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This book deserves more than five stars for the remarkable quality of the images, the virtuousity across styles, and the pioneering inventiveness of its compositions.
On the Body contains much male, female, and child nudity of the sort that would mean that these images would be beyond what a motion picture could portray and still have an R rating. The images are done in a natural style that will remind many of the Jock Sturges work with children and young women.
Imogen Cunningham is quoted in this volume as asserting, "You might say I invented the nude." Before you dismiss this statement, you should realize that while she was an undergraduate at the University of Washington Ms. Cunningham did a self-portrait of herself nude in a meadow. The year was 1906. The composition and quality of the photograph reflect a sophisticated understanding of the body as an abstract shape. Ms. Cunningham is also famous (infamous in her day with some people) for her nudes of her husband, Roi Patridge, outdoors. She also brought a high level of taste to her subject at a time when many men were posing women in the nude more for the prurient interest than for the artistic values. Although modern nude photography has moved beyond her work in its inventiveness, the classical elements she portrays here are the sound foundation on which much of the best modern work is based.
Anyone who is a fan of 20th century photography should own this book. All Imogen Cunningham fans will find this book becoming the core of their collection of her images.
Although I personally prefer Ruth Bernhard's work, the best of Ms. Cunningham's work is just as winning. Ms. Cunningham works on a broader body of subjects, which makes this book far more interesting than most photography books. You will find studio work, nudes in landscapes, bits and pieces of individuals including many wonderful hand images, pregnant women nude, children playing naturally nude, and prominent people expressing their personalities in interesting ways. The book is a fine cross-section of all the styles that Ms. Cunningham used.
The book contained so many images that I liked that it is beyond what you would want to read for me to list them all. Let me mention a few though. A very high percentage of the works involving her husband nude outdoors are remarkably beautiful and inspiring. A series of outdoor nudes of Helene Mayer in Canyon de Chelly during 1939 are as beautiful a set of photographic images as I have seen. The hand photographs are quite remarkable, and will cause you to want to examine peoples' hands for the rest of your life. I especially liked her efforts to create a spiritual or transcendental style in the inventive works involving "Dream Walking" in 1968 and Morris Graves in 1973. These images seemed to foreshadow the type of work in Light Warriors.
To me, the most haunting works were a series of abstract partial nudes of women's torsos (usually more than one in an image) that formed a series of triangles. This perspective was transforming for me. I seldom think of the human body in terms of triangles. The triangles are references to the negative space outlined by the nudes.
After you view this wonderful volume, I suggest that you think about how our concepts of the human body limit photography, and how how concepts of photography limit our ability to appreciate the human body. Why is it that no one does studies of nostrils? Or elbows? Are they less worthy than hands?
Open yourself to the full potential of the physical world around you, and expand your ability to perceive the reality and potential of that world for you to partipate in.
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