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NerveReview - Nerve
The New Nude
by Genevieve Field (editor)
Chronicle Books, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 6th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 6)

In this excellent book, forty-eight photographers provide powerful images of eroticism. Now, I don't need much of an excuse to read a book of nude photography, but I suppose I need a reason to review it on Metapsychology, which is, after all, primarily about mental health. One doesn't have to be a Freudian, however, to see connections between sex and mental health. Of course, there's always the question of what is deviant and what is normal, and this book certainly has its fair share of gay couples, transvestites, piercings, people with their bodies in strange positions, or doing strange things, or dressed in strange ways, or who have weird-looking bodies. More challenging are the questions the reader has to face; "do I like these pictures?", "what do they mean to me?", and "why am I reading this book?"

It's worth comparing Nerve: The New Nude with another classic collection of nude photography, The Body: Photographs of the Human Form, edited by William Ewing. Ewing's book is much longer, at 432 pages. It is far more encyclopedic, covering the whole history of photography, and while many of the pictures are erotic, the theme of the book is basically about the body as aestheticized image. In stark contrast, Nerve is about danger, transgression, difference, and sex. Every picture is shocking or startling enough to make one want to look more and work out what is going on. Each picture is also beautiful, so long as no feelings of squeamishness or revulsion interfere with one's looking. Personally I can view just about any photo without disgust - although I would probably have very different reactions if faced with the subjects of the images in real life.

I have my favorites of course. Hiroshi Sunairi's pictures (presumably of himself) have a wonderful and pretty basic immediacy to them, while Alvin Booth's are both staged and primitivistic. has a way of finding unusual beauty and sadness - note that her website is worth seeing, although it requires a special plug in. Janine Gordon's black and white photos mostly of men are subdued, so it is a surprise to go to her website and find it so multicolored, dynamic, and crude. Ian McFarlane's models are especially attractive, and in each black and white picture there's generally something incongruous to give it a hint of humor.

The overall value of looking through all these different expressions of desire and fantasy is not just the banal but important one of making one more open minded, and there are more obvious ways of finding pictures of young and attractive naked people in sexual situations if that is what you are looking for. While we do have a public discourse for sexuality, it is for the most part impoverished: on one side there are those who want to condemn perverts, and on the other side there are those who say we are all different and we should respect each other. Maybe what's especially valuable about Nerve: The New Nude is that, while it may not provide profound understanding of otherness, it at least brings one to see the beauty in the other, and also to recognize the otherness in oneself.


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