Suck it in (or up)

July 8th, 2010

D20 1266 Suck it in (or up)

OK…there’s Brooke on the north shore with her stomach sucked in to get this started.  Sorry Brooke.

Thanks for the comments Dave and Robert.  And thanks for asking the original questions, Mo.

Here’s the gist of what Mo said in her comment:

Why do we frequently see the nude model with her tummy sucked in? It’s not a natural state that women tend to walk around or lay around in. And yet tme and time again we see it in nude art – the woman with her breath exhaled and tummy all sucked in. And yet we say the nude photograph is all about celebrating the beauty of the natural human form.

I have the same question/problem with all the photoshopping that so many photographers do of their nude work. I know you don’t but there are others who use so much photoshop that the end product isn’t really a photo of the model anymore. If a photographer or model claims to be in this for the celebration of the natural human form then isn’t it a bit hypocritical to photoshop away all her freckles or her moles or wrinkles or what have you?

I have to go with my friend Dave’s assessment as far as the first part of Mo’s question goes.  Models pose that way and we tend to shoot them that way because we generally tend to think they look better that way.  That’s a simple way to say it, but I think it’s a bit more complex than that, so I’ll try to say it less simply.  😉

I can only speak to my own work.  Every photographer who is trying to do serious work brings his or her own vision to the task and shoots in a way that tries to express that vision.  There’s probably someone out there for whom protruding stomachs are the essence of what he is trying to present.  Nothing wrong with that.

But in my work I’m not usually trying to present “real” or “average” female bodies.  I’m presenting an idealized version of the female figure.  I often say that the models are not the subjects of my photos.  They are an object in the composition.  And that object is an icon…a symbol.  They represent all of “woman,” all of “creation,” all of lust and romance and sex.  And their curves are intended to relate to the natural environment where I pose them.  The relationship, the similarities of the shapes and curves, are often the essence of the composition.  And that’s not real nature I’m showing in my photos.  Mo knows very well just how unfriendly, uncomfortable, hot and sweaty, cold and miserable, nature can be.  Nature stinks and stings.  But my photos are a romantic, idealized version of the world, of beautiful naked women and lovely natural scenes. 

So, I often want the models in my photos to look their best.  I want their poses to show their natural curves and shape because I find those curves and shapes repeated in all the things we call beautiful in nature.  That doesn’t always mean the stomach must be sucked in, but if doing that makes the body look more pleasing, then she can suck it in.

Now the whole photoshopping thing is a very different situation for me.  I do very little photoshopping of skin and blemishes.  I find the whole “plastic skin” thing very unattractive, even disturbing.  I have no interest in doing anything like that.  It would not add to what I’m trying to present with my work.  So I don’t do it.

But, if someone else wants to make all their models look like they are made of flawless plastic, that’s their business.  I have no problem imagining that some serious artistic statements could be made using that technique.  I don’t think most examples of it are of any artistic merit, but that’s a different question.

Every artist chooses the tools, techniques and working methods that work for them.  It is absolutely their choice.  We can like or dislike the results.  We can debate “is it art?”  We can ask why those tools and techniques were chosen…but it is the artist’s choice.  There is no right or wrong way to make art.  And there is no real answer to Mo’s question of why these things happen in photos in general.  Only specific works of art can provide specific answers to those “why” questions.  Each artist may have a completely different “why” answer.  Someone else shooting work similar to mine my have completely different reasons for what he is doing. 

All we can do is look at a particular photo and try to understand it.  I think the photo I posted above looks right to me with Brooke in that pose.  I think the tension in her body relates to the violence of the water around her.  The curves and lines of her lovely figure are like the curves and lines of the rocks…and also different from them.  The tones of her skin contrast in a lovely way with the darkness of the rocks.  I don’t think the pose would be as effective if her stomach were relaxed.  That’s all…

Thanks Mo.  Those really are good questions, worth talking about.  And I don’t presume to have the final word or the absolute answer.  More comments are welcome.

On other matters, the heat wave continues in Vermont.  It’s almost gotten to triple digits.  We took my mother-in-law to the doctor today because we were concerned that she was being weakened by the heat.  The doctor said she is fine, but needs to drink more.  We’ve been keeping her at our motel to keep her in the air conditioning during the day.  Today her son found what may have been the last window a/c unit in Vermont and installed it in her house (against her will, of course…she doesn’t know about it yet).  We’ve also added a couple fans and the a/c is slowly making a difference in the temperature at her house.  We’ll be bringing her back home tonight so she can sleep in her own bed where she is more comfortable.  We hope the temperature will be down a bit by then.

available light, Brooke Lynne, figure in nature, nude, Vermont | Comments | Trackback

3 Responses to “Suck it in (or up)”

  1. 1Mark
    July 9th, 2010 @ 12:06 am

    All art is, to some extent or other, illusion. Even if what you are trying to depict is reality it will still be YOUR interpretation of reality. Even if you set up a webcam to capture “real” reality your choice of what it was seeing would still define and shape what the viewer saw. A competent technician can capture some version of simple reality. An artist creates something that speaks to others. To the extent that it succeeds, I suppose, is some measure of whether the art is good or not, but maybe it only needs to succeed with one person to be good. Popularity is a poor measure of art. Otherwise there would be Velvet Elvis museums.

  2. 2Morgan
    July 9th, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

    I’m still thinking through all of this and your visitors’ responses as well. When I can shake this nasty headache I will respond.

  3. 3Morgan
    July 11th, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

    First, thanks to you and Mark and DR for answering my serious questions. I appreciate it when people do that!

    I guess I should have been clearer in my questions. What has always puzzled me is the photographers and models in this genre who say they are interested in showing the natural beauty of the human form, particularly the female form. I’ve seen them say how they want to celebrate the female form and its curves and lines etc etc etc. That the female form is the pinnacle of beauty and blah blah blah. Ok, I’m with them so far.

    I lose them though when I start seeing image after image where the model is decidedly not in her natural form. We don’t naturally wander around with our tummies sucked in. There isn’t a woman alive who, when all alone, naturally lays down with her tummy sucked in, her back arched and her feet nicely arched.

    My beef does not appear to be with you gentlemen, although Dave and I might go a round or two here in a moment, but with the photographers and models such as those above. Why do I have a beef with them? Because of the load of bullshit they are trying to blow up my ass and the collective ass of women everywhere. The message they are sending, with photos like that, when coupled with the stated philosophy of wanting to show the world the beauty and grace and blah blah blah of the natural female form, is that unless the woman looks like that when she is laying around or sitting or standing or whatever is that she isn’t naturally beautiful, that her body is somehow less. And frankly that’s bullshit. Does that make a lick of sense to you guys? Do you suppose that in presenting the idealized natural female form in photographs were she isn’t actually presenting her body in a natural way really contributes to the body-image problems and eating disorders of young women? (No, I don’t have either of those problems so this isn’t about me) I have heard several of my son’s girlfriends complain about being fat. They aren’t fat. They are however bombarded with unrealistic images of what the idealized woman should look like. So are we partly to blame? I think we may very well be.

    Now I have a challenge for Dave, for all of you if you care to take it. The next time you are shooting a nude model take two shots of the same pose in the same setting…except in one pose ask your model to suck in her tummy and in the second one ask her not to. Then post the pictures. I would have loved to see the same picture above but where Brook isn’t sucking in her tummy. Dave might be right, her body might mimic the rocks more closely or he might be wrong.

    I have more thoughts on this subject but imagine I’ve just taken up a whole lot of space in Dave’s blog so I will save them for my own.

    Thanks again for running with the question!

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Photos and comments by Dave Levingston. This is the place to see my most recent work which may include nudes, dance, landscape, nature and whatever other kinds of photos I feel like taking.

Since it does contain nude photos, this blog is not intended for viewing by anyone under the age of 18.

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