"The Nude in Photography" Class Travels to Paris

The graduate seminar “The Nude in Photography,” taught by Professor Anne McCauley, focused on the challenges that the nude presented to photographers, who had to negotiate “real” rather than idealized bodies. The course also explored artists’ responses to nude photographs; fine art, pornographic, and medico-anthropological representations of the body; sexual orientation and behavior as factors in the nude photo market; and photography’s contribution to new “scientific” typologies of race, criminality, and health.

During the fall break, the class of ten graduate students traveled to Paris, where the array of archives and galleries provides unparalleled resources for study of the subject. The trip was financed by the department’s McCormick Fund, which supports the study of the history of photography.

At the Musée Branly the class saw ethnographic material from the 19th century and photos taken by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Straus, among other items. In the “reserve” of the Bibliothèque Nationale’s print room they viewed lithographic erotica and photographic academic studies, including Delacroix’s sketchbooks after Eugène Durieu’s photographs of nudes.

Curators at the Pompidou Center and Musée d’Orsay showed the students a wide range of photographs, from daguerreotypes to Man Ray and other surrealists. In addition, the class toured the renowned anatomy amphitheater at the École des Beaux-Arts and saw its collections of photographs, osteological specimens, and 19th-century apparatuses and sculptures; visited the Société française de photographie, the oldest photo society in France; and saw the Musée Rodin’s collection of photographs of models used by Rodin and other sculptors.

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