Naked Before the Camera: A Selection of Vintage Nudes [NSFW]

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Why do models pose in the nude? Why take it all off to stand, shimmy, or pretend to throw a punch in front of a photographer’s immortalizing lens? The Naked before the Camera exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art surveys nude photography from 1850s to the 1950s and beyond. Flip through the rabbit eared nude studies for Parisian artists and the tattered American “fitness magazine” pages of men flexing in loincloths. Check out Brassaï’s recreation of a brothel and Félix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin’s softer nudes before he was arrested in 1851 for works “so obscene that even to pronounce the titles would be to commit an indecency.” Peek into the finger-print smudged world of Lady Ottoline Morrell, an Edwardian-era rebel whose estate parties featured D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and young girls frolicking naked in the garden with innocent pagan glee. The Met’s collection features a few classics from Man Ray, Larry Clark, and Robert Mapplethorpe, but it’s these vintage bits that really catch our attention.

Photo credit: Female Nude with Mask. Unknown Artist, French. ca. 1870. Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

Photo credit: Male Model Preparing to Throw a Punch. Unknown Artist. 1950s. Gift of A. Hyatt Mayor, 1978

Photo credit: Two Standing Female Nudes. Félix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin (French, 1800–after 1875). The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997

Photo credit: Album d’Études–Poses Louis Igout (French, 1837–1881). ca. 1880. Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1993

Photo credit: Introductions at Suzy’s. Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brasov 1899–1984 Côte d’Azur). 1932–33, printed 1960s. Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

Photo credit: Standing Female Nude. Nadar (French, Paris 1820–1910 Paris). 1860–61. Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1991

Photo credit: Advertising Contact Sheet of Male Models in Various Poses. Unknown Artist, American. 1950s. Gift of A. Hyatt Mayor, 1978

Photo credit: Cavorting by the Pool at Garsington. Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish-Bentinck Morrell (English, 1873–1938). ca. 1916. Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

Photo credit: Album of Figure Studies. Unknown Artist, French. 1890s. Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1993

Photo credit: Male Musculature Study. Circle of Albert Londe (French, 1858 – 1917). ca. 1890. Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2012