By Paul Goldfinger, photography editor @Blogfinger
Recently Charles Layton wrote an article for Blogfinger about an archaic term “cheesecake” as it refers to “girlie photos.” Link to BF cheesecake article He posted a picture of Betty Grable in a bathing suit–an example of a World War II “pinup.” Of course, now we have tiny bikinis on display at beaches—more daring in some places than others, but basically very acceptable and admirable today. A photograph of a woman dressed in such attire would not be shocking today.
But what is the background of such photography and when did it become acceptable? And what about nude photography of women (and men) ? It is said that when photography was invented in England in the 19th century, the first images obtained were female nudes. In 1951, when this U.S. Camera cover of a girl in a bikini was published, there was an ongoing debate going on regarding the nudes in Playboy. However, in the fine art world, nudes had been acceptable in museums, galleries and publications such as U.S. Camera for many years, so the choice of this 1951 cover was mild by this magazine’s standards. In fact , this July 1951 edition of U.S. Camera contained a nude by Edward Weston.
U.S. Camera began publication in 1938, a time of great excitement in the field of photography. Edward Steichen was an advisor to the magazine, and nudes by the greatest photographers were shown in their pages back to the 1930′s. The publisher /editor of the magazine, Tom Maloney, was arguing for a more liberal attitude towards “figure photography.” In 1952, one year after this issue of U.S. Camera was published, he produced an entire special edition of nudes by many of the great pioneers of art photography such as Edward Weston, Harry Callahan and others. Tom Maloney could get away with that because he was an important figure in the world of fine art photography, but back then, you would never see a nude in your local newspaper, in Life Magazine, or at “the movies.” The venue was all important as to the acceptability of nude photographs.
The magazine ceased publication in 1969. The era of glossy photo driven magazines such as Life and Look was over. But, today, you can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see an exhibit called, “Naked Before the Camera.” You can also turn on TV or a movie to see that “figure photography” is alive and well in our culture—just one advantage of living in a free society.