email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting OffGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Evolution of BeautyThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe PervertThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
Unusually for a photography book, Natural Beauty starts with a helpful introduction by the photographer. Robert Farber explains what he aims to achieve in his work, and writes a little about his methods. “You photograph what you yourself are moved by,” he suggests, and makes the rather old fashioned claim that “If it is truly made for yourself, then the image created will be a culmination of all your sensitivities, thus making it an expression of its creator.” He endorses the idea of the artist inspired by an inner feeling, and says his best photographs require that his “total being is driven.”
This view of the creative process is very familiar for painters, composers, musicians, actors, dancers, and possibly even film directors. It’s harder to imagine that photographers need to be gripped by the passion of creative inspiration in order to create great photography. After all, don’t they just point, focus, and click? Of course, that’s a massively simplistic account of the technique of photographers. A great deal of the work comes from selecting the right film, camera, lighting, choosing the subjects, knowing exactly the right time to take the photograph, and then developing and processing the photographic image. Nevertheless, it seems that the creative method could be entirely intellectual and calculating, devoid of emotion. It could also be a matter of luck; photographers can take many pictures, and then select the most successful ones later on.
Even if Farber’s account of the nature of photography fails to generalize, it may still be an accurate and revealing description of the way he approaches his own work. Indeed, there is a naivety to his work that fits well with his romantic notion of the artist. Through this collection of nudes, there are scatted some pictures of nature – rushing horses, storms, roses, fields, trees, sea waves, and the desert – giving a rather heavy handed hint, as if the title was not enough, that woman’s beauty is that of nature. The danger in this approach is that the photographs will be full of cliché.
It turns out that Farber does succumb to this danger to some extent, and some of his work reminds me of the soft-focus images of David Hamilton, who in my mind is one of the clichéd of contemporary photographers of female nudes, and there is clear overlap between Farber and Hamilton in their portrayal of nature, at least in the pictures of horses and waves breaking on the beach. But in other cases Farber’s work is distinctive and appealing. For instance, plate 42 is a sepia-toned image of a beautiful single-petal white flower from above, and plate 35 of the broad green leaves if a plant could easily be a painting, with beautiful hints of yellow and brown. Both pictures are reminiscent of the work of Georgia O’Keefe. Plate 24, a monochrome image of a luscious rose, is also strikingly successful, and plate 58, a black and white picture of dark flowers, has a wonderfully ominous texture.
When it comes to the nudes, there’s also a mixture of styles and approaches, some of which are more successful than others. I’ll start with some of the less successful. The silliest work is plate 36, a series of six pictures of a woman in an overcoat, ankle socks and red shoes, leaning against a tree, taking off her underwear. Plate 37 is of a nude blonde woman lying on a rock in a wood, and this is a somewhat tired juxtaposition of woman and nature. Plate 69 is a soft-focus monochrome image of a woman leaning her head against another reclining woman, who herself is leaning against another woman just out of the picture; this has strong echoes of David Hamilton’s sultry mixture of innocence and eroticism. It’s hard to take such works very seriously. Similarly, the sepia toned images of women draped in white sheets or lace, with their faces turned away or out of the picture altogether, strike one as generic, even if they are proficiently done.
But many of the other images are far fresher and more interesting. Plate 49, has a Californian light to it, this time reminiscent perhaps of Jock Sturges, although the model is probably in her twenties, and her figure is does not have the perfection of Sturges’ youth; the picture is more interesting and even appealing because the model is still beautiful. Plates 76 and 77 seem to feature the same woman, this time posed in front of a mirror, with an American flag of the stars and stripes hanging behind. The image is a little concerting, less obvious in its meaning than many others, and again, pleasing because of this obscurity.
Other images are interesting if not entirely successful. A number feature two women with contrasting bodies; for example, plate 45 features a round-breasted large-nippled torso in the foreground and a smaller-breasted pointier-nippled whiter torso in the background. Plate 7 juxtaposes a woman’s bottom with the smooth glaze of large vase in the foreground. Others use rather blatant artistic devices to bring out texture or play with form, and are pleasing enough.
The most successful images are simpler. Plate 1 is of the back and head of a model; the grain of the picture is not fine, and we don’t see much detail in her spine or muscle tone, but we do see the play of light and dark, and it is a very satisfying composition. Similarly plate 4, also used for the book cover, is beautiful in the softness of its tone and texture. Plate 48 has similar qualities, but is lighter, using very little contrast, and other pictures (48, 63) that also seem slightly washed out due to the lack of darks manage to convey an almost abstract sensuality. Maybe my favorite image is plate 71, again a torso of a beautiful nude woman, but here there is a contrast of texture both between the smoothness of her stomach and legs and the folds of skin of her hands on her hips, and also between her body and the stucco wall behind her. It’s a picture that, while on the verge of cliché, manages to convey a powerful eroticism.
This collection of photographs has its flaws, but in the end it is an impressive collection. Even though it lacks self-consciousness or irony, and the aim of capturing natural female beauty will strike many as belonging more to a bygone age than our iconographically saturated era, Farber has the ability to make powerful and seductive pictures. He seems utterly uninterested in exploring the political and ethical issues involved in depicting nude women, and while some will see this as a flaw, it is hard to resist the aesthetic and sensual pleasure he offers.
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
Link: Author website including extensive preview of Natural Beauty.
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.