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Why can't you have a happy, smiling nude?

Philippe Gauthier , Aug 15, 2001; 06:02 p.m.

I've been wondering for some time... Most nudes seem to fall into three categories. They either look:

1. Romantic/pensive/dreamy 2. Mean/bored/pissed off 3. Abstract - you don't see the model's face who can't therefore be smiling.

Example of type 1, one of my own pictures which got good ratings: http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=305940.

Examples of type 2 nudes:

http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=210700 http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=247002 http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=216231

Well, we could discuss which girls in these photos are really mean-looking and obviously, some pictures are better than others. But the point is: why is it so rare to find happy, smiling nudes? I've done this one http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=216231. It didn't get very good reviews, but the model likes it more than other romantic/dreamy pictures that I've done of her.

Are smiling nudes not artistic enough? I admit you'll see a lot of fake smiles in porn or erotica material. I also admit that a lot of nudes are rather abstact, not showing the face at all.

Yet I wonder. Is nudity so sinful that showing someone happy in the nude seems too provocative? Maybe, maybe not. Are smiling nudes to be avoided because of possible confusion with pornography? Perhaps. Are they just of one those things that just not feel "proper" for whatever cultural reasons, just as male nudes seem to be? I really don't know.

I'd like to know how you feel about this.


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Meryl Arbing , Aug 15, 2001; 08:34 p.m.

Playboy did that sort for years. Nice, clean-cut, fresh-faced young girls who just happened to be nude.

The cliches you are describing are part of all portrait photography these days. I don't think that nudity is regarded as sinful, just the the style of portrait these days are these "dead-face" shots where the person has no trace of expression, emotion or even consciousness. This is supposed to be "cool" but gives the wonderfully attractive impression of complete boredom!

Amy Powers , Aug 15, 2001; 08:46 p.m.

Short answer: to me, a nude smiling at the camera is a portrait - its about the individual as a person, not about suggesting an idea, or any one of a variety of ideas, to the viewer. Its like "here is X person, nude" rather than "here is a photo about vulnerability" (or whatever).
They are both perfectly valid - but quite different. Plus a nude person looking/smiling at the camera tends to get read as erotica/porn by more people than a nude looking away or looking pissy/distant. Someone who is smiling is friendly and inviting. If they are naked, its read as a sexual invitation.
I suppose they could be smiling but not looking at the camera - but thats kind of odd. People usually smile at people, so unless the model was looking at another model, they'd look strange just smiling at nothing.
Perhaps its just that happiness is somethimes percieved as a one-dimensional emotion, whereas the distant/dreamy/pissed off looks are more ambiguous and thus more complex and more interesting. The viewer is more easily able to project their own feelings onto the image.

Chuck Dowling , Aug 15, 2001; 09:13 p.m.

You want smiling nudes? I have some VHS tapes I could loan you...

Jim R , Aug 15, 2001; 09:46 p.m.

I think you can have a happy smiling nudes, I have many, but they're not pictures I want to share. Why? Well along the lines of Amy's comments, in my experience some of the best smiling portraits are created when the person (model) is smiling FOR the photographer. To the viewer who doesn't get that the smile isn't about sex, all is lost. Why I don't want to share them should be obvious ;)


Jeff Spirer , Aug 15, 2001; 10:03 p.m.

The incredibly prolific Nobuyoshi Araki has a wonderful photograph of an ecstatic nude woman with a double mastectomy. I believe it is in the back of the book he did with Nan Goldin.

Peter Hughes , Aug 15, 2001; 10:15 p.m.

There is nothing that will turn a photograph--portrait or nude--into a snapshot faster than a smile. The only exception is if the smile arises spontaneously, out of a humorous moment in the shoot. Otherwise a smile is a plastic mask designed to keep the photographer out.

Interesting that most children turn into statues when a camera is aimed at them, their faces frozen into gargoyle-like monstrosities for the camera. I presume this is because they have been conditioned into this pose by the various relatives who snapshoot them.

Our society is obsessed with "happy" and anything that dares to expose the human soul underneath the facade is dangerous.

BTW, because of the censorship on this forum I will refrain from posting any nudes with this response. I have a few up on my site, however, if you dig deep enough.


Peter Hughes , Aug 15, 2001; 10:26 p.m.

Meryl: Just because a person isn't smiling doesn't mean that there is "no trace of expression, emotion or even consciousness." Learn to look deeper--at the face, the body language, the pose, the props, the costumes, the makeup (or lack thereof), etc. I assure you that the boredom you see in such "cool" photos is in yourself, not in the subject.

Amrah Fatale (portrait), 2001

T Bloxom , Aug 15, 2001; 11:29 p.m.

Maybe this is a stupid suggestion, but...

Most of the other comments on here have focussed on having the model smile *into* the camera...and yes, that would certainly yell "snapshot"...BUT -- what if the model smiled sort of to herself. Maybe sitting, holding legs to chest...a 3/4 shot with her smiling and looking slightly up. Does that make sense? That could certainly be done artfully without becoming porn or a snapshot. It would look a little like a Victoria's Secret catalog, sans lingerie, but...

Just a thought...I've never shot nudes so this opinion is probably not worth the paper it's printed on. :-)

T. Bloxom

Peter Phan , Aug 16, 2001; 12:07 a.m.

Romantic/pensive/dreamy/mean/bored/pissed off/abstract expressions "sit" on the face. Smiles "leap" from the face, and then they are gone. There's the transcience of the smile as well as the competition that the model is dealing with in her own psyche --insecurity, vulnerability, awkwardness, seriousness, eroticism, romanticism, artisism(?) all competing with the happiness that gives birth to that elusive smile. Regardless, it's a nice challenge to fill this niche.

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