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The Body: Photographs of the Human Form

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The sensual curve of the shoulder, the disturbing line of a scar, the magnetic pull of a lashed eye -- since the birth of photography, images of the human body have attracted, disturbed, fascinated, and obsessed us. The body has been scrutinized by medical and anatomical photographers; it has been celebrated by photographers of sport and dance; it has inspired a long tradi The sensual curve of the shoulder, the disturbing line of a scar, the magnetic pull of a lashed eye -- since the birth of photography, images of the human body have attracted, disturbed, fascinated, and obsessed us. The body has been scrutinized by medical and anatomical photographers; it has been celebrated by photographers of sport and dance; it has inspired a long tradition of photographing the nude; and it has been depicted in phantasmagoric terms. In this rich, involving archive of over 360 duotone and color images culled from worldwide collections, renowned photo curator William A. Ewing has compiled the most comprehensive and arresting visual survey ever published of the human form. From nineteenth-century erotica to the politicized images of the 1990s, The Body offers an exciting, elegantly packaged, provocative record of the camera's infatuation with the human figure.


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The sensual curve of the shoulder, the disturbing line of a scar, the magnetic pull of a lashed eye -- since the birth of photography, images of the human body have attracted, disturbed, fascinated, and obsessed us. The body has been scrutinized by medical and anatomical photographers; it has been celebrated by photographers of sport and dance; it has inspired a long tradi The sensual curve of the shoulder, the disturbing line of a scar, the magnetic pull of a lashed eye -- since the birth of photography, images of the human body have attracted, disturbed, fascinated, and obsessed us. The body has been scrutinized by medical and anatomical photographers; it has been celebrated by photographers of sport and dance; it has inspired a long tradition of photographing the nude; and it has been depicted in phantasmagoric terms. In this rich, involving archive of over 360 duotone and color images culled from worldwide collections, renowned photo curator William A. Ewing has compiled the most comprehensive and arresting visual survey ever published of the human form. From nineteenth-century erotica to the politicized images of the 1990s, The Body offers an exciting, elegantly packaged, provocative record of the camera's infatuation with the human figure.

30 review for The Body: Photographs of the Human Form

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Everyone reading this has got one, unless you suspect you might be a brain in a vat being programmed with fake sensory inputs. It’s an intriguing theory but it won’t help at all when you’re pulled over for speeding. “I’m just a brain in a vat, officer”. So that thing you have there draped round your soul, yes, your very body – did you know that it’s like an explosive device waiting to go off at the slightest movement? It’s so offensive! Depending on the context. For instance, on p155 we read: Jock Everyone reading this has got one, unless you suspect you might be a brain in a vat being programmed with fake sensory inputs. It’s an intriguing theory but it won’t help at all when you’re pulled over for speeding. “I’m just a brain in a vat, officer”. So that thing you have there draped round your soul, yes, your very body – did you know that it’s like an explosive device waiting to go off at the slightest movement? It’s so offensive! Depending on the context. For instance, on p155 we read: Jock Sturges has been photographing the same nudist families in France year after year, watching the children grow into young adults. Sally Mann photographs her own children negotiating the turbulent waters of childhood. This book was published in 1994 and in the last 24 years we have had such a tsunami of revelations about the prevalence of paedophilia that the very young nudes in these two photographers’ works are now alarming and very unsettling. (But still on sale at Amazon.) How’s this for a story about the offensive qualities of the human form. A modest form of swimwear was created for Muslim women which got called the burkini – actually it’s nothing to do with the burka as it does not cover the face, but it covers everything else. The burka had already been banned in France as you will know. But then the burkini was banned by various French resorts. What could possibly be the problem? The Independent newspaper explained: The first city to announce the prohibition was Cannes, where mayor David Lisnard said he wanted to prohibit “beachwear ostentatiously showing a religious affiliation while France and places of religious significance are the target of terror attacks” to avoid “trouble to public order”. So then you had the crazy sight of French policemen on the beach ordering Muslim women wearing the burkini to expose more of their bodies or face the judicial consequences. “You’re offending public decency by wearing too many clothes!” This fits right into the chapter of this remarkable book called “Politic” – “the body as a site of contested meaning and value”. Boy, you can say that again. * So this book is stuffed full of 366 photos – “35 in colour, 331 in duotone” (yes, black & white) – of the human body in its many phases and attitudes, from the very gruesome Felice Beato 1865 – Crucifixion of the Male Servant Sokichi who Killed the Son of his Boss and was Therefore Crucified. He Was 25 Years Old to surrealistic fun in the 1930s and all the way to the pinnacle of straight and gay male and female beauty. It’s also stuffed with rather turgid and waffly prose consisting of statements of the obvious and statements of the indefinably abstruse with very little in between. * One of the most interesting chapters is called “Estrangement”, dealing with imperfect, disfigured, disabled, rejected, sick and dead human bodies. So here we have the bound Chinese foot, the Fijian cannibals with a fresh corpse, the hermaphrodite, elephantiasis due to scarlet fever, and a selecting of grossly deformed foetuses in big jars (always a crowd-pleaser). And let’s not forget A Filipino Freak Of Seven Or Eight Years Old Having An Extra Pair Of Legs Protruding From The Pelvis, C 1900 We are then informed that in the 19th century there was a brisk trade in such photographs of 'the other' : the circus freak, the bearded lady, Siamese twins, and so forth were popular subjects to be collected and traded So all those sites on the internet specialising in the gross and the grotesque have a venerable pedigree. A book like this demonstrates how our notions of what is decent and what is indecent mutate quite confusingly as the decades roll on by. I now think that the Victorian collectors of pornography would not be shocked by modern porn; instead they would be delighted at the quality of the images. We 21st century people, however, might well be shocked at some Victorian practices : Dead babies were another popular subject. Although to our thinking there is something of the macabre in this practice, people in the 19th century seemed to find much solace in it, as they did also in the so-called spirit photograph, a portrait of the widow or widower with an image of the dearly departed (manufactured by double exposure) hovering reassuringly over the shoulder. (If you’re interested, just google “Victorian babies in coffins”) * In 2016 Lucy Martin became a weather presenter on the BBC – here she is I’m used to her now but at first she kind of shocked me. Okay, not kind of, she did shock me! I’m still trying to work out why.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    I picked up a copy of this book in a London Blackfriars back in 1996, and I remember the stony-faced cashier very pointedly putting it in a brown paper bag so that I could stroll around the city streets discreetly. I'd also picked up a copy of Erotica: Women's Writing from Sappho to Margaret Atwood at the same time, a purchase that I had thought was unrelated, but in retrospect probably wasn't entirely.... In any case, this book got special brown bag treatment, but aggressive lesbian sex prose d I picked up a copy of this book in a London Blackfriars back in 1996, and I remember the stony-faced cashier very pointedly putting it in a brown paper bag so that I could stroll around the city streets discreetly. I'd also picked up a copy of Erotica: Women's Writing from Sappho to Margaret Atwood at the same time, a purchase that I had thought was unrelated, but in retrospect probably wasn't entirely.... In any case, this book got special brown bag treatment, but aggressive lesbian sex prose did not, which I have thought amusing ever since. The photos that appear in the book are, of course, the most important aspect of it, but the prose really should not go unread. Ewing gives the reader a strong overview of a broad, but still relatively particular aspect of the photographer's art. Part art history and part art appreciation, Ewing's analysis and historiography are strong if somewhat sparse, and his reviews are insightful if somewhat subjective, but generally astute enough that it makes actually reading this book about pictures worthwhile. Ewing is unflinching in his content, including photographs taken of corpses and those suffering from birth defects. The range of content passes through pornographers and anthropologists. The book includes the work of controversial artists whose subject matter is meant to disturb (Silverthorne) and provoke (Mann) amongst others, as well as the clinical work of medical photography, which in many cases is just as evocative. In that sense, there are any number of trigger warnings that one might issue for a book of this type, but if you're picking up a book with this title and cover (in the edition I read, at least) you should be prepared for content that might offend some sensibilities. The layout of the text and the photographs is sometimes awkward. Most photographs appear by themselves on the page with nothing more than a title and credit; others have the text of the book above or near them--just a paragraph or so--meaning that if you're reading through the book and flipping along the pictures, you can sometimes miss a few paragraphs nestled in amongst the pictures, so you have to flip back through to find the missing lines of text. Otherwise, the design of the book is strong. The photos are reproduced nicely for the size of the book (I have a paperback edition) and the organization is somewhat esoteric (chapters are entitled "Fragments" or "Estrangement" or "Probes") but not inaccurately so. There is, apparently, a later edition with this cover by photographer Tono Stano: That was, no doubt, done to reference the use of that image as the basis for the posters for the film Showgirls maybe in the hopes that a few people would accidentally pick up the book and buy it anyway. That's a deceptive publishing move, but it shouldn't dissuade anyone from the book itself. You may not want a book on your shelf that someone might mistake for something like a novelization of that particular film, but it could still work as conversation point should anyone mention it. Besides, maybe that cover got Mr. Stano a smidge of the attention that really is his due.... I'd recommend this book to anyone whether they had an interest in photography, art history or the human form. In fact, for those whose interest in such things is casual, it's worth checking out. It's an interesting read, and even if one is going to just leaf through it, glossy magazine style, it's a strong candidate for that kind of experience.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    Such an interesting look at photography of people through the ages. It's all here, from the medical, the surreal, the erotic, the documentary- what a wonderful collection. The text is edifying, but ultimately superfluous. The photos speak for themselves, and they say volumes. Such an interesting look at photography of people through the ages. It's all here, from the medical, the surreal, the erotic, the documentary- what a wonderful collection. The text is edifying, but ultimately superfluous. The photos speak for themselves, and they say volumes.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eleni

    Absolutely loved the book. The range of the photographs was wide beyond my expectations. With its choice of photographs the book covers the many different aspects of the human body, and it goes far and beyond the aesthetically pleasing / old age / shock-provoking themes that we often come across when one deals with this particular theme. There is a feeling of earthiness and reality in the book and an easiness in embrassing the good, the bad and the quirky, and the history of how we view ourselve Absolutely loved the book. The range of the photographs was wide beyond my expectations. With its choice of photographs the book covers the many different aspects of the human body, and it goes far and beyond the aesthetically pleasing / old age / shock-provoking themes that we often come across when one deals with this particular theme. There is a feeling of earthiness and reality in the book and an easiness in embrassing the good, the bad and the quirky, and the history of how we view ourselves.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    Great book!! Lot's of interesting and unique photographs! Explores many different images and ways to photograph the body. I found this very much education and enjoyable, it helped me with my own photographic work and with research. One of my new favourite photographic books. Great book!! Lot's of interesting and unique photographs! Explores many different images and ways to photograph the body. I found this very much education and enjoyable, it helped me with my own photographic work and with research. One of my new favourite photographic books.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Randy Garwood

    With the help of this book over five years ago, I truly fell in love with the art of 'the body'. This book made me fell so confident not only for myself but society as a whole. The collection is just beautiful!! I will always love this book With the help of this book over five years ago, I truly fell in love with the art of 'the body'. This book made me fell so confident not only for myself but society as a whole. The collection is just beautiful!! I will always love this book

  7. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    This is a beautiful compendium of images of the human form taken throughout the course of the history of photography. Sensual in places, grotesque, or bizarre in others.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Denae

    A fantastic collection of photographs, but still doesn't live up to Ewing's other collection, Love and Desire. A fantastic collection of photographs, but still doesn't live up to Ewing's other collection, Love and Desire.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    A really gorgeous, expansive look on photography and its history with the human body.

  10. 5 out of 5

    stacy

    five stars in photography is easy. try translating all those images to words. now THAT's something. five stars in photography is easy. try translating all those images to words. now THAT's something.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    Very intriguing history of the body in photographs. Definitely worth the time. Full of both beautiful and disturbing pictures, this book really pays tribute to the human form.

  12. 4 out of 5

    George

    Great volume of images; and great teaching tool, re: the human body, male and female.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Roxie

  14. 4 out of 5

    James Whittaker

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mr Richard P Hill

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  17. 4 out of 5

    Perrin

  18. 4 out of 5

    Domen

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barbora Voj

  21. 5 out of 5

    Risna

  22. 4 out of 5

    Inga

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brad

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pete Bylone

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jenn Manley Lee

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

  29. 4 out of 5

    L.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Intplibrarian

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