Bearded Lady

Photographing nudes can be boring.

I will repeat that for anyone who had trouble understanding what I just wrote or who had trouble comprehending that I actually wrote it: photographing nudes can be boring.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I shall probably never tire of seeing the sight of a beautiful, nude woman before my eyes. Still, trying to create interesting works of art with it is another story entirely. I’ve been photographing nudes since 1995, and just a few years after I began, I started to ask myself how much longer I could go on photographing models in the same Edward Weston-type poses.

I thought those thoughts in regard to my outdoor nude photography. Now that I’ve been photographing more in my home studio set-up (for various reasons), with its small space and large limitations, it’s even worse. (I believe that this has been the first year in which I’ve shot more rolls of film of nudes in my studio than outdoors or any place else.) I feel like my studio work is little more than a nude girl standing in front of a backdrop – again and again and again. How much longer can I go on just making “pretty pictures”?

So, what’s to be done about it? Well, I’ve thought of using more props in my studio imagery. The problem there is that I have no place to keep such things. I bought a few papier mache masks in Venice this year and I don’t even know where to keep them.

Another thing I’ve been playing with is the multiple exposure technique. I’ve used it outdoors with some success and a bit in the studio, too. Then I hit upon a strange, new idea.

The idea came about by reading some blog postings discussing the pros and cons of models shaving off their pubic hair. (To me it is very much a con.) Then I thought of Marcel Duchamp’s drawing a beard and moustache onto a picture of the Mona Lisa. Add to that the old joke that my mother used to say: if Phyllis Diller had one more facelift, she’d have a beard.

So, I came up with the idea of using the double exposure technique to superimpose a model’s pubic hair onto her face to create something surreal, like the Duchamp.

I gave it my first try with a model who came to my studio this past summer. It’s not an easy thing to try to do. As I work with a tripod, it’s a real pain in the ass to have to lower and raise the tripod with every exposure to get it set at the right height. As my camera’s viewfinder does not have any grid lines that would allow me to register the overlay properly, I just have to try to remember where in the frame the important parts are supposed to go.

At the top here, you can see the result of that first effort. I made several different tries at this, and this is the one I think works the best. (I photographed another model with this method, but I haven’t developed that film yet. I purposely developed and scanned the photo you see here so I could show this second model exactly what I had in mind. She offered no objections.)

Was I successful with the photo you’re seeing here? Well, I do think it looks kind of surreal in the manner of the Duchamp. I think she might even fit in well with the Three Musketeers!

Still, while my intention was to create something absurd, bizarre, satiric or surreal, not everyone agrees that I did. I posted this photo on an art posting site a short time ago and I received a response from a woman who said she found the image to be offensive.

Well, as you can imagine, I was really taken aback by this. I mean, here I was – trying to create something in the same vein as Marcel Duchamp, and I get a reaction that’s more in line with the cover of Hustler showing a woman being put through a meat grinder. Marcel Duchamp and Larry Flynt. Does that make sense?

Therefore, I am asking you – my readers out there in bloggie land – to please give me some feedback here. Is there something about this image that’s offensive to women? Or is it more surreal than anything else? (Could it be both?)

Certainly, this is not the first instance when someone has tried to depict a woman as a man – or a man as a woman, for that matter. A few years ago I met a photographer who has gained a certain amount of recognition for photographing her middle-aged, bald-headed husband dressed up in women’s clothing and wearing women’s make-up. Did I get offended, as a man, by such images? Of course not. That’s her vision and let her go with it.

The one thing that the comment made me realize is that perhaps this kind of imagery contains a lot more power than I had initially thought. For that reason alone, I am even more determined to carry on with the series.

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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24 Responses to Bearded Lady

  1. Michael says:

    Don't think it's rude or anything like that. Although there are several rude, juvenile remarks that could be made. Maybe a series or something could help. Run with it. See what happens. Worst case is you'll have to have a book published.I do know what you mean about shooting nudes.

  2. "…how much longer I could go on photographing models in the same Edward Weston-type poses."That was your first mistake.He not only did not understand photographing nudes, he was very poor at doing so.You don't want to follow poor work.If you are going to follow someone, I suggest a good photographer of the nude form, such as Bullock.Second, I would suggest you don't follow anybody. Following has never lead to productive work.Be the person other want to follow.On that note, I have no desire to follow you where you are headed. I will leave it all in your hands.Who knows, you might be the next "Caution tape".

  3. Saintz says:

    Dave I don't see it as offensive at all (but then again you were more interested in a female perspective weren't you). I find it new and innovative and yes I agree nude photography can get very boring for all the right reasons.

  4. I don't think it's rude or demeaning. Personally, I don't find it very interesting, but if you do then go with it. It may be a step to something else that will be interesting. Follow what interests you. If you are passionate enough about it that will translate into something interesting.

  5. I don't know which is more offensive to a model … putting a beard on her face or being bored with her nudity…Just kidding…gee, Dave, I can't imagine anyone ever accusing you of being rude! That's nonsense. As far as your small studio space, does your building have any nooks and crannies where you might sneak in a nude once in a while? Maybe a storage locker in the basement? Or maybe a back fire escape? Naw. I think you need to do some on-location shoots in, say, NOLA or Marseilles.I just saw the finale of Dancing With the Stars. Hurray for Donnie Osmond! He deserved the "W", and I am very happy for him! I hope you are happy, too.

  6. Lin says:

    Marcel Duchamp was slated a lot too. If you create art which is outside the box, you're always going to attract criticism. It just means that you are stimulating thought, and that's a good thing.Have a good Thanksgiving, my dear Darcy!

  7. Mike Gates says:

    I have the utmost respect for Zoe Wiseman, for her work both in front of and behind the lens and for promoting the "fine art" in fine art nude work. I respect her opinions.That being said, I am not sure I understand how this could be degrading or offensive at all. Nor can I understand how anyone cannot see this as a surreal piece–I am immediately reminded of Man Ray.One can clearly see the pubic hair here, but even if one is offended by genitalia, there is none shown in this image.Rather than seeing someone involved in self-cunnilingus (and I cannot remotely imagine anyone coming to that interpretation of this), I am instead reminded of the work of avant garde photographers I grew up studying.

  8. Dave Rudin says:

    Thank you for your very well written comment, Mike. It pretty much sums up my own feelings about the matter at hand.

  9. Tamara says:

    The picture is really cool. But, why did you have to use genitilia in order to make a beard? Why couldn't you have used real hair? Have to think that if it were my face I would be a bit mortified.

  10. Kat Love says:

    I don’t really “get” this image. I think it IS disrespectful .When someone views this image, I do not think that they would know that it is her own vagina being superimposed on her own face. It actually makes more sense for it to be someone else’s. I mean, why would someone put their own face in their own vagina? Right, so lets assume it’s a face that’s under someone else’s vagina.Before I even continue, I’d like to point out how uncool that right there is. Faces under vaginas? Anyone would instantly recognize this combination as a reference to oral sex. Is that what this image is about. Oral sex? Is this like some weird fetish image? Like subliminally about oral sex? To me, it does not look like a beard. It looks like a vagina DIRECTLY and INTENTIONALLY on a woman’s mouth. It seems to be mocking lesbian love making. In mainstream media as well as in porn, women are acceptably “lesbian” if they are blonde with fake boobs and are hair free. Pretty lesbians fit in with accepted beauty standards. This image is not about such “lesbians.”

  11. Kat Love says:

    (cont from my previous comment)Did you know that the term “bearded lady” is a derogatory reference to “hairy” (therefore ugly, dirty, gross, freaks, wrongful) lesbians? Here’s a definition of “bearded lady” from the Urban Dictionary:Bearded Lady a lesbian, when they eat hairy pussy it looks like they have a beardExample “Rosie O'donnel is a bearded lady, as is Ellen Degeneras.Soooo. Um. What are you trying to say again?Another complaint is what does it mean when someone is wearing something on his or her face? For some reason it reminded me of those teardrop tattoos gang members used to get (or still get?), on their face. It was like, HERE, look at my symbols, on my face, you cannot avoid seeing these! I mean, wearing something on your face is more direct than even wearing it on your sleeve.If someone were to wear a vagina on their face it could be very pro-vagina, maybe saying vaginas are awesome and beautiful and great! However, within our current gender stratified society and also in the completely unfair links drawn between being a woman and being weak, wearing a pussy on your face is more likely be linked to “being a pussy.” Again quoting the quite helpful Urban Dictonary:Pussy FaceA guy that's a little bitch that cries about everything, or never wants to leave his house. Also used to describe a coward.Examples: “Awwww, did I hurt your feelings pussy face?” “Quit being such a pussy face and let's go get some fucking beers.” “That dude is never going to bang that chick cuz he's such a fucking pussy face.”This definition, this terminology, and any images possibly linked to it are misogynistic to say the least. I am so pro-genderbending! I am so pro-women having beards if they want to! I am so pro-breaking down gender stereotypes! But this image of a vagina on a woman’s chin is not doing that, Dave. I mean seriously. If you want to shoot a woman with a beard, why go to the costume shop and buy a beard? Why not glue some hair trimmings to their face? Why not dress them up in a suit? Why not depict women becoming the majority in public offices in the US government or *gasp!* even president! Now that would be challenging the common ideas of gender. Dave, perhaps you intended this to be something else. I have questioned another one of your images before. One of Betcee May spread eagle on a bed masturbating. You say its about geometry and I say it belongs in hustler magazine alongside numerous other images that degrade women. I’m not saying that you don’t see something else in this photo Dave, I’m saying that you ought to. I’m saying that there are far too many interpretations of this image that are HURTFUL. That this image is an attack specifically on lesbians/women and thus generally an attack of any individuals right to define him or herself with whatever gender definition or sexual orientation they would like without going on the internet to find people are bashing them. PS. Edward Weston was a photographic genius.

  12. Kat;"PS. Edward Weston was a photographic genius."Surely you jest.

  13. "The one thing that the comment made me realize is that perhaps this kind of imagery contains a lot more power than I had initially thought."Well, if it's female scorn you're searching for, please continue with your new (or old, who knows?) found misogyny. I'm sure it will draw tons of confident women to you to photograph (sarcasm).

  14. Anonymous says:

    Is this photographer just jacking off or something because a bunch of women are calling him out? I think it's some weird fetish too. I think he knows exactly what he's done to this poor woman yet he keeps her face up here in ridicule. That is sick. That is like making a woman wear a scarlet letter. I can't remember the last time I've been so disgusted at the piggish ways my gender behaves. To this model, I apologize that a member of my gender has you up here in this manner for all walks of life to venture in and discuss your sexuality and whether you are giving yourself oral sex. This photographer has no class.

  15. Your tirade about whether or not this photo is appropriate should tell you straight off that it isn't. Or why would you ask. You must be deriving some sort of pleasure in forcing this poor woman to stand this humiliation by continuing to enable people to comment on whether or not genitals should be placed anywhere near a woman's face. And no, they shouldn't be. You are obviously enjoying putting her through torment. Why would you want to hurt another individual this way? How horrible.

  16. The comments from these anonymous fascist cowards has resulted in a rant on my own blog. I decided it was too long to put in a comment here.

  17. Michael says:

    –Kat Love:What irritates me is people who post definitions while misusing words. The image did not show her VAGINA superimposed on her face but in fact it was the mons pubis or mons veneris (dealer's choice, both the same), labia majora, and possible the cleft of venus. The vagina (latin for sheath or scabbard) is the tubular tract that connects the uterus to the structs of the vulvar vestibule.Your misuse of the word is like call the Pope a kike, it shows your stupidity. I am not a doctor, I just paid attention in health class.

  18. Anonymous says:

    What amazes me the most is how these negative comments seem so prevalent on several nudity-related blogs. What I don't understand is why people who are clearly overly sensitive to the content continue to surf around and offend themselves. There are lots of safe sites like Disney.com, Weather.com, etc. where they would be better suited. I do feel sorry for a life they live in such offense to the world around them. The Chinese government pays people to find offensive sites to block so maybe they are just building a resume for potential work?

  19. Barbara Pask says:

    First time to visit your blog, I found my way here through comments. The photo you speak of is gone by now but I just wanted to make a comment about your first line. You say you are bored photographing nudes. I'm an artist also and your art should excite and drive you. Maybe you should consider not photographing nudes.

  20. I have to laugh. Honestly. The picture is done but I have a fair idea of what it looked like from your description and the posts above. It doesn't sound like an image that would appeal to me but who knows. But I can assure you I wouldn't find it at all degrading to women. Posing naked in hustler is degrading to women but posing naked on an art blog isn't? Two naked women touching one another intimately isn't degrading if it's posted on an art blog but is if it's in hustler? Give me a damn break. Over and over again I repeat…..the only person who has the power to degrade me, a woman, is ME. No one else has that power unless I am so weak that I give that power to them. Fat damn chance of that happening.If the concept is something you are interested in exploring, and as long as you have willing models to assist (I'm guessing no one held a gun to their heads) then lump the naysayers and get on with yourself and your vision.

  21. Sheesh! Give me a break! Dave Rudin and I are a couple highly educated nerds who like to talk about great literature, opera, and ancient languages. He would have no idea about urban lingo and, as a photographer, I do not believe that should be a prerequisite for him to create. I live in a small town in a rural area in the Midwest. To me "pussy face" is the mug on the neighbor's cat who uses my garden for a litter box. There is no way in Dante's Inferno that Dave Rudin was thinking about any of the things of which he has been accused. When I saw that picture and talked to him about it, we talked about Salvador Dali and surrealism. If you want to get into feminist concerns, I am quite familiar with major women's issues. If I were to go on a censorship mission (which I would not), I would direct my concern toward all the photographers and models who indulge in bondage work. As someone who wrote a research paper on sex crime in an undergraduate Social Problems course, I believe rendering a woman unable to resist what is done to her is not about sex and sexuality or even about art – it's about power. In conservative, small town America, we may not know urban lingo, but we are quite familiar with crimes involving the torture, rape, and murder of women who are usually bound, sometimes with duct tape. Some bondage work I have seen on Model Mayhem and deviantart resembles crime scene photos I saw when I volunteered to teach Justice Education classes.Nevertheless, I do not go around trying to censor every bondage image I see, I do not leave negative comments on those images, and I do not accuse those who create these images of having any criminal or other motivation. I don't like them – I think the images are dangerous for women. But I also know that is my opinion, and art censorship in any shape or form is dangerous to our personal freedoms, including the right to be heterosexual or homosexual, to be a woman with power or one who abdicates her power to someone else, or to be nude in a photograph.

  22. Morgan: I may learn to love you. It will take time, but there is a chance.

  23. I really hope you took down the image because the model wanted it down and not because of this crap.

  24. Dave Rudin says:

    Yes, Dave S, I took down the image because the model politely asked me to do so. She did not demand it or try to ridicule me. I respected her for her demeanor and for her feelings, so I removed it as she requested.As for the nasty ranters and ravers, those comments only strengthened my resolve to keep the image posted for all to see. As Newton wrote, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – so pushing hard against someone only forces them to push back equally so.For all the people who responded, I do thank you for doing so. If I didn't care what others thought I never would have invited comments here. As I've alluded to above, I just give much greater weight to those that are written in a professional, constructive manner – regardless of point of view – than to those that are just ranting and raving.

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