Saturday, November 06, 2010

Strike a Pose: Nudism in the 1930s





I've been arranging a sale of some of my nudism catalogue and so have been spending some time flicking through them again. Some of the books come from the early days, from the 1930s, the inter-war years of experimentation, particularly on continental Europe where nudism seemed to really take off. I have to say, the more I read, the more I just don't get it. Yes, I can see there's a certain frisson and freedom involved in skinny-dipping at the beach or swimming-hole, I can even appreciate the thrill of wandering around outdoors naked and feeling the air on bare skin (weather and legality permitting) but reading these older nudism books one is left with the feeling that this 'movement' must have been in one of the greatest communal exercises in denial of all time. Fortunately, I have a number of more recent publications too which tell me that these days nudism has kind of caught up on itself and allows for both recreational and sexual naked freedom in many of its venues. This is all very well, and I have nothing against you if this is your cake, but I think I'll pass.

Still, these photos above (and boy did I have to hunt to find male nudes in these books) struck me as having a certain elegance and if those old-time nudists knew how to do anything well, it was how to strike a pose in front of the camera. Of course there is actually a whole body of nude photography which these photos are a part of, the Frei Korper Kultur movement in Germany at about this time spawned a huge number of photographs of athletic young men and women leaping, bounding and otherwise being athletic and there is always a section of this kind of work in any Taschen anthology of nude photography or treatise on 'The Naked Male in History'. I suppose its true to say that even Leni Reifenstahl's photos of the 1936 Olympians are part of that same tradition.


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