Where are the vulvas?

The nude marble sculptures from Ancient Greece and the Renaissance are widely admired. Carved from white marble and accurately proportioned they emphasize shape and form through the lack of color. Many credit the Greeks with excellent taste for developing this classical style.

But we now know that the origin of this style in ancient Greece is a modern myth: the Greeks painted and decorated their marble buildings and sculptures with bright colors. The colors have been removed through centuries of neglect, pollution, and misguided cleanings.

And in all of these sculptures, there’s something missing, something not quite accurate. No vulvas. It’s as if women don’t have genitals. Men on the other hand clearly do; penises are frequently front and center, hanging out for all to see.

For the most part, modern artists, just as their ancient counterparts, still shy away from depicting female nudes accurately. For some reason, the vulva is usually obscured or hidden, sometimes by draping or a strategically placed arm or leg.

I don’t know why this is. Some artists say that they want to emphasize beauty and form over sexuality. Some fear being associated with pornography. Some critics claim that it represents a suppression of female sexuality; that male artists fear the sexuality of women.

Marble is a modern photographic take on these smooth, flowing, colorless, sculptures.
The brilliant white, texture free skin is inherited, as if these are images of those ancient marble sculptures. The poses, however, are modern, sometimes whimsical instead of heroic, separating these images from the ancient sculptures.

And these are accurate images of complete, fully formed women. The images are not coyly posed nor are shadows strategically placed. Female sexuality is not hidden. Unlike most ancient sculptures and most modern art, the women in these images have vulvas.

How big are the prints?

Sometimes that’s a hard question to answer. For example, for the Portrait of America prints which are really big.

Actually the answer is easy, 27″ x 72″, but getting someone to understand what that means is difficult. Most people don’t relate to the numbers. And the prints are too big to lug around and show people.

When showing small prints or the teeny-tiny web site images to people, I’d try telling them, “The real prints are life size.” Still many people were foggy. I felt I was getting nowhere with the wordy explanations.

So I asked two famous friends and photographers to pose in front of the installation mockup. That’s Michael Rosen on the left and Charles Gatewood in the center. Now with one picture, people get it.

On the wall they’re taller than you. You’re going to have to look up at them. The nude people are looking down at you; they’re in charge. Get used to it.

Portrait of America

Portrait of America is a celebration of diversity, tolerance, and acceptance.

What tolerance and acceptance, you say? Doesn’t this idiot read the news? Hate crimes, religious wars, and genocide are prominent in the international news.

Some American politicians espouse racist and sexist ideas, most often using code words, but occasionally by uttering something overt. Others insist on classifying Americans into narrow boxes—a lesbian Latina for this position or a straight black man for that one.

But get past the politicians and the news headlines, and there has been substantial positive movement towards acceptance during my lifetime. Fifty years ago, I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. Everyone was the same; everyone was white.

Today I live in a San Francisco neighborhood composed of a great diversity of people: black, white, Latino, and Asian; straight and gay; tattooed and pierced. All jumbled together in the new normal.

Is there still more work to be done? Certainly. But the progress in the last fifty years has been phenomenal. This project celebrates that progress towards a diverse and tolerant America.

Over the last ten years I have shot images of women and men of different ethnicity, color, fitness, size, shape, lifestyle, and age. A single image is a frank portrait of a particular person. The collection is a Portrait of America.

Why are they all in the same pose? Partly so people would notice and ask but it also serves to highlight the similarities and differences. Features are not hidden by different posing. And why aren’t the men’s shoulders sloped like the women’s? Most of the men just couldn’t do it. I had better luck getting them to tilt their hips. You may not believe that’s true, but look closely, they are tilted.

I’ve been working on Portrait of America since 2008. George the Younger was President, the country was mired in war in the Middle East, and privilege ruled. I thought a statement on diversity and acceptance was appropriate. Since that time a black man was President for eight years but now the country has swung back towards racism, sexism, and exclusion.

We need Portrait of America more than ever.

Legs

Sometimes art has a purpose–it might tell a story, illuminate an issue, or be a call to action. Sometimes it’s so pretentious and heavy-handed it makes you want to puke.
One of my current projects, Legs, is just for fun.

Taking a cue from some of the Marble images, such as,

Legs features, disembodied legs twisted into various shapes. No heads, no bodies. But my definition of legs does go up pretty high, so there will also be butts and other bits. Some of the image may be distorted or surreal, but in the end, they’ll all be legs.

This is my first nude project shot in color. Being slightly color blind (my family might tell you there’s no “slightly” about it) this is something of a challenge, but there aren’t a lot of green people (or so I’ve heard), so I think it will be ok. Give me a scene with trees and grass on the other hand, and who knows what it will turn out like.

Plus since these images are digitally processed and printed, I can measure the colors as I work with them. Numbers I understand, even when I can’t distinguish all of the colors.

Here is the first finished image:

The background is slightly off-white and the skin should be somewhat pastel. I’ve never been that fond of realism, even in black and white. Please let me know how I did with the colors.

Zines

Selling art is hard. Not very many people manage to make a living, even a poor one, selling art. I’m no exception. Thankfully, there’s a day job.

Art prices are generally high. That might be part of the reason for low sales or it may just be that few like my art enough to buy it. In any case, sales are few and far between. When they happen though, it’s better than sex. Not really, but it is better than pizza.

Last year, my friend and colleague, Michael Rosen, asked me to share a table with him at the San Francisco Zine Fest. For that we’d need to have some zines. A chance to price the art low and see if it would sell.

We decided to print the zines with Blurb. Science kicked in and we decided to determine the best processing parameters to use to prepare images for printing by making a test book with the same image processed in many different ways. When the book came back, we tore the pages apart and laid out the images on the table and studied them. We finally determined the best processing parameters. Everything was going to be perfect.

Turns out that Blurb printing is not that repeatable. Subsequent copies don’t look exactly like the first. But it’s pretty good for a low priced zine.

The upshot was half a dozen zines of 10 images each of different projects ready for the Fest. Here are a couple of samples:

I sat there all day and sold 6 zines. After subtracting the table rental fee and discounting the cost of the unsold inventory, I made about $0.05 an hour. Guess I’ll keep the day job.

Being obstinate, I’ve made more zines. There’s one (or two or three or four) for most of the projects I’ve done. They are available for purchase through Blurb from the Books link on my web site or you can just send me email. Click on the cover to be taken to the book preview. If you order from me with email, I’ll inspect and sign the zine before sending it to you.

What is it?

I participated in the San Francisco Open Studios for a few years. Nothing ever came of it in with respect to sales and I have decided that except for artists with studios in the big, popular areas, such as Hunter’s Point, it is a waste of time.

But I did get one good story from the experience.

A gay couple came to my studio and looked at the photos. Then they went back to this one and spent several  minutes studying it:

Finally one of them came over to me and sheepishly asked, “What is it?”

I answered, “It’s a pubic mound.”

He replied, “So that’s what they look like. I’ve never seen one.”

 

Women at Scott Nichols Gallery

This month the Scott Nichols Gallery is showing Women. The show highlights women photographers photographing women with some images by men mixed in. As is normal at the Scott Nichols Gallery, there are a lot of works by notable and justly famous photographers, many of them from California: Dorothea Lange, Ruth Bernhard, Judy Dater, Edward Weston, and Wynn Bullock are a few examples.

Portrait of America: Shaly is in the show:

Hey, that image is by a Californian photographer too. Although he isn’t famous. Yet.
The show’s thesis is that there is a discernible difference between images made by women and images made by men. I don’t know, maybe you can tell the difference. I can’t.

Several years ago, I photographed a lesbian activist for Portrait of America. She liked the project and recommended it to a friend of hers who ran a small local gallery. The gallerist was interested. Then she got in touch with me and was aghast, “I didn’t know you were a man! I only show art by women.” I guess she couldn’t tell either.

Nude on the dunes

Eighty years ago, Edward Weston produced his landmark series of nudes on the spectacular, ocean-side sand dunes of Oceano, California.

If you have some spare change, you can pick up one of Weston’s prints at an auction such as this one at Sotheby’s a week ago

You have a spare $325,000, right?

Today the state of California manages the dunes as a state park. But it’s an unusual state park; off-road vehicle access is allowed and encouraged. Every day, the beach and dunes are covered with vehicles driving in every direction—noisy, smelly, and often piloted by inebriated humans.

But there is one small corner of the park in which vehicles are banned. If you wander into this area, between the towering dunes, you might not see or hear another human for hours.

In April, I made a series of images of my favorite model in that small peaceful area, where the majestic, ever shifting dunes still appear as they did many years ago. Here is a sample image:

More images are at http://thomashammel.com/dune.

Making images of a gorgeous, naked woman is a hard job, but someone’s got to do it. Here I am hard at work on the dunes:

 

 

The weekly nude

This is my first ever blog post. Yep, I’m very trendy and up to date. What is it, 20 years since everyone else in the world has had a blog? 20th Century, here I come. Anyway, here goes. I’m going to do this once a week, talking a little about the projects I’m working on or whatever else comes to mind. Each post will include a photograph. Since all my work involves nudity (not really true, but almost), it will be a nude image–the weekly nude.