Vintage Nude Photos On Display In Berlin’s Photography Museum

The Museum of Photography in Berlin has just opened an exhibition of nude photos from the turn of the last century.

“The Naked Truth and More Besides Nude Photography around 1900” brings together hundreds of nude photos from an era we normally associate with old-fashioned prudery. In fact, nude photos were incredibly popular at that time. They had existed since the earliest days of the medium, and by the 1880s it was getting much cheaper to reproduce photographs. This led to a boom in the distribution of all photos, nudes included.

Soon nudity could be seen in magazines, advertising, postcards, collectible cards found in cigarette packs and large-format posters. The exhibition looks at a range of different styles and purposes of nudes, ranging from artistic studies to the blatantly pornographic. Rural images and scenes from Classical myths were also popular, as were photos of the nudist movement, which was seeing its first wave of popularity at this time.

%Gallery-187444%The explosion in nudes led to society questioning their traditional assumptions. The marks that corsets left on the flesh made some question whether they should be worn. Homoerotica became more widespread and the first homoerotic magazine, Der Eigene, started in 1896 and published many male nudes.

People who wanted to buy or sell nude photos had to skirt the law. By dubbing the images “for artistic purposes only,” they could claim their interest wasn’t prurient, a bit like how head shops nowadays label bongs “for tobacco use only.” The police did make frequent busts, and one of the largest collections of nude photos from this era is housed at the Police Museum of Lower Saxony, which supplied many of the more risqué photos for this exhibition.

Then as now, there was a continuous debate over what was or was not obscene. Simple nudes were generally considered acceptable, especially if they were artistic studies or images of “primitive” peoples. Surprisingly, images of nude children were also more acceptable than today since they were considered images of innocence. While some child nudes are on display at the museum, none appear in this article.

“The Naked Truth and More Besides Nude Photography around 1900” runs until August 25.

[Photo copyright Heinrich Kühn, copyright Estate of the Artist / Galerie Kicken Berlin]

A Prude Bares It All On A Nude Beach In Crete

Who wants to read a story about a nude beach from a Catholic prude who won’t even take their clothes off? A month ago, I wrote a piece about a nude beach in Patmos that generated some hate mail, both from strangers and friends. I’m not a naturist and the fact that I took a few cheap shots at the age and appearance of many of the nudists I’ve encountered in Greece and elsewhere rubbed some the wrong way.

But a few of my friends also gave me a hard time for being “uptight” and “close minded.” When in Rome, one reminded me, do as the Romans do. Another friend that works as an editor at a magazine I contribute to wrote that she was “disappointed” in Gadling’s editor for “not insisting that” I “go native in the name of journalism,” and concluded that the least I “could have done was take it off on a nude beach.”I took all of this in but resolved to do nothing about it. My distaste for public nudity dates back to at least high school, when we were forced to shower in a dirty, open shower room after gym class. I’m sure that some guys enjoy that kind of male bonding, but I’m not one of them, thank you very much.

Still, despite my misgivings and hang-ups about public nudity, I couldn’t help but reconsider my position on nude beaches after spending four nights in Plakias, a quiet little beach town on Crete’s south coast a couple weeks ago. Our apartment was directly across the street from a beach that had a very lively nude section at the end of it and I couldn’t help but notice how much fun the nudists seemed to be having.

We didn’t sit amongst them, but they were close enough that I could see what was going on, and my sons and I played the role of nude beach voyeurs a few times, taking slow strolls and swims near their turf. The average age on this beach was about 55 or 60. But I feel compelled to admit that there were some younger, more attractive nude couples on this beach as well, so my earlier insinuation that nude beaches are the stomping ground of creepy, obese seniors is obviously well off the mark.

Over the course of a few days, I saw a few attractive women in their 20s and 30s casually strolling about and frolicking on the beach in the buff, yet attracting no real attention, and it reminded me of a revelatory moment on my first visit to Germany at the age of 23.

On my first night in the country, I went down to use the sauna and spa in my hotel in the historic eastern city of Erfurt and saw what I thought was a mirage: two absolutely lovely young women taking a shower outside the sauna with no curtain or door to impede anyone’s view.

I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of them. I knew it wasn’t socially acceptable to get a very good look but I couldn’t immediately leave before making sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Call me a pervert, if you like, but I’m an American, and in my country, beautiful women do not take showers in public.

Inside the sauna, there were even more attractive women completely naked and I decided on the spot that Germany was a wonderful country indeed. But I couldn’t help but conclude that such a scene would have been impossible in the U.S.A. If word got out that gorgeous women were showering and lounging about nude somewhere in the 50 states, there would be pandemonium and the clubs would have to hire security to protect the naked women.

But Germany, Greece and other countries are different – attractive women can flaunt it on the beach in the buff and no one seems to notice. Or perhaps everyone notices but does an awfully good job of pretending that they aren’t noticing. In any event, I took note of the fact that the Plakias beach had a few good looking young people having fun going nude but still saw no reason to take part.

That is, until our last morning in Plakias. My wife came into the living room, where I was writing, and said, “Can you watch the kids for a while? I think I want to do something crazy.”

“Something crazy?” I asked. “Like what?”

“I’m going skinny-dipping on the nude beach,” she said. “We’re leaving town and this is the perfect time.”

I should mention here that my wife is not the kind of freethinking radical who would have danced naked at Woodstock. No. She was raised in a small town in the Midwest, and is a God-fearing, modest, thoroughly American lass. But on this day, she wanted to take a nude swim just for the hell of it. An hour later, she returned, looking quite content.

“Were you really gallivanting around naked on the nude beach?” I asked.

“I wasn’t gallivanting,” she protested. “I just took a quick swim and then came right back out and got dressed, but it was fun, you should try it.”

Not to be outdone, I thought, what the hell, and headed across the street for a skinny-dip of my own. I made my way down the textile section of the beach towards the nude section, which is right beneath a huge rocky cliff popular with rock climbers, and saw an attractive, nude young woman with disproportionately large breasts playing paddle tennis with a nude male companion.

Their body parts were flying all over the beach as they lunged and dove for shots in a spirited contest that, bizarrely, seemed to be attracting no attention whatsoever on the crowded beach. Again, I was sure that a scene like this one would inspire mayhem in the U.S.

Scenes like this one are both a best and worst case scenario for men. I won’t get into all the practical considerations of being a novice on a nude beach- men will know what I’m referring to here- but suffice it to say that guys don’t want their hearts beating too fast while in the buff.

There was a lounge chair available right next to the nude paddle tennis couple but I felt a little shady taking that one, so I walked further on towards an open sun bed a safe distance away but very close to the shoreline, bathing suit still on.

Happily, most of the other nude sunbathers were either asleep, getting (nude) massages from two Asian women who worked the beach, or were absorbed in books. If no one is looking at a woman with quintuple D cups playing paddle tennis, surely no one will notice me taking a quick nude swim, I thought.

I was safely in the cool, clean Libyan Sea, naked, within about 30 seconds of nervously shedding my suit about as hastily as one might flee a burning building. I didn’t run into the water, but you can call it a quick trot. As soon as I was submerged, I felt cool, free and relaxed. Why had I never done this before?

After a few minutes in the water, another attractive nude woman, who was snorkeling, came floating right by me. Maybe she was in pursuit of some colorful fish, I don’t know, but I was struck by how cavalierly she was floating around, bare butt in the air, totally unconcerned about swimming right near other bathers like me.

After about a half hour, I swam back to the shore, and purposely exited right in front of my chair. Somehow, on the way out of the water, I felt more self-conscious, probably because I was dripping wet and knew I looked ridiculous. It was probably only 15 steps but I had nightmare visions of bumping into people I knew – a priest, a former teacher, a colleague from work, who knows – even though I lived thousands of miles away.

That didn’t happen, but in my rush to get my suit back on, I struggled to get the second leg in the proper hole and nearly keeled over. I must have looked ridiculous. I enjoyed the nude swim but I still draw the line at lounging about naked on the beach, at least until they invent a 100 SPF sun block specifically designed for genitalia.

But I have to admit, I dug the nude beach in Plakias. Maybe next time I won’t be in such a hurry. Who knows, maybe at some point, I’ll become so European that the sight of beautiful naked women won’t even arouse my attention. But I doubt it.

(Images via Wolfgang Straudt, and Dave Seminara)

Living Naked And Free On The Beach In Greece

I spent seventeen years in Catholic schools and that’s probably why you’ll never see me lolling about naked on a beach. I have no moral opposition to naturists, but like many others, I’ve observed firsthand that nudists tend to be a bit older, with many old enough to qualify for senior citizens discounts, and some aren’t exactly easy on the eyes. There’s something about the aging process that makes some people want to revert to their natural state as they grow older.

Men hear the words “nude beach” or “clothing optional beach” and their heart rates accelerate a few notches. But are you going to bump into Gisele Bundchen or Brooklyn Decker sunning themselves in the buff on a beach? Probably not.

In the Greek Isles, you can’t help but bump into people who are naked or nearly naked, even without seeking out nude or clothing optional beaches. A couple weeks ago, I saw a few portly, hardy souls, certainly from Northern Europe, looking burned like lobsters and naked as jaybirds on Tigaki Beach in Kos.

Then you also see men who have suits on, but they’re so skimpy they’re almost more of an assault on the eyes than if they were actually naked. I saw a man at the Livadi Geranou beach in Patmos last week that was actually wearing a thong bathing suit reminiscent of the one Borat used in his movie, save the shoulder straps. He appeared to be about 85 years old.The next day, a portly, middle-aged man tried to board a public bus we were on in Patmos with a tiny speedo half pulled down, exposing both pubes and half his ass. A group of Greek schoolchildren on the bus began to point at him and laugh hysterically, and he turned around and got off. (Perhaps the driver told him to get dressed, I’m not sure.)

Then on Saturday, my wife and two young boys and I found ourselves in the company of a whole host of naked people at the Psili Ammos Beach in Patmos, much to our surprise. The beach can only be reached via a boat ride or rigorous 30-minute hike, so it’s apparently an ideal place for naturists to hide out on a very religious island that frowns upon public nudity.

We noticed that a few of the nudists were actually camping on the beach, which isn’t technically legal, and I was curious about the practicalities. But how does one go about interviewing naked people on a beach? Surely approaching them naked, on their terms, would have been best, but I wasn’t going to do that.

I asked my wife, Jen, to accompany me, thinking that I might seem less like a horny stalker if I had a woman with me.

“I don’t know,” she said, clearly dreading the chore. “I feel like you need to give naked people on a beach a really wide berth.”

But she eventually agreed to accompany me on my quest to speak to naked campers. We approached a variety of naked people, feeling very awkward since we had suits on, and none admitted to being campers, though this might be because they thought I was some sort of undercover police officer.

The naturists were all friendly, and obviously not Americans. One older gentleman who we approached, sort of half rolled over when we addressed him and I accidentally caught sight of his junk – clearly a low point in our trip. It’s odd but when you’re speaking to naked people on a beach, you focus so hard on making eye contact that it’s almost ridiculous.

After a few hours on the clothing-optional beach, I told my wife I’d had enough and wanted to leave. And then just as the words left my mouth, a large group of attractive young people came hiking down the hill and plopped down right next to us on the beach. Well, not so fast, I thought. But alas, they turned out to be a wholesome group of Norwegians on a Bible study tour, and they definitely weren’t there to get naked.

For those who are interested in getting naked and camping for free on Greek beaches, check out the Captain Barefoot site, which appears to be a comprehensive guide to Greece for naturists. In some way, I kind of envy people who feel free enough to live naked and free on a remote beach in Greece, but I’m still keeping my suit on.

Read Part 2 of this story, A Prude Bares it All On a Nude Beach in Crete here.

(Photos by Dave Seminara, the second one needed blurring)

Nudists Cause Controversy On Welsh Beach

Cefn Sidan beach in Pembrey, Wales, is the latest flashpoint in an ongoing controversy over nudists in the UK.

The local government says it has received numerous complaints about bathers baring all at the eight-mile-long beach. The spot is a favorite for families and attracts more than a million visitors a year, most of who wear bathing suits. There have been complaints about nudists “approaching” non-nudists, and also reports of inappropriate behavior.

The local government has put up signs forbidding nudity and threatens to prosecute violators. However, nudist organizations have pointed out that being naked in public is not illegal in the UK and that the local council’s ruling is thus illegal.

Nudism is a legal gray area in the UK. While simply getting naked isn’t a criminal offense, nudists have been prosecuted for using their nudity “to harass, alarm or distress others.” This rule is vague enough to be applied to a wide range of cases and of course depends on the sensitivity of the person making the complaint.

Nudism seems to cause controversy every year in the UK. One nudist hiker in Scotland has been jailed repeatedly, with his latest sentence being for 21 months. A nudist B&B in Staffordshire, England, has caused many neighbors to complain.

What do you think of nudism in public places? Should it be allowed? Would you go to a nude beach? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. This photo actually shows Haulover Beach, an official nudist beach in Florida.

Enjoy nudist hiking? Rethink that holiday in Switzerland

Last year we reported on a major victory for nudist hiking in Switzerland. A hiker in the conservative Swiss canton of Appenzell got fined for baring all, appealed, and won.

Now that victory has turned into defeat. The BBC reports that Switzerland’s highest court has ruled that local authorities can fine people for hiking in the buff. Naked hiking isn’t illegal per se, but but public indecency is, and if the local authorities decide naked hiking is indecent, well, then you can’t do it. And since this came from the nation’s highest court, it applies to all of Switzerland.

The court stated its ruling was only a “marginal” infringement on personal liberty. Much more marginal than, say, forbidding women to vote, which is what Appenzell did until 1990. This makes me the local authorities aren’t so much concerned with individual rights as they are with a buttoned-up conservatism.

But individual rights are an issue here. In a truly free country, shouldn’t a person have the right to get an all-body tan while hiking? In a truly free country, shouldn’t people who are offended by the sight of naked strangers be able to have a picnic in peace?


Photo courtesy Alain Tanguy.