Stomach Out

New Mexico Nude, 1998, #31

Recently, in a comment on a blog post made by my friend Dave Levingston, someone questioned why models told to hold their stomachs in for photos, rather than letting them hang out naturally. If photographs of the nude are created to celebrate the beauty of the natural human form, she reasoned, then why photograph that form in an unnatural state and, as some do, Photoshop them so much that they look unreal? (You can read what she wrote in the comments section here.)

Dave responded to the comments, which you can read (sequentially) here, here and here. Brooke Lynne, one of the models depicted in Dave’s photos, wrote a response (here) on her blog, too.
Well, before either of them wrote anything, I responded to Dave’s request for other readers to respond. This is what I wrote:

“First, let me say that not all photographers Photoshopbrush their models. I use something called film, and the only digits I use to manipulate the looks of my prints are my fingers.

“Now, as I am a photographer and not a model, I cannot answer from a model’s point of view why she would do the ‘stomach in, chest out’ bit for photos. I can only say why I try to suck in my gut when I’m in a photo: because I think I’ll look better that way, because in our society, thinner is perceived as looking better.

“Therefore, I can only imagine that models may think the same thing, but also that such a pose would result in a more classical looking body line (which, I suppose, is another way of saying the same thing).

“The truth is, though, that not all models do this. I’ve recently been scanning a lot of negatives of the nude figure work I did in New Mexico. One of those photos – an image that Dave L had told me he likes and wanted to see a print of – depicts the torso of a thin young woman in profile. Rather than being flat as a board, her abdomen has a nice outward bend to it. Obviously she did not try to suck it in, which in this particular image is a good thing. Perhaps in other images it may not be so.

I happened to call Dave L on the phone a few days ago to talk about a few things, including this discussion. After I finished speaking with him, I returned to scanning negatives to get my new website up and running.

As coincidence would have it, the very next negative that I scanned was the one that I wrote about in my comment! It’s the one in my post here. As you can see, this particular model was not holding her stomach in, and as I wrote, I think the photo looks much better as it is than if her stomach were as flat as a board.

By the way, being thin and having a good tan may be a sign of beauty and well being now, but it wasn’t always that way. In ancient Egypt, for instance, upper class women had pale skin, because having a tan meant that you had to work outside in the fields – not the work of the higher class. Similarly, being thin was a sign of not having an excess of food to eat. Having a gut meant that you were wealthy enough to have enough food to get fat on.

I guess that was in the days before junk food and supersizing.

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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6 Responses to Stomach Out

  1. "Rubens did for the female nude what Michaelangelo had done for the male. He realized so fully its expressive possibilities that for the next century all those who were not the slaves of academism inherited his vision of the body as pearly and plump."~Kenneth Clark, THE NUDE

  2. Dave Rudin says:

    Yes, the word "Rubenesque" is a reference to bodily figuers and shapes that are definitely on the zaftig ("juicy") side.What I didn't realize until a few years ago is why Rubens painted his subjects this way. According to what I heard or read, male artists at the time were not permitted to work with nude female models. Therefore, Rubens had to work with nude male models and use his imagination to feminize them.Of course, no one knows how different his artwork may have looked had he been able to paint from women instead of men.

  3. Bill Ballard says:

    Hmmm…interesting points on Rubens…For me, I typically ask a model to hold their tummy in when I want to change the way shadows or light are falling on the form. Subtle changes can make big differences and having the model 'suck it all in' can achieve this without moving or shifting the model away from the pose.But doing it as a general rule or method of style? Nope.

  4. Michaelangelo also had to use male-for-female models when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. da Vinci just went to the morgue and got some real women.

  5. This heat has so exhausted me I may be headed for the morgue, Dave. Interested in a corpse?

  6. Dave Rudin says:

    Sorry, UL, but name isn't Leonardo 😉

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