Copyright Greg Friedler, 2008 courtesy W.W. Norton & Co.
Friedler’s fourth book in his Naked series is Naked Las Vegas. Earlier Friedler has published Naked New York, Naked Los Angeles, Naked London. His three preceding books are photographed in black and white, while Friedler thought that color was very apropos for the glitz and neon of Las Vegas, his recent book.
This book, like his previous, is a series of side by side photographs, one photograph per page, with the clothed individual facing their “naked” self across the spread. The portraits are made straight on, with the individuals directly facing the camera providing a frontal view, with the lighting almost flat and all of the person’s features in sharp detail. Stylisticlly it resembles the dressed/undressed photographs of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders XXX – 30 Porn-Star Portraits.
The use of the word Naked versus Nude in the book’s title is a subtle indication as to the enclosed photographs. Where as nude is a nice sounding word, smooth and almost sensual with aesthetic implications, e.g. the nudes of Edward Weston, suitable for a gallery exhibition. On the other hand, the pronunciation of the word naked sounds course, matter-of-fact and rough, such that the naked photos of Charis Wilson by her husband Edward might be better found tacked up on the back room wall.
Although implied, this is by no means a representation of the population of Las Vegas, as it is self-selecting process, first one has to be asked to pose “naked” by the photographer, and then the person has to be enough of an exhibitionist to agree to be photographed “naked”. Friedler states that while his subjects are being photographed by him, concurrently there is a filming by another motion picture crew, adding to the social and cultural complexity of accepting his offer to “get naked”. This also generates a question as to what else is occurring outside the picture frame and may be influencing the subject’s photographed response.
As to framing, we are left with more ambiguity about his subjects, as they are presented filling the picture’s frame equally, without an indication as to their relative size; the 6’4” individual appears equal to the 4’6” person. The pictorial framing also excludes the person’s calves, ankles and feet, which raise questions about their shoes, anklets, tattoos, toenail polish and toe rings. We are shown almost all, yet the information is incomplete and that in of itself creates intrigue and mystery. Likewise, this creates more mystery as to what maybe concealed on the backside’s of these persons?
The dark red curtain is an odd feature, as this hot backdrop provides more of a feeling of a parlor photograph than a straight forward documentary. It is not neutral, such as the whites and blacks of Hiroshi Watanabe or the neutral grays of Irving Penn. This backdrop has folds and shadows creating a vertical pattern and appears to be out of character, as the photographer states he is trying to avoid eroticism, yet this hot liquid backdrop reeks of eroticism.
Friedler in his introduction states:
This book is not at all about eroticism. It is about identity. The nakedness serves a purpose. When naked we are all equal, on a bizarre, even playing field; stripped of clothing we are stripped of society’s judgments and expectations.
Okay…. well maybe, perhaps maybe not, as I suspect that Friedler’s photographs refute his own statement, that even naked we are not stripped of society’s judgments and expectations. Especially the expectations.
We may read the word society and think big and almost all encompassing, such as the United States, Canada, France, Germany or some other large geo-political entity. But that is not normally what we might think of if asked which society are we a member, as it would probably become more localized, to a region (e.g. Southern California), or a city (e.g. Las Vegas) or probably very specific, such as the neighborhood we live or group(s) we hang out with. I think with a little scrutiny it is possible to see the effects of society judgments and expectations reflected by this group of “naked” individuals.
Even Friedler has noted that this group of individuals reflects some unusual social grooming, that most do not have any pubic hair, even the professed homeless person. There is usually a reason that a group of individuals have common traits, even when “naked” and this is usually related to a social expectation. Is this common for the people that Fridler associates with, feels comfortable requesting that they pose “naked”, or how those who would prose “naked” would want others to see them, or at least Friedler to see them? It could be argued that if you selected a large group of individuals from Iowa City or any part of Kansas, shaving their pubic hair for their “naked” photograph may not have been high on their list of necessary personal preparations.
Realistically, although they are “naked”, we still do not know who these people are as individuals. We do know more about their parents and grand parents who passed down the genes that provided their basic framework, ethnicity, coloring and surface contours. We can deduct some personal habits, beyond the desire to remove their pubic hair, as to their diets and exercise regime by either the generous belly folds or slender frame bordering on anorexic features. Although Friedler comments on pubic hair, finger nail polish and breast augmentations, he does not seem to consider the quantity of tattooing, body -piecing and full body tanning as being unusual.
While comparing the dressed and naked pictures, there are subtle differences in the subject’s facial changes, eyes, tilt of the head, smiling or features going flat, standing, holding them selves, the different position of their hands, and choosing to continue wearing jewelry, make-up, or nail polish.
Which job classification or career the subject’s identify with varies, but has a strong Las Vegas influence; Showgirls, teamster, accountant, showboy, exhibitionist, architect, waitress, drummer, artist, sales clerk, retiree, musician, art model, unemployed, social worker, teacher, student, tattoo artist, ex-stripper, mother, engineer, hussla’, stripper, escort, practicing nudist, homeless, adult entertainer, fetish model, aspiring adult actor, comedian, housewife, cosmetologist, female impersonator, office manager, transsexual, porn star, nude photographer, CEO, taxi driver, nurse, plumber, cashier, cafeteria lady, kitchen cleaner, banker, and of course in Las Vegas, an Elvis emulator. The ages of the subjects vary from 19 to 67.
The perfect bound and stiff cover book includes a forward by Greg Fridler. Each set of photographs has a caption to identify the person’s profession and age.
by Douglas Stockdale