norm of beauty, and her blog is here. The timing of the workshop fitted in perfectly with some research I am currently doing on the male and female gaze (more of which I will address in a separate post).

I had two aims in mind for my own participation in the workshop. The first was to practise studio lighting, at which I am still an absolute beginner, and the second was to question the idea of the Female Gaze and how it might affect a photography shoot where the subject was a naked male.

Firstly, I will explain the practicalities of the day. It was held at a small studio near Cricklade, with which I have become familiar as a result of a Facebook group for local female photographers. We meet monthly to try out different concepts in a non-threatening environment and to share our collective experience. The attendees range from near beginners to commercial photographers, so there are plenty of different ideas to discuss. They have started to do regular workshops recently, and I signed up for this, as well as an Creative one at the end of the month, as I find studio work intriguing.

Jo explained the etiquette of nude photo shoots and referred us to some literature on poses for men, and also the model release form, which I have posted about here before our model, Clint, turned up. We were two students, Jo, and two other ladies, one of whom was the studio owner and the other a female model whom I had already met. The latter two were around, but did not take part in our activities. We started with a range of slighting situations for upper body nudity, and as the day progressed and we all felt more comfortable with the situation, moved on to full nudity.

I have never been to a female nude shoot before either, and have nothing to compare the experience with, so I asked Clint and Gemma (the female model, who does nude work, but was not involved in this day) how our approach differed from a shoot where the photographers were mostly men. Clint’s response was that an all female group was less threatened by his nudity and that there was a lot more conversation than would have been the case with male photographers. He is very experienced in nude shoots and was entirely comfortable without any clothing, so very soon his nudity became irrelevant from a social point of view and an outsider would have been startled to see three middle-aged women and an overtly naked man all huddled up together looking at a camera screen to see if a shot had work and discussing what might be improved.

Clint has done a lot of modelling for top shelf female magazines, and  his natural range of poses tended to reflect that. We also tried various ideas from David Leddick’s The Male Nude (2015), which includes an extensive series of images right through the history of the genre. The great majority of these fell into the category of “tasteful”, rather than “explicit” but Clint told us that he has been asked to pose for everything right up to extreme porn. This was well outside our remit for the day though, thankfully. Below are three images which give a flavour of our day. I won’t post any more for now, as I am planning to use them later in Part 4.

 

So, where does a day like this sit in the gap between the Male and Female Gaze? And what did I get out of it?

Laura Mulvey (1999), who coined the term The Male Gaze in 1975 to convey how through many centuries our viewpoint on practically everything has been that of the white heterosexual male. It is tripartite, and consists of a) the director, b) the actor’s performance and c) the viewer, all of whom are traditionally assumed to be male. (I am writing another post on this subject too, so won’t go into a great amount of detail here.) In this scenario, women are considered as the Object – largely silent, and something for the male to view and/or own, as John Berger said in Ways of Seeing.

One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (Berger, 1972)

Berger talked about The Gaze, but his gaze was the Male Gaze, and amazingly, he seemed to think that it was women who put themselves in the position of being objectified.

The response to this came with Jill Soloway’s lecture on the Female Gaze in 2016 (see my other post on this for details) where she asks society to move away from the male way of looking at the world, towards something more inclusive of many minority groups. This she characterises as the Female Gaze, which she argues consists of  a) a feeling-seeing on the part of the director, b) the actor is fully aware of being seen and can choose to agree to it, i.e. having a sense of agency in the transaction and c) returning the Gaze, as in I see you looking at me and I don’t want to be an object any longer.

Along the way towards this, feminists and sympathetic men made several less than successful attempts to subvert the Male Gaze, through notions like the Female Combatant, in which the female heroine plays what is essentially a faux-male role, including leadership, violence and super-strength, and the Objectified Male, in which the Male Gaze is twisted back on itself, with women supposedly looking at men as men have looked at women.

This workshop might potentially fit into this last category, but I would argue that it does not. Taking each of Soloway’s elements in turn, Clint said that he could tell from an image of himself whether it was taken by a straight man, a gay man or a women, as those taken by the latter two categories have a different feeling about them. The great majority are not what we would consider objectifying, but are using his body to express other ideas and/or feelings. He was aware of what we were doing and why, and I don’t think there was any question of him not having agency in the process. He was as fully involved in the making of the art as we, the photographers were. (It’s interesting to contrast this process with that of life drawing, as a quick diversion. In life drawing the model is simply there to be looked at, while in the photographic process we undertook, our model was an active participant with opinions and personal rights.) In some of the images I took, Clint has chosen to present himself as an object of desire, but that was his choice and wasn’t requested by me, and I am not intending to use those images as they do not convey the messages I want to examine.

Overall, it was a fascinating and very creative day, and I must thank Jo again for her teaching and knowledge on the subject of the nude. Finally, you might like to know Jo’s thoughts on the subject of Clint’s tattoos, which are something I have made no reference to in my own post, as for me, they were just something that was part of who he was. Jo puts a more considered academic viewpoint to the subject. From my own aesthetic point of view, the images I like best are the minimalist ones I took with rim lighting, like the top one, although the masked images are also interesting. (Jo does a lot of work with masks, and it is something I too have looked at before. She has access to a much wider range than me though).

Edited to add:

Following discussion on the comments thread below about the importance of the model’s tattoos and whether the work really does have a non-traditional viewpoint , I’ve now started to stitch Chines symbols for female words onto the photos, in the style of tattoos. I think this has some potential for assignment 4. Here’s an example below.

References

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Leddick, D. (2015) The Male Nude. TASCHEN GmbH

Mulvey, Laura.(1999) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44. [online] At: http://www.composingdigitalmedia.org/f15_mca/mca_reads/mulvey.pdf (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

Soloway, J. (2016) Jill Soloway on The Female Gaze | MASTER CLASS | TIFF 2016. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnBvppooD9I (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

Suthurst, Jo. (2017) Surfaces and Strategies – Shoot Mod3#7 – Male Art Nude – “Clint” At: https://josutherstphotography.blog/2017/06/08/surfaces-and-strategies-shoot-mod37-male-art-nude-clint/ (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

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27 thoughts on “The male art nude – a workshop

  1. Stephanie Dh.

    Hi Holly, interestingly, the model’s body in these photos is strongly responding to conventions about which bodies deserve to serve as model. Somehow, he himself invites female photographers to look at him with a male gaze.

    What are your thoughts about that?
    I was reading lately King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, and her thoughts about feminism being also about freeing men from the stereotypes they feel they have to fit into to be respected as ‘men’ socially.

    Because or the pose, and the sculptural body and the precise lighting, I see form and conventions in these otherwise beautiful images, I see the body as a mask – as if the person in this body didn’t mattered at all. It is absolutely not a problem in itself, I am just bouncing on your reflections which I find really interesting!

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  2. Holly Woodward Post author

    Yes, it is true that the model is very conventionally about what deserves to be looked at. We did not select him and I might have gone for a less muscular look myself. Personally, I think that his physique is more aimed at the male photography market. Men expect lots of muscles in their male models, and my experience is that on the whole, women are less interested in them. He told me that all male models get a lot of requests for shoots for the gay market, but he avoids them if at all possible. He also said that being ripped gave him a sense of control with male photographers. Which reminds me, there is a whole other post to write on the subject of nude photography and the power dynamic.

    I see what you mean about the images being about form and convention, not about personality. Perhaps, I have failed in my attempt to get a female viewpoint on the art nude after all. Or maybe I just need to spend a lot more time in the studio experimenting. It’s all new at present and I am loving playing with lighting.

    I suppose there is also a question about whether the art nude can ever be about personality?

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    1. Stephanie Dh.

      I don’t think you have failed at all Holly, it doesn’t have to be about the personality of the person. I just meant the body was dominant (as it sould be in nude photography).
      I just think that establishing an elaborate reflection about the female gaze over such a subject is a challenging task. Maybe it needs more images or a more discursive structure, juxtapositions, or I was thinking embroideries as your so skilled with it.

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      1. Stephanie Dh.

        Just a thought here, but his tatoos are interesting in their diversity of references clashing too with the nature of the mask on his face… as you wote to Pete.

        You could embroid/tatoo onto photographs of male bodies (with specific symbolic meaning (for you) suggesting your personal thoughts about the female gaze) ?

        Sorry for all these comments! I just found your post really interesting!

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      2. gesa

        I like the idea of reworking the surface of the photograph, the embroidery sounds really interesting… both in terms of being such a feminised skill but also as a way of intervening, amending, altering the beautiful male body. Yet, in doing so, it will actually provide a pretty strong intervention by the artist/photographer: introducing the artist’s hand, so to speak, and as such move into a very different kind of relationship between author/subject than what e.g. Soloway talks about with the female gaze and the reciprocity of relationship between behind and in front of the camera.

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      3. Holly Woodward Post author

        The idea of embroidering over the images has really got me fired up, especially as it fits in perfectly with what I am doing in assignment 4 on text and images. But ye, it does take the whole idea a long way from the original and I am wondering what Clint would feel about having female symbols sewed all over his figure. He’s very, very straight and might find the idea difficult.

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      4. gesa

        … interesting… yes: but it could just serve as an enquiry for yourself to test out what that does to your interest in the female gaze and the relationship between author/subject… (and: where and how it concerns you that Clint may not like it)… for me, it raises somewhere issues around ethics and consent (e.g., does the model release specifically only cover straight photographer, or are collage/assemblage/taking apart/reworking covered too; what does this mean for the expectation of representation that the model has and how is that part of the initial shoot… etc etc… (which are all questions that would get me fired up too)

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      5. Holly Woodward Post author

        Stop, stop! 😀 I need to think this through one element at a time, but there are so many possibilities where this could go. The model release form specifically says that the images can be used for anything, including altering, distortion, collage or anything else. So I am covered, but I’m not sure he would expect my sort of intervention.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. gesa

        … haha, no: I was merely thinking this through for myself (and how it relates back to some of my own questions around this… e.g. with arranging model release and what that means for future projects)… I am also teaching Ethics in Research to post-graduates, and just recently had a lot of issues coming up around e.g. informed consent in my personal life that made me quite conscious of these things… no pressure on you here 🙂

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      7. Holly Woodward Post author

        Hope you manage to get your consent issues sorted out successfully. In the meantime, I am happily photoshopping Chinese words for feminine across the model. They really do look very realistic. Almost too realistic, as each of the model’s tattoos ha a specific meaning for him. Coloured thread will be better, as it is more obviously an intervention.

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  3. ammonitem

    An interesting post Holly and sounds like you learnt a lot on the workshop too. I’m glad that you had thoughts and questions that opened up the debate about nude photography for you. It is refreshing to read something on the subject that doesn’t default straight to the objectification of the body – male or female.

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    1. Holly Woodward Post author

      Thanks, Pete. I’ve just responded to Stephanie who said the images seemed to be about form and convention, and it’s made me consider how, for example, the masked image fits into the overall history of art and sculpture. There is something about the nude that invites comparisons with the classical.

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  4. gesa

    Thanks for posting this, Hollie — really interesting; I have not worked with professional models at all (but do fairly little portraiture or studio work in general), but reading your post and linking it back, notably the comments of Berger of how women seem to put themselves in the position to be looked at, made me think of Victor Burgin’s reworking of Hoppers’ Office at Night (I have used this a lot for my first assignment of Digital Image and Culture), and my reworking which consisted of removing the secretary entirely as an object to be looked at (or Burgin’s attempt, partially successful, to give her agency in the shots, which are still fairly conventional environmental portraits); which in turn made me also realise that much of my work rather centrally revolves around this relationship of seeing and being seen and who can control what in this process… I tend to shy away from the term ‘female gaze’ as i find it remains trapped in gender binary, and almost is in danger of again essentialising social practice and gender; but very much interested in what it actually talks about. Thanks for helping me make these connections between different items.
    I am looking forward to seeing what you will continue to do with this.

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  5. Catherine

    Such a fascinating post and it seems you had a perfect model in Clint who was happy to talk with you about his work. I was interested very much in the tattoos as well and the thought of tattoos as claiming ownership of one’s body as opposed to other explanations I’m aware of. Couldn’t they be a mask as well?

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    1. Holly Woodward Post author

      Hmmm. Yet another line of inquiry for me there, about tattoos. Clint described his as memories of significant events. But I imagine a lot of people sue them as masks as well.

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  6. Stefan J Schaffeld

    Very fascinating and thought provoking post and subject matter. For me – a straight man as culture defines me, I see me as human – there are couple of aspects that I would like to comment or to question on.
    The sensibility on how you respond to this discussion shows me a ‘female p’ approach, e.g. being concerned with how the model thinks about embroidery where you have the right of image. Call it empathy. You compare nude photography with life drawing (note the different term). Is this based on your own experience, Clint’s experience, or third party thought? I went to life drawing , mixed on both sides. As you noted in your post that you were more concentrated on photography. I always felt that drawing brings one in a different position than looking at , gaze. I think the gaze comes in when one looks at a model or person or image unmediated by ‘tools’ e,g camera, charcoal stick. You mentioned the female gaze as opposite to male gaze. Personally I don’t believe this is a gender topic. I fully agree with the feeling or sensing part that makes the other not an object but a partner. Does the agency of the model and returning the gaze depend on the ‘looker’? What is part of whom? You mention Clint was aware of your intention, how do you think influenced his and your consciousness and gaze (both ways). I have to reflect what Clint was stating ‘female only photography group less threatening’ Any ideas what it is?

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    1. Holly Woodward Post author

      Hi, Stefan. Thank you for all your questions. They give me lots to think about. I’m not sure what you mean by a ‘female p’ approach? I’ve looked it up but not found anything. Please could you explain.

      Someone else has also mentioned the comparison with life drawing and sculpture. I need to look into opinion on whether there is a difference between photography and art when making images of the nude. The crouching figure and masked one both have a classical look to them, which must be informed subliminally by what we are used to seeing in sculpture etc.
      Re the gaze, we might have disagree on it as being historically gendered. However, in discussion on the comments here, I came around to the concept of a non-gendered gaze, where our views might meet. However, I am interested in whether you agree with the concept of the Male Gaze in the first place, because that might influence how you view the whole post.
      Regarding your last point, the meaning was the other way round. He said women photographers were less threatened, not less threatening. I think that speaks to the power dynamics of the different groups, which I’m going to do another post on. This whole are is one that is rife with stereotyping, and unpicking truth from expectation is tricky.
      Thanks again for your feedback. It has added some new questions to my list of research topics.

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  7. Stefan J Schaffeld

    Holly – I mean ‘female’ not ‘female p’. type error. What I am trying to say that in average females tend to be more sensible towards what the other thinks or feels

    Gaze: I fully agree with the historical and social meaning of the male gaze as gendered gaze. And still valid today, Perhaps, I am to much ahead, but I am looking personally less onto the past, more into what constitues that ‘gaze? How do we look at ? What are underlying beliefs? What is the indivual? And groups do behave differently, more stereotyped than individuals. I work mostly with women in my art therapy profession. I am wondering about the notion that women gaze is an appropriation of the male gaze (makes them victims) or to say that all males do the ‘male gaze’. Again, gaze as gendered aspect is a dualism, is something that I am trying to interrogate from another perspective, a more personal inner perspective. I talked with different women and they told me how they feel unsettled by some other woman, being looked at, being screened (gaze?) I couldn’t make this up. The key of whoever is ‘gazing’ considers the other as object, for whatever reason. Either object of desire, of jealousy, of pity, or of hate. I like the interaction though, what I called partnership. I am more used – based on my practice – to respect the other in a sensible way with empathy. Therefore I am interested in understanding how women look at men. A colleague of mine once said that she ‘couldn’t sense the man/male’ in a dialogue between her and a man. Made me think a lot.

    Oops, another type error on threatening. Would the thread comes from the model or from other men in the group? And would you agree with Clint’s opinion?

    Another aspect: The images of Clint, masked, brings for me the aspect of vulnerability, the question of the right to show, of being vulnerable. Mask related to C.G.Jung persona or to Deleuze who stated ‘the idea of an original or underlying self or essence is the effect of the produced masks and copies’. Example: John Coplans, unmasked.

    Comment on life drawing: ‘to look into opinion’. If you have a chance why not join a life drawing class at least once to have your own experience and make up your mind, to compare? I am always in favor of self experiencing, but that’s me.

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  8. Kate

    It was great to see this work yesterday Holly, thanks for bringing it. I look forward to seeing how you develop and grow this work. It was different to anything else that I’ve seen. It seems like a natural progression for you too after your earlier work with threads and portraits.

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