Jul 082012

The model in contemporary art nude photography: Postcard Orientalism has a short photo essay on Orientalism in early photography.

More interesting are the cards taken in North Africa. These tried to evoke the image of the harem, a fantasy of erotic mystery and subjugation. It is again believed that most of the models would have been prostitutes. Given the strictures of Arab society it is hard to imagine ordinary women posing nude; nor would photographers, who were European, have had ready access to real harems….

Of course, this very exclusion could become a source of fetishism.

Woman in cloak and veil

As distasteful as much of this is, with its exploitation of human beings and especially of women, the paradox is that human creativity can triumph over our baser instincts and create art and beauty out of anything.
The author also mentions Rudolf Franz Lehnert, a bohemian photographer who published books of Orientalist photography, and wasn’t shy about the homoerotic possibilities of the colonial/Orientalist encounter. To wit:
I should also mention that, within Orientalist media, there was no clear distinction between the erotic and the ethnographic, and one could serve as the other.

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