Germaine Greer

Jet-Set Glitz

Nudes: 1981–1984


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It is just too easy to be shocked by David Bailey’s Nudes 1981–1984. Good God, splutters the feminist version of Colonel Blimp, the women are all blinded, bags over their heads, anonymous, subhuman! Indeed, Bailey’s nudes are as usual women, or rather girls, splayed, draped, laid out in Ansel Adams landscapes and interiors by Helmut Newton, turned to stone or metal by long exposures, small apertures and Bailey’s lapidary printing. Some of the negatives are defaced with gashed black lines, heads scribbled out with lacerations, the whole plate scorched and scarred with acid. The camera eye seems hypnotised by the mons veneris, thrust into high relief so that each hair is engraved on the print like barbed wire on the Ypres salient. Once Bailey mocks the parallel by binding shiny new barbed wire around his model’s thigh, so tightly that the barbs dent the unblemished skin, and again he cuts a trench in the satiny flesh with a thin rubber ligature. The bodies are made to a pattern, long, gracile, square-shouldered, high-breasted and shallow in the pelvis; although the pattern comes in different colourways the virtuoso sepia printing subjugates the differences. We are in the land of the stereotype, or, some might say, the ideal, deliberately replicated in paired images, sometimes on the page, sometimes facing each other across the opening, sometimes of different models made identical by Bailey’s art. The obliteration of personality and individuality is a fundamental clement of the art nude photography tradition, but usually the end is accomplished simply by keeping the face turned away or the head out of shot altogether. The fact that Bailey uses shocking methods, bandages, blindfolds and Hallowe’en masks, is a commercial bonus.

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