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Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Females  
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Bisexual photographer Laurie Toby Edison (b. 1942), skinny herself, visually defined the fat nude female in the book and traveling show Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (1994). California-based photographer Laura Aguilar (b. 1959) uses her own ample body in a myriad of large self-portraits. She has also created a series of paired portraits in which the same individual or couple appears clothed and unclothed.

Lovemaking Imagery

By the end of the nineteenth century, love was being written about by women. As the twentieth century began, Natalie Clifford Barney, working with her lovers Eva Palmer (b. ca 1876) and poet Renée Vivien (born Pauline Mary Tarn, 1877-1909), produced bucolic and amazonian nude photographs and at least one overtly erotic image. Two decades later, bisexual Germaine Krull (1897-1985) photographed sensual and sexual encounters between women.

Publishing in Paris during the first half of the twentieth century, women illustrators such as Gerda Wegener (1885-1940), Clara Tice (1888-1973), Mariette Lydis (1887-1970), Margit Gaal (active in the 1920s), and Suzanne Ballivet (active 1930s-1955) produced sexual graphics of women making love. In the 1970s, bisexual Betty Dodson (b. 1929) drew lovemaking images of same- and mixed-gender couples, details of female genitalia, and an all-woman group sex party.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Uruguay-born Diana Blok (b. 1952) and Netherlands-born Marlo Broekmans (b. 1953)--photographers and lovers--created romantic, erotically-inflected double self-portraits.

Late in the twentieth century, lesbian painters Lorraine Inzalaco (b.1946) and Patricia Cronin (b. 1963) made lyrical visual explorations of nudes and lovemaking. In the 1990s, Nicole Eisenman (b. 1963) painted confrontational, rowdy, and irreverent images of multifigured sexual activity.

Photography, however, has been the favorite medium for lesbians to depict sex. Photographers who have utilized the female nude in sexual situations include Jill Posener (b. 1953) from England; Cyndra MacDowall (b. 1953) from Canada; Laurence Jangey-Paget (b. 1965) from France; Parminder Sekhon (b. 1968) from England; C. Moore Hardy (b. 1955) from Australia; and Marcelina Martin (b. 1950), Judy Francesconi (b. 1959), Honey Lee Cottrell (b. 1945), Phyllis Christopher (b. 1963), and Tee A. Corinne (b. 1943) from the United States.

and Intersexual Imagery

Imaging hermaphroditism has been a part of art since ancient times. In the early twentieth century, sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) gathered photographs of hermaphrodites and images that seemed to support the concept of a "third sex."

Two photographers who started their lives with female bodies, Del LaGrace Volcano (formerly known as Della Grace, b. 1957) and female-to-male transsexual Loren Cameron (b. 1959), have used their own and others' nude bodies-in-transition as the subject of photographic inquiry.

The Vulnerable Body

Each generation tends to think that it has invented sex, or at least, its edgier practices. Sometime before the end of World War II, the French Jewish lesbian photographer Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob 1894-1954) made self-portraits showing herself involved in sadomasochistic lovemaking with her life companion. These images were confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis. Only a brief written trace of them remains.

The last two decades of the twentieth century saw a different reaction from the earlier revolt against the body beautiful. This reaction took the form of images of bodies pierced and incised and images that appear to indicate violent sexual activity.

Examples include the work of Catherine Opie (b. 1961) and of Claire Garrotte (b. 1962). Opie's large, half-nude color self-portrait photographs feature designs or words scratched into her skin (and, in one, forty-six hypodermic needles inserted through her skin). Garrotte's multi-year photographic study of a lesbian threesome includes images of sadomasochistic activity.

Other artists, such as Vietnamese-born lesbian photographer and installation artist Hanh Thi Pham (b. 1954), have used images of their unclothed and semi-clothed bodies to effect political or social commentaries.

Exhibiting the Lesbian Body

Issues surrounding control of "the gaze" surfaced frequently in the 1970s. As a consequence, many lesbian artists chose "women only" exhibition spaces, such as women's bars and women's centers, as a way to limit the viewing audience. Images of nudes and vulvas were especially protected.

By 1980, however, bisexual writer and artist Kate Millett (b. 1934) was exhibiting photographs of women's genitals in an office building corridor in New York City.

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