The female form is ubiquitous and unsurprising. Its contours are well known. They are visible everyday in various contexts. This standardisation and pervasive presence does not mean that the female form is not fascinating to men and women. Its fascination endures in spite of the sheer rain of female presences in every society. The female form is like a drink that people never tire of imbibing. It is represented endlessly in various media. It is foregrounded even in the strict Islamic decorum in which women cover the entire body in black cloth with only the eyes showing. Such total covering, demonstrating an absolute determination to control visual and ultimately mental and physical access to women, suggests that something unique, perhaps even perilous, is being covered by those lines of impenetrable black.
This form so resolutely hidden in some religious contexts is on full display in many places places all over the world, as in the presence of naked mannequins modelling female underwear in shop windows in streets where children pass on their way to school. We have all become inured to the use of the female body as a means of advertising. It is rare to watch a US feature film without some degree of male and female nakedness.
In spite of this shaping of the visual landscape by the female form in various states of dress and undress, people remain fascinated by that form, even though its general features are identical in all examples.
One artist of what I would describe as female presence is photographer Helmut Newton. Newton's art goes beyond the representation of the female form to constructing female presence. Presence, because his compositions are less efforts to simply depict women than attempts to bring alive in a manner that is unique in each instance, what can be understood as the shock of recognition of the distinctiveness constituted by a particular configuration of the human species, a configuration whose uniqueness is expressed primarily in terms of the body.
There is little that is new in nakedness but a broad, perhaps infinite range of variations can be created out of various stages of relationship between nakedness and near nakedness, between nakedness and being fully clothed, between nakedness and the forms of things that are not human, correlations that make the human more distinctive and make nakedness no longer familiar.
Clothes are often fashioned to talk and not simply to act as covering for the human being. The eloquence of clothes as a capsule for the human being, advertising the sheer dexterity of the person, showcasing human physical flexibility and aliveness, is strikingly brought alive by Helmut Newton.
Through Newton's eyes we see the glory of the physical grounding of human existence. Everything that humans are capable of is achieved through the body. The body will age but, as described by the philosopher Demas Nwoko, that ageing is part of its beauty.
Examples of the master's work: