Friday, November 16, 2007

Books of Nudes by Alessandro Bertolotti

OK…let’s balance out this month’s war and misery and slip into something a little more comfortable…NUDITY!

For all of us who just love anthologies of books, there is a great new one from Abrams called Books of Nudes by Alessandro Bertolotti. Bertolotti, according to the flap copy, has one of the largest collections of erotic books and photographs in Europe. Who his American equivalent would be, I do not know but Bertolotti has brought together more than 160 books and divides them into thematic sections under chapter headings like: Pictorialism, Glamour, European Avant-Garde, Nazism, Gay Pride and others.

I find nudity in photography to be a fascinating subject for what it attempts to be and at times how it tries to deny what it actually is. Many a book or magazine has been sold simply because they contain nudes and thousands of those same publications would go to great lengths to deny any sexual component to their content. In the introduction to Books of Nudes, Jean-Claude Lemagny writes: “First, let us remind ourselves calmly that eroticism is not an aesthetic value. The quality of space, of the graphic line, and of light are all aesthetic values, but sexuality is not. The touch, the desire, and the warmth of the body are sexual values, not aesthetic ones. Yet these two fields, although radically separate in the world of the mind, are intimately linked in reality, a paradox that is evident in every ‘nude’ in history. Beauty and desire combine in a sensuality that belongs to both, even though for obvious reasons it should not.”

The book’s design is almost a spitting image of Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s accomplished two-volume photo-book history but with fewer lengthy essays. Each chapter starts with a short socio-cultural essay that places the groupings into perspective with their appearance in history. The illustrations are presented as images of book covers and as interior spreads of open books. The printing was done in France and it looks great.

Since this volume is so specific to a particular subject, the examples often fall far outside of the expected and known. That being said, one criticism that I have of this collection is that it seems to be a rather narrow and timid view of the nude in photography especially in relation to recent publications. There isn’t a single title featured that was published between 1995 and 2002. The two entries that end the book are Bill Henson’s Lux Et Nox and Bettina Rheims’ Morceaux Choisis, both published in 2002. Even Parr and Badger included the likes of Terry Richardson and Hiromix as contemporary examples of interesting photo book making. I would think that no matter what you think of their photography, a Richard Kern or a Roy Stuart deserve a place somewhere in this mix. I might be criticized for calling for the inclusion of explicitness or vulgarity but it is an aspect of ‘the nude’ that is suspiciously absent from this book.

The flap copy mentions that Bertolotti has amassed his collection from over thirty years of collecting yet he is only 47. I guess that fact that he started collecting at such a young age makes him fairly typical of any other 16 year old male with an interest in nudity. I wonder if his first book acquired at that age made it into this volume.

Book Available Here (Books of Nudes)