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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Surfaces and Strategies – Naked or Nude

“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet recognised for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own skin, the hairs of one’s own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.”

– John Berger

(Berger 1972: 54)

As one of my strands in this module is considering the way in which I photograph the male nude, I want to be sure that I appreciate the difference between a nude and a naked picture.

John Berger’s article “Ways of Seeing” (1972) discusses the manner in which men and women are culturally represented. He suggests that the representations we see of men and women in visual culture cause us to gaze at people in different ways. He proposes that it is legitimate for men to gaze at and examine women in a way that is different to how women view women.

Chapter 3 of Berger’s work is devoted to analysing nude depictions in European art and culture. He defines nakedness as being seen as oneself, while nudity is being seen by others. In being viewed by others, the subject becomes an object instead of a person. Berger identifies that the painter is never painted, but instead he paints what appeals to him sexually.  In doing this, the painter never paints a woman’s body hair and fat dimples as this is not sexually appealing to the painter or the viewer. The same is true in photography, where female nude models usually shave off all their body hair and dimples are often digitally removed.  This view is somewhat supported by Max Friedlander (2013: 104) who asserts that since the 15th century “the subject of a picture often appears to be merely an excuse to paint, or an opportunity of painting, disrobed people”. Berger (1972: 51) agrees “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, (…) whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”

In other words, Berger is suggesting that ways of seeing are in fact ways of subjecting the subject.  It is these different ways that the nude is viewed that distinguish the difference between a man’s position in the world between that of women’s.  In western culture, this has been a cause of gender differences that exist even today. This will be important in considering photography the nude figure as part of my practice in this module.  I need to be mindful of how the viewer will look at and interpret my images in order to make sure that the models are not viewed as objects that I simply chose to photograph purely for my own pleasure. I do not want my work to be misunderstood in this way.


Berger, John. 1972. Ways of seeing. 1st edn. London: British Broadcasting Corporation.

Friedlander, M. (2013). On Art and Connoisseurship. Read Books Ltd.

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