Chair Back


by Philip Greenspun for

It doesn't have to be literal

This is one of my favorites nudes ever. I actually didn't see the picture until I got the film back. This is about 1/5th of a 6x6 negative that contains the model and a beach and some rocks and a whole bunch of other stuff. By itself, the picture is a loser. Cropped heavily, I would almost claim that it is art. That's one of the nice things about medium format.

Rollei 6008, 250mm lens, tripod, Kodak VHC color negative film.

Available for display as a 16x20 C print.

Does it tell a story?

Here's an excerpt from my career guide for engineers and scientists ...
Rachel, PhD Biology UCLA 1992, enjoys the wealth of material comforts that she has accumulated during 10 years of hard work in science.

(click on the photo for a 500x750 JPEG; click here for a 1000x1500 screen-filling image)

1100 square feet of bare hardwood floors called to me: "You will never have this opportunity again. Tomorrow you are going to move all of your worldly goods into this new condo. You'd better grab your Canon EOS-5, 20-35/2.8L lens, and TMAX 3200." The model and room both have to be bare to show the bleak poverty of the unemployed PhD.

Here's another image that I had completely planned in my head before I picked up the camera. It was during the 1992 presidential campaign when women's rights groups were upset by the Republicans' rhetoric. I call it Republican Platform. I really should have gone back and redone the image using smaller feet to create the red, white, and blue footprints on the model. Republican Platform, a photo I took during the 1992 presidential campaign when women's rights groups were upset by the Republicans' rhetoric
Remember when date rape was the subject of a TIME cover? This is the image they should have used IMHO.

Body as Structure

I took this in 1981 when I was a junior at MIT. I used a dark brown blanket as the background and the overhead light in my dorm room for illumination. The camera was a tripod-mounted Yashica twin lens reflex (6x6), valued at approximately $100.

In 1993, I tried to duplicate the picture with higher-tech equipment. I used a $5,000 Rollei 6008, elaborate studio strobe system with softbox, and motorized seamless paper background. Even the model was higher tech (taller, thinner). The results? Pathetic. The room light was too bright for me to adequately judge the outcome with the strobes' modeling lights. Consequently, the image was much too high in contrast.

I learned that a brain is sometimes more important than a fancy camera.

Double Flamingo Handstand


Most nudes are static, heir first to the tradition of painting and then to the limitations of early cameras. But with $30,000 of studio strobes there is really no reason not to show the body in motion. Richard Avedon has assistants follow his fashion models around with lights at the end of booms. The models are constantly in motion so that he never gets a frozen deer-in-the-headlights look.

Preparing to Jump

Environmental Nudes

I won't say that there is anything wrong with the picture on the left (standard studio shot; seamless background, medium format camera, softbox), but I really prefer the right hand "environmental nude."

This is one of my favorite images from Travels with Samantha. Fuji Velvia film is not really noted for its subtlety with flesh tones, and therefore you might prefer the version that I hand-colored in PhotoShop. (If you want to know how I did this, check out my hand coloring tutorial.)

Mostly Covered is Usually Better

People get uncomfortable when staring at other people's genitalia, so it is generally best to either get rid of the genitalia or the face.

Of course, Mapplethorpe made almost a whole career out of violating this rule so if you want lots of money and fame, you should probably ignore me.

Covered by a Dog is Best

me and George (please do not send email asking which one is the dog)

George inspired me to write Travels with Samantha, which begins with his end.

Alex and Heather Heather combing Alex

Three Graces

"I checked a few different sources for info on the 3 graces, and all I could find is that they are continually anointing mortals, making them appear extremely beautiful and immortal to their pursuers. But I couldn't find why there are three of them or why they are called "graces". I think there is some conflation with the Erinyes, who hounded Orestes after he murdered his mom, but then he sacrificed to them and they became Eumenides, and at the same time he sacrificed to the Graces. They are benevolent goddesses - that much I can say for certain."
-- My classics nerd friend (Ph.D. from Princeton)
At right is a copy of a classical statue at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Below, in declining order of fidelity to the classical traditional, are my interpretations of the theme.

Three Graces Three Graces

Three Graces Three Graces

Three Graces Three Graces Three Graces

Chinese Takeout Chinese Takeout

Is it Art or Porn?

The line between art and pornography is fairly thin, but it is there. On camera flash and a rather exposed subject make for a very literal photo at left. On the right is one that I took as an MIT undergrad. A couple of photography professors loved it. They thought it was art, expression, new, whatever. They hated the arch nude above and preferred this one. Unfortunately they never did teach me how to describe this as a tortured artiste project and how to do more, or I'd be exhibiting in the Whitney museum...

More Practical Tips

Black & white infrared film tends to erase skin blemishes and imparts a lustrous luminous quality to human skin. It is worth reading Laurie White's Infrared Photography Handbook and then trying out a few rolls of B&W IR.

Every now and then someone sends me email asking "How do you get women to take their clothes off." My personal theory is that the world divides into two classes of people: those who like to be photographed and those who don't. Those who like to be photographed think they have beautiful bodies. Naturally, if they look good in a picture clothed, then they'd look better without all those ugly clothes standing between their beautiful body and the camera. If you therefore find some folks who have survived the constant assault on their self esteem by advertisers, the challenge will be to get them to keep their clothes on. It also helps to have a portfolio of high quality work.

Big photo labs generally will develop tasteful nudes with no questions asked. I once asked the customer service department at Kodalux (now Kodak) and they said "if there is only one person in the picture, we're definitely not going to have a problem with it." There are laws in some states requiring labs to report photographers who bring in images of naked children. More than a few serious photographers have had unpleasant, expensive, and prolonged dealings with government authority stemming from what you'd have thought were easy calls (e.g., a San Franciscan who took his 8x10 view camera to a nudist colony and photographed families with their consent).

Dead Trees

Before burning film, you might want to spend some time with Nude & Glamour by John Hedgecoe. It is not my favorite hunk of processed tree carcass but it is very pertinent.

If you are looking for inspiration rather than tutorial, you might leaf through the 425 smallish pages of The Body (William Ewing; Chronicle Books). This covers over 100 years of nude photography, right up to the repulsively hairy body of John Coplans, whose self-portraits definitely constitute one of the nastiest things one can do with a 4x5 view camera (actually his assistant takes the pictures; he just sells them for $5000 a whack).

If you're looking for something more in the coffee table line, then Graphis Nudes (Graphis Press) gives you 200 big well-printed pages of contemporary nudes. Not as huge and only 116 pages long, the Aperture monograph of Edward Weston's nudes can be awe-inspiring. Do you really have something to say that he didn't say back in 1930? And if so, is it aesthetic?


This page is quite popular but it isn't actually my proudest achievement. How about giving Chapter X of Travels with Samantha a try? Or the rest of

If you really must have more nudes, then check the user-maintained list of related links. There is also this page that used to have six in-line FlashPix nudes.


Photo of me and George by Rebecca Schudlich; lighting by me (in my studio); ProPhotoCD scan from 645 negative courtesy Frank Caico.

All other photos are copyright 1981-1995 Philip Greenspun and were scanned to ProPhotoCd by Boston Photo Lab, my favorite PhotoCD shop.