Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Photographing Men in the Nude

Laurie says:

I’m often asked the difference between my experiences in photographing men and women in the nude. In fact, the question came up when Deb and I spoke at NAAFA last Friday.

Mostly it’s very much the same. Almost everyone is nervous about being photographed even if they are not nude. I spend time working with models so that they’ll feel more comfortable, and relax into their own body language. Then I can shoot a portrait with some essential sense of who they are.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that they need to be relaxed all the time. They only need to be relaxed in the moments of being photographed. If they’re tense through most of the shoot but I catch a few relaxed moments, that’s enough.

But there is an important difference. Women are accustomed to the idea of the female nude. Even if a woman has never considered posing in the nude herself, she’s still been surrounded all her life by female nude images in media and art.

Men (except for queer men) are completely unaccustomed to the idea of the male nude. No such images surround them, They don’t have a mental or visual space to place male nudes in.

So it’s far more difficult to get most men to relax when I’m photographing them nude. I have to work much harder with them to create the moments of relaxation. But it’s worked out every time.

Then there is the question of how nudity in defined for men and women. But that’s for another time.

13 Responses to “Photographing Men in the Nude”

  1. Carol Says:

    The panel at the NAAFA con went very well. I especially enjoyed hearing more about the Women of Japan project.

    Were most photographs in Women En Large and Familiar Men shot with only you and model(‘s) in the space? You mentioned at the panel that you often (maybe always) had a interpreter present when photographing the Japanese women. How did this change your approach to photographing them/putting them at ease? (if it did)

    Also you did a lot of photographs in public spaces. Do you think this made it easier or more difficult to put the model at ease?

    Do you always know if you got at least one relaxed shot of the model? Some body language is universal but much is also cultural (and there is even the further level of personal body language.) When shooting in Japan, were you aware of any differences in what “relaxed” looked like?

    And I thought I asked all the questions I had last Friday!

  2. Edward Denison Says:

    I never encountered a woman that wanted to see me nude,other than my wife.I never thought anyone would want to look at me.We see so much of the female form in the media,you know sex sells!!What about the real people on this planet?I would not mind having you snap some pics of me,a real man not a model .

  3. Laurie Says:

    (This is actually Debbie replying):

    I hope you took a look at some of the Familiar Men pictures, all of real men who are not models. We find that many women want to, and are glad to, see the photographs.

  4. Walker Says:

    Here’s an important tip from an art critic… In nude art, men ACT… women APPEAR. That is to say, it is best to think of men in the act of DOING something – slaying a giant, lifting something, dying of a spear to the gut, etc. – or if in repose, to be somehow nonchalant and “unaware” that the viewer’s eyes are upon him. It’s just not in the human genome for men to simply “appear” in the same way as a woman. My suggestion for photographers – study classical art and do likewise.

  5. Vornaskotti Says:

    I think this depends on the culture a whole lot. Most of Finnish men have seen their family, friends and most of their co-workers nude plenty of times thanks to the sauna culture, so I’d imagine posing for a nude photo/painting wouldn’t be that big a deal in a low nakedness taboo culture like we have.

  6. Laurie Says:

    I think you’re right about cultural differences and obviously I have no experience photographing Finnish men.

    But there is also another aspect of this and that’s exhibition. There is a difference between being nude in private spaces and the public spaces of a book or a gallery wall. (I think where the web fits in this is still very much in process.)

    I’m not saying that Finnish men wouldn’t be comfortable being nude in both spaces but I expect it would be more complicated.

  7. Vornaskotti Says:

    Yes, there is definitely a difference and there’s certainly personal variation too. I know men who’ve posed for nudes photos and paintings up here, but it’s not common – and they were sort of open minded people in any case. It would be actually interesting to know what the practical difference would be from the point of view of a photographer who’s used to working in countries where the nakedness taboo is higher.

  8. Laurie Says:

    In the US the people mostly had not been shot in the nude before. Usually they said yes because they appreciated both the work and the politics. And for most of them it was a serious and considered choice.

    If I were to ever do major nude work in Japan, I would have to be living there for a while not simply spending time there.

  9. Adrian Says:

    I’ve never been to Finland, and can’t speak to the details of the attitudes there around nudity. That said, I’m very aware that comfort with BEING naked is a different sort of thing than comfort with having your naked body be LOOKED AT. Where I’ve seen the American nudity taboo relaxed (in places like women’s locker rooms), the custom is that one does not stare. From what I’ve know of the naturist subculture, people who come to their events and stare feel creepy, and re-ignite the nudity taboo. A camera is a pretty strong symbol of being stared at. The whole point of taking a picture is so people can look…not have a conversation, just look.

  10. Laurie Says:

    Adrian,

    I think you’re mostly right. The academic term is “subject of the gaze”.

    But it’s also true that in my work (and in others) one of the points is to create an exchange between the image and the viewer. The photographer has to want this to happen and it’s difficult but it’s certainly possible.

  11. captain kangaroo Says:

    The panel at the NAAFA con went very well. I especially enjoyed hearing more about the Women of Japan project.

    Were most photographs in Women En Large and Familiar Men shot with only you and model(‘s) in the space? You mentioned at the panel that you often (maybe always) had a interpreter present when photographing the Japanese women. How did this change your approach to photographing them/putting them at ease? (if it did)

    Also you did a lot of photographs in public spaces. Do you think this made it easier or more difficult to put the model at ease?

    Do you always know if you got at least one relaxed shot of the model? Some body language is universal but much is also cultural (and there is even the further level of personal body language.) When shooting in Japan, were you aware of any differences in what “relaxed” looked like?

    And I thought I asked all the questions I had last Friday!

  12. Leslie Says:

    I am interested in posing nude for women and wanted to ask you for any advice you might have what are the chances of woking with you.

  13. Laurie Says:

    Leslie,

    I appreciate your interest in my work but Familiar Men is a finished project. My present work does not involve portraits.

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