when i began studying art seriously, i was assigned (as i’ve mentioned before) “gardner’s art through the ages” as a textbook. i remember looking at the end of the book as soon as i received it.
one of the post- 1900 images that has always stuck with me is one of edward weston’s 1925 nude photographs. (he did a few series of nudes.) when i looked into weston, i felt as if this is one of the least “telling” of the photographs (as in it does not focus on any extreme specifics, such as breasts or stomach or backside). it is a photograph of a woman’s side. i think it is probably one of my favorite photographs ever.
i absolutely love the line in this image. the eye moves from the leg, down to the hip, and focuses on the illuminated ribcage. the stomach and ribcage show the curvature of the bones underneath them. the back is slightly elevated off of the table. the figure is understood by the viewer to be stretching, slightly. the texture, even of the bones in the ribcage, appears smooth throughout the image.
weston is quoted as having said “i am stimulated to work with the nude body, because of the infinite combinations of lines which are present with every move. (x) this photograph illustrates one specific moment- breathing (inhalation?), lying on a table. it shows the concavity of this stretched body in this motion. any other movement would have completely different lines than this specific one. this is proven by weston’s other photographs of the nude body.
what makes this photograph stand out to me more than any other weston nude is that it is not an image of an entire body, or any well-defined body parts. on the official weston family website, which the quote above came from, some of the other weston nudes are posted. some are full bodies, some are feet, some are backs. none of them impress me as much as this nude photo. there is something very special about the way that the hip and thigh obscure everything else, but the viewer isn’t particularly interested in the rest of the body anyway. the lines in this photo are so perfect, with no distractions. the sensual nature of the photo comes from the curvature of the line, not what the subject is displaying.
for example, compared to this photograph: “nude (1936)”
on its own, the photo is decent. it has fairly interesting lines, and the background does not distract. it gives me a feeling of discomfort because of her position and location (on sand), which seems to be intentional and well done. but in comparison to “nude (1925)”, which eliminates all but the most perfect lines, “nude 1936” is extremely busy. we see the subject’s face, hair, breasts, legs, feet, arms, and the actions being performed by each body part. we see the subject. this is a photograph of a nude woman, lying, fetal position, hair in face, cringing, maybe sunburned, and not a photograph of an anonymous torso, in which is only action is being or breathing.