Under Exposed

Aug 26, 2006

By Diane Smyth

You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find a picture of a nude man for this issue. Naturally in the interests of equality and balance, I wanted to show some naked men as well as women, but there were none to be found. Even Robert Mapplethorpe's up-and-coming exhibition, Still Moving and Lady at the Alison
Jacques Gallery in London, only features women.

So you can imagine my delight when I finally found this one. Shot by American photographer Jeff Bark, it's taken from Abandon, his forthcoming solo show at Michael Hoppen Contemporary. The exhibition shows both male and female nudes and, as you'll gather, doesn't glamorise or idealise either. 'Abandon' in this case suggests 'lost in thought', not the outre display of sexual abandonment so often associated with (female) nudes in our media.

A plate of half-eaten food on the record player, one foot on the scales, this man looks more concerned with his waistline than his libido. His nakedness has become incidental, and you don't have to be a naturist, or a man, to sympathise. We've all been there, more often than we've been to Playboy territory.

Why are there so few male nudes? One argument, which I thought had died out with corsets but actually heard wheeled out the other day, is that women's bodies are simply more attractive than men's. But is that really true? The Greeks and Romans didn't think so. Admittedly this man isn't a textbook Greek god, but
then the women in Bark's exhibition aren't picture perfect either. Or at least, they don't conform to the current media conception of airbrushed perfection anyway.

And the strange thing is that Bark is only too well-placed to know. Michael Hoppen Contemporary wasn't all that keen to confirm it, but outside the art world he's a well-known and successful fashion photographer. He's photographed lovelies in lingerie for Victoria's Secret and sweeties in swimsuits for Sports Illustrated, all of whom were, you've guessed it, young, slim and female.

It makes you wonder, doesn't it? Would Bark rather be shooting more naturalistic nudes all the time? Why does the commercial market demand female nudes?

Why do they have to be so perfect? Is the art market more open-minded?

If the art market's so open-minded, why is it keeping Bark's day job hush-hush?

Whatever the answers, now is the time to get yourself down to Michael Hoppen Contemporary in November. Because let's face it, you're not going to see many male nudes elsewhere.