Nude Photography – Art or Porn?

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By Steve Russell

Note: Because of the subject matter of this article I am not including any photos.

More than likely, about 40% of the readers of this article will be on one side of the room, 40% on the other and 20% milling around in the middle. That’s okay because sometimes it’s good to get away from technical, middle-of-the-road articles and write about a subject that is sure to elicit emotional responses.

Last week, Tiffany posted a review of the website 500px. I thought it was an excellent article (yes, I’m biased) and very well presented. To me 500px is a refreshing change from sites like Flickr where some people seem to post every photo they’ve taken regardless of quality, subject matter or general interest to the public. One reader, however, posted the following comment:

With the nudity filter off it feels like a soft core porn site. And, it’s disappointing how much traction and attention those photos and photographers get for what I realize is legitimate, but even in the most artistic and respectful forms I find to be somewhat cheap.

You know what? The reader that posted the remark makes an excellent point. I admit that my initial reaction was, “Well, duh, don’t turn off the nudity filter if seeing nude photography offends you.” But the more I thought about it, the more I understood what was being said.

What is nude photography? Is it truly art or is it porn?

There are so many problems with this that there can’t be a “right” answer. But, unemotional, intelligent and intellectual consideration of the question can be helpful.

Is nude photography art? I think some of it is and some of it isn’t.

Is nude photography porn? Undoubtedly, some of it is and some of it is intended to be porn. Some of it is crap in my opinion. Many of the images make me wonder why the photographer would do that and why the model would stand for it, but that’s just me.

The issue is the lack of a universally accepted answer to the question” what is porn?” This is so much a cultural, societal and personal issue that the only real answer lies with the viewer.

Let me step back a little. Photography is an art-form. Not all photography is art. Painting, sculpture, music, literature, pottery, all are art forms. Not everything produced within those and other art-form disciplines are art.

Within the world of photography there are many different approaches or genre. Within each and all of them I have seen what I thought was art; absolutely beautiful art. And, within each and all of them, I have seen what I thought was complete crap. That’s my opinion and what I think is art or crap may or may not agree with what you think is art or crap. It makes no difference the medium. I think modern, surrealistic, impressionist painting is mostly crap. There are a large number of people out there willing to pay huge sums of money to own some of the stuff I think is crap. To them it’s art, or in some cases an investment.

The statue of David by Michelangelo is a nude sculpture as is the Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch. Are they art or porn? I think both are widely accepted as art.

The Three Graces by Rubens is a nude painting as are a number of his other works. Rubens work is generally considered art.

But for some reason when nude photography enters the discussion the lines become blurred and it moves from one side to the other depending on the viewer. I sometimes think it must be because most photography provides a more realistic image that painting or sculpture. Still, the answer is that some of it is art, some is porn and some is just total crap. In the end, the true answer lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Now about 500px. One thing that the website encourages is the photographers post only their very best work. Many do exactly that. Many others do not. Other sites like Flickr make no comments about quality and the great hoi polloi tends to post anything and everything. If you search for it, there’s a lot of nude photography on Flickr and I suspect on other sites as well.

500px, like Snapfish, Flickr and others is not a juried site. In other words, it’s up to the photographer to post anything he or she wants to post. Keep that in mind when viewing any photography site. With that in mind, if you don’t want to view nudity, keep the filter on. Don’t be surprised when you see a nude photo anyway because the filter depends on the posting photographer to categorize the photo as a nude photo. Most do, but not all photographers remember to categorize their photos.

When you view photos on 500px, go to the top of the page and click on Photos and then in the drop down box, click on Popular, Editor’s Choice or Upcoming. Once you’ve accessed one of the collections, you can also filter by category by using the drop-down box entitled Categories on the right side of the page. If you want to see everything that’s being posted at the time, click on Fresh but keep in mind you’re seeing everything and not just the best.

By viewing the photos in one of the first three categories, you will be able to view some awesome photography. You’ll also find that the vast majority of images that are receiving most of the traction and attention are not photographs of nudes but of a wide variety of subjects. And, if you don’t want to view nude photography, don’t turn off the nudity filter.

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  • Jeff

    Totally agreed, I don’t care for (most) nude photography but then I care for democracy and freedom of choice. It’s not because some people are vegetarians that we should pull the steaks from the supermarket.

    As a society we have way bigger problems than untalented photographers displaying tasteless nudes

  • Julie

    I don’t comment often, but this post struck a nerve because 500 px is heavily laden with nudes and even with the filter on, some of them mange to get through the filter onto my screen without my permission and it bothers me. I may be wrong, but my understanding it that it’s up to the photographer to correctly tag their work on 500 px and if they don’t tag it as a nude it can get through the filter. Again, I could be wrong, but for sure some of them get through the filter and I don’t like it.

    As to whether it’s porn or not, I think it’s in the intent of the image. My feeling is if the intent is to entice then it’s porn. Most people can look at an image and figure out the intent. It’s not rocket science.
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=755573416 Matt Unique Smith

    Not to dispute the general tone and direction of your article, there is a small, significantly vocal, and sometimes powerful portion of the population that consider David and the like to be pornography. Consider the former USAG John Ashcroft who commissioned purple sheets to cover the bare breasts of the statues of justice at the DOJ. While, in general, I agree you can look at an image to determine whether it’s porn or not, there are those who will see uncovered bits and pieces as an affront to their sensibilities.

  • Anonymous

    Great article Steve.  I think that boudoir photography can be very lovely, but that is VERY different than sexually explicit photographs.  Julie is right, the intent of the photograph is usually pretty darned obvious.  If the content is enticing, it’s porn.  If the content is tasteful without being explicit, and has those qualities of artwork that are so hard to define in words, it’s boudoir.

  • Andrew Koran

    Not really sure why you even bring this up or spend tinme on a subject matter that is never going to have any positive consensus or not get a highly divded opinion. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QDRIIIGOA437YUZPYBUQSJML4I Jason

    Nude photography is an art and it depends upon how people perceives it and for how the photographer uses it. Every photograph can be judged subjectively like the  engagement photography calgary and other photographs. Excellent article and discussion

  • http://www.yucelphoto.com/ Yucel

    As you judge, so are you judging yourself.  

    The Taliban would have destroyed David.  The Church hacked of bits and pieces of much Greek and Roman … pieces of marble representing unclothed people.

    The Taliban today say they would today blow up the statues they blew up… being older and perhaps wiser.

    50 year olds do things now they would never have done at 20.

    And the 20 year olds…

    Really?  No pictures?  A picture is worth a thousand words… and a picture in this article would definitely bump up the comment word count.

    So as you judge, you jury, yourself.

  • http://www.yucelphoto.com/ Yucel

    Sorry, typo, The Taliban, they say they would NOT today destroy the history they did in fact destroy.

    Back in the day, when they were anti statue happy,  they were in their late teens and 30ish year old idealists…. today they are in their 40s and into their 60s.  A bit of stone doesn’t scare them so much.  Even large bits.

  • http://twitter.com/ohnostudio ohno studio

    You wrote “Some of it is crap in my opinion.”

    Most of it is crap in my opinion.

    I’m not offended by the nudity. I’m more offended by the plain bad images.

  • gtpete

    isnt pornography art as well. Are we all that narrow minded that we choose to single this type of photography out.

  • Syntax_error

    I find it easy to answer the question “what is porn”.
    Pornography is images that contains an act of sex. Masturbation or intercorse.
    What I don’t know, is what defines nude photography.
    Is it all kinds of nudes, fine art to porn?
    In my opinion, nudes that do not contain sex is NOT porn.
    That don’t make it good art automatically, much like not all photos of birds are great photos from an artistic point of view.
    But in no way can you define a picture of a naked human being pornography as long as it does not contain sex.
    With the exception of for instance a picture with a man with a hard on, or a woman spreading her legs clearly to explicitly show her private parts as in a Playboy mag for instance.