Tag Archives: fat nudes

Patricia Schwarz and Laura Aguilar: Farewell to Pioneers


Laurie and Debbie say:

We learned recently that Patricia Schwarz died last December. This was intended to be a blog about her and her work, but we couldn’t write about Patricia without mentioning Laura Aguilar … and then we found out that Laura Aguilar died today. So it is with great sadness that we remember both of these groundbreaking photographers of fat nudes.

Laura Aguilar achieved serious recognition in her lifetime.

Laura Aguilar, In Sandy’s Room, self-portrait

Maximilano Durón, writing an obituary piece about her in ArtNews, says:

Aguilar’s powerful, quietly beautiful photographs explored the lived realities of members of various marginalized groups, including women, lesbians, Latinas, the working class, overweight people, and those with learning disabilities. Long under-recognized by mainstream institutions, her work had a sudden resurgence in popularity last year thanks to her traveling retrospective and the inclusion of her work in several group exhibitions across the PST program, including “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.,” which debuted at the MOCA Pacific Design Center and ONE Gallery and is currently traveling.

Aguilar would have self-identified with all the marginalized groups Durón lists above, and got her start as a photographer in the Lesbian community. (We note that Durón does not have the political awareness to say, as Aguilar and Schwarz would have, “fat” instead of “overweight.”) Aguilar photographed fat people, clothed and nude, from the very beginning of her photography career in the 1980s. We especially appreciate her focus on Chicano women of all sizes.

Unlike Aguilar, Patricia Schwarz and her work have almost disappeared, and it is a great loss.

This photograph of the German edition of her book is the only usable picture we could find (while with Aguilar, we have dozens to choose from). Schwarz, who belonged to the fat liberation community in the 1980s, specialized in full-color photography of fat women, nude and clothed. Women of Substance was published (in English) in Japan, in conjunction with the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Art exhibit of her work in Hokuto, Japan. Copies of the book are hard to find, and cost well over $100. She never got much recognition in the U.S. art world.

Both Aguilar’s and Schwarz’ work were known in the women’s community in the 1980s, but Laurie hadn’t come across either one when she conceived Women En Large. The sheer range of the work of the three photographers is fascinating. Aguilar worked in color and black-and-white, and chronicled many of the marginalized groups with which she identified. Schwarz worked completely in color, and only photographed fat women. Her photographs were frequently stylized and sometimes used costumes. Laurie, whose work at the beginning consisted entirely of fat female nudes, took the path of environmental photography: women in their own homes or spaces they chose, in positions they found comfortable and expressed who they were.

Aguilar and Schwarz will be greatly missed. Schwarz deserves much more attention and availability than she has received so far–if anyone knows of a source for more images of her photographs, please send it to us. And the ongoing takeaway from the photography they both left behind, and Laurie’s fat nude photography, is that the subject of fat nudes is abundant, and nowhere near exhausted. Although several fine photographers have continued the work of these pioneers, there are still only two books of fat nudes readily available: Women En Large and Leonard Nimoy’s The Full Body Project. It’s time for more.

Body: My Photograph Juror’s Choice in Budapest Exhibition

Laurie says:

I was delighted when I heard that my photograph Debbie Notkin and Tracy Blackstone from Women En Large was the juror’s choice in Body, an international photography exhibition at the PH1 Gallery in Budapest, curated by Zsolt Bátori.  One of the reasons in that the overall quality of the exhibition is thoughtful and excellent.

From PH21:

It is always inspiring to see how photographers approach an exhibition theme from different creative angles. Photographic depictions of the human body range from the aesthetic through the documentary to mystic uncertainty, renewing, commenting on or criticizing received modes of expression…

The human body has been the central subject of various photographic genres. From documentary, event and street photography to fashion photography and the nude, photographers have always found ways of constructing images in which the specific portrayal of the human body gains significance. That significance may stem from the rich layers of meanings emerging from specific socio-cultural contexts, the visual interaction of the human body with the surrounding physical space, or the intriguing compositional possibilities offered by the body itself. Some explore movements, study expressive gestures and postures, some concentrate on the anatomical beauty, some narrate whole lives through the depiction of the human body. Others may offer stern visual criticism of our normative conceptions of the human body and the ways it is portrayed in mainstream Western media.

I read the juror’s critique of my photograph this evening and it’s one of the most sensitive and perceptive commentaries I’ve received on a photograph.

Laurie Toby Edison’s Debbie Notkin & Tracy Blackstone is the juror’s choice of this exhibition. This complex image incorporates several layers of photographic meaning. Our initial reaction to the calm composition might be to contemplate the symmetry of the image and the captivating texture of the curtain that takes up a significant portion of the photograph, providing an excellent nonfigurative background for the shapes of the two women on the couch. The lighter inner part of the two sides of the curtain lead our eyes down to the two figures emerging from the darker shades of the blanket on the couch. As we are drawn to the faces, it might even take some time to realize that the two bodies are in the nude. Indeed, it is one of the most powerful aspects of this image that nudity is portrayed in such a “natural” and subdued manner that it goes without saying – almost even without registering on our perception. It may take some extra effort to understand why the nudity of the figures is not more salient, despite also being an identifying thematic and visual feature of the photograph. The secret might lie in the bright serenity in the look of the two women. Their expressions are filled with such joy and peacefulness that the image simply washes all received – and often oppressively reinforced – social conceptions of the human body light years away. Social criticism is delivered in a serious, beautifully composed but at the same time effortlessly cheerful photograph.