Classical nudes exposed in photography

9 November 2010

One of the images on display at Exposed: Photography and the Classical Nude.
One of the images on display at Exposed: Photography and the Classical Nude.

One hundred nude images inspired by the Classical past will be on display at the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum during January's Sydney Festival.

Exposed: Photography and the Classical Nude is a celebration of the naked human body in photography - and of the influence of the Classical ideal of ancient Greece and Rome on that art form. Ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre, from the provocative to the thought-provoking, the photographs will be on display in the Nicholson Museum from 4 January 2011.

From the 1840s to the present day, many of the great names of photography are represented: Henry Fox Talbot, Eadweard Muybridge, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Leni Riefenstahl, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim, Brassai, Robert Doisneau, Herbert List, Max Dupain, Lewis Morley and many many more.

Seventy-five percent of the exhibition has travelled from the United States, and is drawn from the extensive collection of Florida lawyer William K Zewadski and from his subsequent donations to the Tampa Museum of Art and the St Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

The Josef Lebovic Gallery of Sydney has provided access to works by Max Dupain, Lewis Morley and David Potts. Additional photographs are by Australian photographers Rowan Conroy and Michael Myers, and from the Nicholson Museum's own historical collection. Finally the first photograph in the exhibition, the moment of discovery of the beautiful statue of Antinous, at Delphi in 1894, comes from the French School in Athens.

Curator Michael Turner says that the exhibition looks at the use and abuse of the nude or naked body, both human and sculptured, in the development of photography as an art form.

"In the 1840s, Fox Talbot was using Greek statues as models, because unlike humans they would keep still. In the 1890s, von Gloeden was exploiting local Sicilian boys as naked models in fulfillment of his own and others' fantasies. This was the perfect example of the Classical Alibi - the use of the perceived morals of the past to justify those of the present."

"There's a wonderful interplay for example between a photograph of the great art historian, Bernard Berenson contemplating wistfully Canova's Venus in Rome on his 90th birthday in 1955, and the trans-gendered edginess of Joel-Peter Witkin's interpretation of the same statue in the 1982," Turner adds.

Turner adds that the exhibition does not seek to shock - far from it. Seen together, he believes "there is a magnificent beauty to the correlation between the human body and the ancient perception of the sculpted body. This is seen to perfection in the 1920s image of the body builder Tony Sansone taken by Edwin Townsend in the days before a modern fixation on muscle bulk and penis size."

In the Australian context, the exhibition explores the display of nude art in Sydney's Botanic Gardens in the early 1900s and the subsequent morality campaign that saw much of its removal in the 1910s.

Exposed: Photography and the Classical Nude is being held in conjunction with the related exhibition in the University Art gallery, Exposed: Art and the Naked Body. Also curated by Turner, it includes works from the University's own collection and from the collection of the Hon Justice Roddy Meagher.

Event details

What: Exposed: Photography and the Classical Nude

When: 4 January to 6 March 2011

Where: Nicholson Museum, southern entrance to the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus

Cost: Free

Visit our special Sydney Festival 2011 website

Media enquiries: Jocelyn Prasad, 9114 1382,

Sarah Stock, 9114 0748, 0419 278 715,