VINE VOICEon 15 May 2004
Before discussing this book, let me mention that most parents will feel this book is not appropriate for children. Although the nudes are modestly and tastefully done, these images would be "R" rated in the movie theater.
Francesco Scavullo is best known for his portraits and fashion photography. He is one of the best known photographers to emerge in those fields around the time that Richard Avedon was becoming popular. His nudes reflect that strength in the sense that his portrait and fashion-style poses work best. In many cases, the poser's nudity is limited to seeing a neckline and shoulders unencumbered by the distraction of a line of clothing. For that reason, many of these images don't really seem like nudes at all.
This book suffers from three serious problems. First, the page size is extremely small. As a result, the photographs are never very large and sometimes are almost microscopic, when combined into a series over two facing pages. You lose a lot of the effect that way. It's like trying to look at fashion and portraits in Reader's Digest size. The editors made up for this by doing a very fine job of selecting photographs that look awfully good for such small reproduction sizes.
Second, there simply are not that many images in the book. To get a fully satisfying flavor of Mr. Scavullo's work would have required at least twice as many. I do not know if this is because there were few outstanding nudes to choose from, or on account of limits imposed by the publisher to keep the price down. If there were not that many high quality nudes available, a better solution would have been to have included fully-clothed shots of similar posings to put the nudes into a context.
Third, the work comes across as much too glossy and healthy looking to be real. Despite the claims in the introduction that Mr. Scavullo's strength in these images was to see the "real" person rather than an idealized person, I found most of the images looking much too shiny and vibrant to be anything other than an idealization. The work clearly is designed to be flattering to the poser, as well. There's just a little too much "appeal" put into the shots, like a Las Vegas neon sign. Where humor was put into the images, I found it usually didn't work for me.
On the positive side, seldom do I see a book where I like as high a percentage of the photographs as I do in this one. So the editors deserve a kudo.
Impressive also was that a nude photograph of Mr. Scavullo appears with his biography. He felt that he should not ask others to do what he had not.
So, I gave the book back one star for these positives, raising it from a two star to a three star rating.
Even if you do not buy the book, I hope you will have an opportunity to see it and form your own opinions of these photographs. This book presents many opportunities for refining your taste in photography.
Here are my favorite images in the order in which they appear:
Jay Johnson, 1969 (head and shoulders version)
Helmut Berger, 1969 (head version)
David Sabedru, 1991
Kate Mulder, 1992 (eyes downward version)
Dana Patrick, 1990
Cindy Crawford, 1990
Linda Evangelista, 1990 (series of head shots from behind)
Claudia Schiffer, 1992
Naomi Campbell, 1989 and 1990
Margaux Hemingway, 1975
Brooke Shields (color), 1991
Wale, 1993 (series)
Sterling St. Jacques, (1978) (See if you can do this pose!)
Sandy Spener and Karla Wolfangle (color), 1971
Hiram Keller, 1969
I suggest an exercise in visual image-making for you to follow on from what you have seen in this book. Begin with a bare table. Then begin adding still life elements until it seems the most "real" to you. As you add the elements, feel free to change the compositions to learn what causes you to see a more "real" scene. Make some notes of what you learn, and take photographs that you can attach to the notes.
Then come back to this book about two weeks later, and see how you would have changed the posings, the make-up, and lighting of these images to have made them more "real" for you.
Seek truth, as well as beauty. Otherwise, you will always be overwhelmed by the sheen of attractiveness . . . and miss the beauty that comes from stark openness.