The first thing that strikes you about Ralph Gibson‘s Nude is the size of the book. It is big. According to the blurb on the back, the images in the book cover the last fifty years of Gibson’s career. This is not the reason for the size but the photographer designed the book to be displayed.
It is hard to tell when the images were taken as a good proportion of them do not contain the head of the subject with the tell-tale sign of the hair style. The benefit of this is that the images have a timeless feel to them but on the downside a faceless image has no personality. The model then almost becomes a mannequin, which is slightly surreal and for me uncomfortable.
To treat another human being as an object to manipulate in whichever way the photographer sees fit does not feel right to me.
Some of the images in Brandt Nudes have a more pronounced mannequin effect of creating the female body into an object rather than a person with emotion and feeling.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the images in both books are really clever in the way that they are framed. Mimicking the shape of the body around the landscape to match each other is genius. There are some really inspiring images in these books.
However, the models used in the books have a level of perfection which I’m not sure reflects the population at large. On page 191 of Gibson’s book there is a surprise image of a stone gargoyle-like figure of a woman. What he is trying to say with this out of place picture is not obvious, but it seems to me that taking images of a “perfect” body is not really a great artistic challenge.
Any decent photographer should be able to come away with a respectable image after a visit to any of the spectacular natural places on the planet. To take a bad image of what is perceived as a beautiful body would take a huge amount of incompetence.
There are glimpses of imperfection in Gibson’s book, but closing the book there aren’t that many strong memorable images. The clean, plain backgrounds give a very uniform look to the pictures, which creates a blend indistinguishable from one another.
Brandt’s strongest images from a collection that also spans over fifty years of his life are the close-up body parts. The way he has made the hands and fingers appear to be monuments on the landscape is truly unique. His unconventional use of a wide angle lens for a portrait may not please everyone. Arms and legs elongated to something akin to a Dalí painting takes some getting used to.
There is no question about the technical excellence of the images in these two Nudes. There is the odd picture which makes you think “I wish I had thought of that”. They are worthy additions to my book collection.