Edward Weston's Book Of Nudes/
The Nude Female Figure

Review by Willard Manus

"The nude is a basic human fact. We are all born naked! But that fact immediately clashes with another fact: for thousands of years we have not wandered unclothed about the earth, or if we did, were promptly clothed by scandalized neighbors or thrust briskly into jail. So we in turn clothe this cloistered phenomenon, the Nude, in illusions. When we meet with it in actuality, it astounds us--not by its beauty, which most of the time only the eyes of affection or the artist can detect, but by its variations from our ideal."

In 1953 Nancy Newhall introduced a book of nude photos by Edward Weston with these words. Despite the photographer's fame--and the beauty of his black and white pictures--the book was rejected by prudish publishers and remained in limbo for many years. Then, in 1985, the Getty Museum acquired the property and set about turning it into a compelling and handsome volume.

The result is EDWARD WESTON'S BOOK OF NUDES, a 96-page hardbound offering which the Getty (in association with the University of Arizona) released recently to coincide with an exhibition of Weston's work. The book includes the images as originally laid out by Weston and Newhall, the latter's essay, plus an introduction by Brett Abbott, assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the Getty.

"Had the project been properly published in the 1950s, it would have been among the first books by an American photographer dedicated to the nude as an artistic subject in and of itself. Though it has taken more than fifty years, and the support of two arts organizations, Weston and Newhall's vision has finally been realized in print. As the only book of Weston nudes that the artist himself participated in creating, it has an exceptional significance in the history of photography," comments Abbott.

Coincidentally, Watson-Guptill Publications has released THE NUDE FEMALE FIGURE--A VISUAL REFERENCE FOR THE ARTIST by Mark Edward Smith (ppbk, 208 pages). The book is aimed at art students concentrating on sketching or painting the female form, though of course anyone who simply enjoys looking at naked women will be happy to peruse its pages. Smith has shot 220 color photographs of many different models--"some slender, some not, with lovely women of different skin tones, with some pregnant women, rejoicing in the miracle of new life," he writes--in classic studio poses (standing, sitting, kneeling, hands & feet, bending, crouching, etc).

Weston never used professional models, only his friends and family, and tried to transcend the erotic "to discover a realm where realism and abstraction coexist." His ultimate goal, adds Abbott, was to "show that the contours of a nude could echo those of a shell or dune, in the same way as shapes in a still life or landscape could resemble parts of the human body without symbolizing them."

Smith, whose previous books were The Figure in Motion and The Nude Figure, has a more utilitarian approach--"to celebrate the female form as nature's finest achievement." He has paid particular attention to composition, lighting and reproduction "to make it easy for artists to see the relationships between the parts of the body."