Nude Studies by Maureen Gallagher
Yes, this photograph is by that Maureen Gallagher — whom I delightfully can refer to as my co-editor here at LensWork and more importantly as my partner in life. We were married in 1992 and, quite literally, nine months later published the first issue of LensWork, which explains quite a bit, I suppose.
Maureen was, for number of years in her youth, a bodybuilder. Through this discipline, she developed an understanding of the human body that is slightly different than someone not similarly experienced. She has a sensitivity to the human form and the creative process of posing that is, quite naturally, the result of an extraordinary discipline and uncommon experience. It can be seen so clearly in this nude — one of the most popular LensWork Special Editions images we've ever produced.
There is so much to talk about in this image – the mysterious and invisible support that holds her suspended in mid-darkness; the gesture of each hand, each amazingly sensual in their own and completely different ways; the ballet-like pointing of her toes and the marvelous sheen and that lower toenail; the line of mountainous ribs just in front of the fecund shape of her feminine breast — all of which combines to make an incredibly sensual moment.
What is of particular importance in this image is how all of this combines to create such a sensual image without being overtly sexual. This is the problem with nudes in photography. Far too many photographers mistake sexuality with sensuality, hence the ubiquitous cheesecake nude. We always cringe when we see a portfolio of nudes that leans heavily across the line of soft porn — the come-hither look, the "here's my rear" over the shoulder glance, the sexually charged hair and makeup, the unnaturally arched back. It's a formula that's been "perfected" to maximize sexual arousal. It obviously works with a legion of teenage boys who far too often grow up to become teenage photographers in their fifties. It's also a gender thing — men photographing nude women is an entirely different genre of photography than women photographing nude women.
Clearly I don't speak for the world at large, but sexually charged photography always strikes me as the photographic equivalent of dewy spider webs, or scenic mountain lake reflections, or backlit seagulls on an old piling — the incredibly trite cliché that says far more about the photographer's lack of imagination than anything else.
I'm not a prude, but I do clearly differentiate between the worlds of sexual photography and sensual photography. The former always seems to me to appeal to the base instincts and present an adolescent view of life. In contrast, sensual photography seems to delight in the human form in ways that seem far more mature and sensitive. Perhaps this explains why there are so few nude portfolios published in LensWork — we simply do not see many submissions of nudes where sensuality is the focus rather than sexuality.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
Add your comments and observations to the discussion by using the "Comments" link at the bottom of this post.