Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Academic Nude: 19th Century Science, Photography, and the Nude Male Human Form

As part of the series of Journal entries about contemporary alternative gay male art versus traditional gay male art I explore the history and relationship of photography in general to gay male photography in particular.

Photography did not escape the Nineteenth Century fascination with classification and categorization. Production was also often based on scientific exploration of the medium itself and/or applied study of the encountered object/subject. I explore two such (heterosexual) 19th century photographers briefly.
Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘zoopraxiscopic’ studies of human and animal motion photography led to the development of motion picture photography precisely because they stirred interest in the seeming conquest of time and space through captured motion. Muybridge also influenced the work of Thomas Eakins and indirectly Marcel Duchamp.1 Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" in particular is an abstracted quote of Muybridge. Additionally, the human subjects of Muybridge’s studies were beautifully formed physical specimens because of Muybridge's need to show human anatomy performing in motion. Never the less, I’m certain that the perusal of these works would have fascinated homosexual men at the time of their production, and they fascinate and titillate to this day precisely because of the persuasive presence of the flickering but vigorous figures in motion.2

Additionally, Gaudenzio Marconi (1841-1885)is known for his recreation of photographic tableau based in Renaissance and classical art, and because he prepared photographic studies of works for August Rodin. I must emphasize that Marconi was not making photographs for a gay male audience, though I surmise that men of the time with the inclination and sufficient means must have perused Marconi’s work as erotica.

Despite the original intent of Marconi and Muybridge, I feel it necessary to include them at the beginning of my examination of gay male photography precisely because they provide early examples of the photographer as he beheld the nude male form.


Google Search, “Eadweard Muybridge,” Monday, December 17, 2007, 10:01 AM EST.

Muybridge, Eadweard, The Human Figure in Motion. Mineola, NY. Dover, 1989

1 Muybridge, Eadweard, “Eadweard Muybridge,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Modified December 14, 2007, viewed Monday, December 17, 2007, 11:07 AM EST.

2 Muybridge, Eadweard, “Man Ascending Stairs,” Wikimedia Commons, last modified November 22, 2007, viewed Monday, December, 17, 2007

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