It’s been a long while: this exhibition is the welcome return to The Camera Club's Gallery 1885 of the exhibition of the Male Figure Group with their 11th Male Nudes photographic exhibition. The evident comfortableness of the models with the photographers must surely be because the majority of the images shown were made at the relaxed studio of The Camera Club in Kennington, south-east London.
The quality of the photographs shown is excellent, nearly forty interesting and varied images despite the well-known challenge of creating a new style within the bare-all, in-yer-face format of the Male Nude.
I had a clear sense that these are photographs of naked men made by male photographers, not a view of males by females. The difference is fundamental to the way men view the male form and it transcends gay and straight sexuality - I’m told the contributors are a mixture of gay and straight. Certainly not as simple as point of view, height of the lens or whatever; maybe something to do with the heritage of male iconography but certainly a topic for discussion with my hosts at a private viewing in advance of the Open Viewing.
A couple of interesting tricks with the placing of props to confuse the eye but absolutely no touching, the celebration of the male physique is classical. These men happen to be naked rather than revelling in their nakedness or strutting their sensuality, let along sexuality. Although neutral expressions are the style there is a warmth, particularly in the eyes, quite unlike the cold and bored poses we see in Eastern Europeans or American college students baring all strictly for money.
The Male Nude style is that backgrounds are mostly incidental, no sense of placing the figure in a situation, an absence of story or fantasy.
Just a couple of tattoos: we get to see the before and after, the transformation of the body image as one of the models acquired ink in the years between studio sessions.
But great that this exhibition is at the Gallery 1885, home of The Camera Club, one of the oldest of the photography clubs. The exhibition guide reminds visitors of the long heritage of male nudes: “The great Italian masters, not only Michelangelo but Botticellli, Signorelli, Titian, Reni, Caravaggio, have all enriched our appreciation of art with their paintings of the male nude. This tradition continued well in to the 19th century with artists like Delacroix and Gericault in France and Leighton and Burne-Jones in Britain”.
I see this exhibition in 2016 equally in the tradition of Athletic Male Guild, Arthur Tress and Robert Mapplethorpe and from the UK, the high key photography of Alex McKenna, Mike Arlen and the soft light techniques from the attic in Chelsea of Studio Royale.
The Male Figure Group’s exhibition note includes an invitation to join their group and, now that they have resurfaced it is to be hoped they will continue and progress the tradition, including embracing contemporary themes.
Photographers exhibiting in All Exposed - Male Nudes 2016:
Roy Taylor, Pierre Gibbons, Ted Cotter, Nick Andrews, Alec Lermon, Tim Reed.
at Gallery 1885, The Camera Club, until 11th November 2016