And that is where the nudes come in. The women you will see at the Met know all about the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, and, if you lean in close enough, you can trace the fault lines of the shocks for yourself. One model has faint stretch marks, and the fact that she has given birth removes her from the false timescale of fashion—where everything is outmoded and instantly replaced but never actually allowed to mature—and shifts her into the rhythms and wrinkles of real time. As a result, the success of the exhibit will be tested and proved not by critical response but by the reactions of ordinary female visitors.Michael Kors neck On the one hand, these awkward bodies, presented without compunction to the lens, may come as a relief to all those (especially the freaked parents of teen-agers) who despair at the corporeal standards that prevail in movies and magazines—the itty-bitty, the proto-bulimic, the anti-Newtonian bust.
On the other hand, those who take against these nudes—and one hopes, as with any important show, for a stream of turbid complaints—will storm down the steps of the Met, cursing Irving Penn as the Henry VIII of the Rolleiflex. How about this guy? A woman catches his fancy,Michael Kors neck he takes her picture, and then he chops her head off.It is a fair point. If feminist art criticism unearths in the baseness of the male gaze, however sophisticated, a wish to treat the female body as no more than an object, then a Penn nude may be a public offense. All that acreage of bosom and hip, with no defiant eye or withering smile to put the photographer in his place, no face to confirm the crowning presence of a person: how can one defend such blatant elision of identity? You might as well tie a tag to one of these women’s toes and flourish her in court as Exhibit A in the case against the artist. And yet, although the figures are laid out on a floor, that floor is not a slab, and, if there is one thing you would swear on oath, it is that they are alive. You don’t just sense this; you see it.
Penn had his models twist and swivel, locking and unlocking their poses, and, in one marvellous instance, the woman’s knee is blurred, not because it has dropped out of focal range but simply because it is on the move. She is big, but she is too damn quick for the man with the camera, and, if he can’t keep pace with her motions, well, that’s his problem. He just clicks, but she rocks and rolls.So why not concede the feminist case and take the argument from there? Let us admit that, yes, in some of these photographs the bodies are no more than objects; but they are also no less than objects, and what Penn does, with an honesty that few of his peers can muster, is to remind us that a body, rounded and grounded, is one of the more enthralling objects on earth—indeed, the more earthbound, the better. To perceive and inspect it as a thing, a moving mass, is not to look down on it, still less to leer at its blandishments, but to be struck afresh by its gravity and bulk. There is a notorious and baffling phrase of Donne’s,Michael Kors neck in “The Second Anniversary,” when he is commemorating “the Religious death of Mistress Elizabeth Drury,” who was, he says, “richly and largely hous’d”:Her pure, and eloquent bloodSpoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,That one might almost say, her body thought.