Art and the naked body have walked hand in hand for centuries. Though greatly admired in ancient times, the male nude has gone through eras of being semi-dormant. It did, however, see a resurgence in the Renaissance period, most notably through the art of one of the world’s most recognisable polymaths, Leonardo da Vinci. He admired the male form to such an extent that he even made females look like men. But what was once a male dominated arena, where the male body held an almost cult-like status, has been turned on its head. Nude photography in this day and age is heavily populated with imagery of the female form. The world behind the camera, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Men are the dominant figures calling the shots. To come across female photographers regularly shooting male nudes is, curiously, really something of a rarity.
In Ancient Greece, nakedness in art was all the rage. But you already knew that. Perhaps what you didn’t know was that nudes weren’t all about sex. In the eyes of the Ancient Greeks, nudity harnessed a whole host of different roles. The way in which the nude was positioned could represent status, defeat or heroism, to name but a few. The Ancient Greeks were also extremely celebratory towards the male form, but that didn’t mean every statue of a man came equipped with an enormous penis. The Greeks were more concerned with things like proportion, poise, and movement of the body. So, what happened to change the way we acknowledge nakedness in art? And why are there so few females behind the camera shooting men in the buff?
Oslo based Norwegian/Turkish photographer Celile Güzelce volunteers to have her brain picked about nudity in art, and why there’s a significant lack of boobs behind the camera.
– Since my first time taking pictures of the nude body in 1997, I have noticed that there has always been more girls than boys around me being interested in exposure, she says. Boys are more restrained. In my nude studies, 90 per cent of the models have been girls.
But why are men so much more restrained than us gals? What’s stopping them from stripping their kits off? Why are so many reluctant to put themselves in front of the lens and under the lights?
– I don’t know, Güzelce admits. It could be because of the new culture of exposure in the modern world. When I say new, I mean the last 100 years with the cinema, television and commercials. We see more girls than boys in most pictures, nude or not nude. Visually, our society is based on girls in magazines and commercials. It’s ok for a girl to talk about wanting to be in the latest big thing concerning whatever form of showing oneself visually. I haven`t met that many guys talking the same way, and craving this kind of exposure. Maybe it’s a taboo for the guy. Maybe the men don’t have the need? But if this is the case, then all our former painted art says something else.
Why did the Ancient Greeks hold the male form in such high regard? If you look at most of the sculptures of that time, the man is presented as some kind of divine, perfect vision (homosexual love was guarded as superior). The body with the muscles, good face, hair and posture, she explains. The perfect pin-up of a man, like the 1940’s pin-up portraying youth and beauty. The man could think, invent, discover, philosophize, and as if this wasn’t enough he looked pretty perfect. As you can see historically, this need is made again by men, for men.
And what about art being created today? Why is it only once in a blue moon that we see male nudes through the eyes of the female of the species? There are more than enough female photographers walking around, Güzelce says. But not enough male models wanting to be exposed in our time!
So, what is the experience of photographing a nude guy actually like? Güzelce talks about her photographic ‘coming of age’, and the awkwardness of that first nude shoot.
– The first time taking a picture of a nude male was pretty awkward, she confesses. I didn’t know how close I should stand, how long I could look at the model before taking the pictures, what to demand or not. It was like having four arms and not knowing what to do with them. But does it get easier? Since my first time I have grown comfortable. Interestingly, from this photographer’s experience, despite the lack of men willing to put themselves forward to be shot nude, it would seem men don’t have the same sort of hang-ups that women do. Taking pictures of men is really fun! Men don’t have the same restrictions and guidelines as women usually have in front of the camera.
The internet buckles under the weight of people rallying together to proclaim that the female body looks better naked. But where does Güzelce stand on this hyped topic? Perceptions of the body is and always will be changing and evolving… sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, she says. If society says the female body looks better naked, are they’re talking about the mainstream commercial happy girl, the ever so skinny catwalk model, the pin-up girl from Playboy, or is it the everyday ‘us’ in our many different shapes? In any case, I think the female body looks good with its natural look, curves or the lack of curves. And this is the case when taking picture, a strong personality shows a good healthy body. This goes for the male body as well – the body looks better naked when it shows the person.
In Ancient Greece, the structure and movement of the body were celebrated. Today most nudes are sexualised to an alarming degree, and it would seem the majority of nude photography is out there to get us horny. When did we lose appreciation for the human form and start to become obsessed with ‘sexing everything up?’ As far as the ’sexing up’ everything, this has been and will still be a big part of society. Intellectually, sex is a big issue and part of the being – negative and positive, we need it.