The vulnerable Nude

From the 1980s onwards, large-format photography increasingly encouraged nude images that addressed the vulnerability and mortality of human beings. The artists themselves were often the subject of their images, and self-portrayal in the image explicitly entered into a dialog with the medium of photography. The deeply confessional works of artists such as Tracey Emin depict their own traumatic experiences and their emotional consequences with image-text combinations. 

However, these self-portraits often remain deliberately ambiguous: Emin, for example, presents her vulnerable naked body, but leaves the interpretation of the relationship between title and image to the viewer.

John Coplans initially studied painting in London, but moved to the USA in 1959. At the beginning of the 1960s, he turned away from art and concentrated on his work as a writer, curator and art critic. In the early 1980s, he resumed active artistic work and focused on the expression of universal, primal feelings located in the psychic unconscious. Photography and his own ageing body became central themes. The body becomes an object that can be viewed in the medium of photography in a way that is not possible with the naked eye. His pictures pay homage to the approach of feminist artists such as Valie Export or Carolee Schneemann, who used their own bodies as a creative medium in the 1970s.

The 14 photographs of “Revolt of the Libido Part I and Part II” are part of a series created in collaboration with Rosy Martin and David Roberts, capturing the world of a 1950s British working class housewife from the perspective of a young woman in the late 1980s. They show the conflict between the stereotype of the perfect housewife and her erotic and sexual freedom as well as domestic violence – a life between duty, lust and abuse.

When Rineke Dijkstra decided to take these three large-format portrait photographs in 1994 after witnessing the birth of a friend, she gave birth portraits a completely new direction. The three photographs were taken one hour (Julie), one day (Tecla) and one week (Saskia) after giving birth.
Dijkstra succeeded in capturing the physical reality of these women at a time when they did not have everything under control. At the same time, all three radiate a remarkable dignity. Using the medium of the formally posed full-body portrait, Dijkstra reveals something of what is going on inside these people: the emotional intensity behind the mask-like facial expressions and posture. The photographic portrait, labelled with the date and place, documents a specific point in time when the person had a specific experience.