gelatin silver photograph
15.2 x 22.8 cm (image) 20.2 x 25.4 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
"To be on display is to have one's own skin, the hairs of ones body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress."
John Berger, 1972
The human body is the physical form onto which we project a myriad of desires and fears. Photographs of the body, including the nude, have been the subject of our fascinated gaze since the medium began. Since the 1830s photography has served the artist, the scientist and the pornographer, among others, in their quest to possess finely honed images of the human form in all its complexity. This exhibition includes a number of the best known photographs of the body taken in the twentieth century.
Some of these photographs are highly aestheticised studies that revel in the beauty of the human body. During the twentieth century, creative photographers moved from the more romantic Pictorialist aesthetic, to making photographs that distorted and abstracted the body. Other works offer great intimacy and insight into intensely personal relationships. A number of artists also delved into their own lives with remarkable openness, creating photographs of sometimes surprising intimacy and emotional impact. These are images that reveal the "terrors and pleasures" of intimacy: adoration, fear, ecstasy, sexuality and tenderness. A third group of images mythologise women as objects of desire, creating a sentimental illusion of the world of sex workers.
The photographers in this exhibition consider aspects of the sensuality of skin, the membrane through which, as infants, we have our initial experiences of contact and communication. In common with other sensory organs, skin is an interface between physical and emotional experience. The photographs in this exhibition address a particular range of experiences, issues and visions of the human body and offer a celebratory view of the body in twentieth century photography. What compels us to keep looking at such photographs is that the subject, the human body, is so endlessly fascinating.