Innocent Nudes by Frank Cordelle

January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Frank Cordelle is an American photographer of nude females of all ages. Since the 1980s he has worked on what he calls “The Century Project”. What started as a traveling exhibit in 1992 has now also resulted in a book [note 1] and several excerpts published in art and naturist magazines in the United States, Canada, and Australia [note 2].

Comparing Cordelle’s work to that of Jock Sturges may be instructive.

Both Cordelle and Sturges have worked with ordinary children and adolescents for whom modeling is not a career. Most of them have been portrayed full-frontally nude. Occasionally the models are in open leg poses but the photos are not overtly sexual as they do not concentrate on the pubic area but on the whole body and the face.

The models pose with the written permission of their parents. Every girl is informed about the nature of the projects and their photos are withdrawn from future exhibitions if the model changes her mind about wanting to participate.

Both photographers have invited their models to write personal statements (Cordelle published the statements in his book, and Sturges did the same in his book “Jock Sturges: Notes” in 2004).

Both have worked in both color and black and white.

There are some differences between them, though. Cordelle has greater diversity in his models, including older subjects (as old as 94), all kinds of body types (even obese and anorexic females), and multiple races [note 3]. For instance, several African-American girls and women are part of Cordelle’s portfolio. Sturges, on the other hand, tends to concentrate on young girls and young women with slender and tall bodies who are light-skinned and of western European ancestry, with very few exceptions.

Cordelle only photographs females, and Sturges usually does too but has on rare occasions photographed boys.

Police that have viewed Cordelle’s exhibit in any state he’s been in have never charged him with any crime, whereas Sturges was accused of making child pornography by the FBI.

Also significant is the fact that only Sturges has had sex with his models.

In the last several years, Cordelle has continued to exhibit his work at venerable institutions across the United States, including, from 2008 to 2010, Denison University, the College of William and Mary, East Stroudsburg University, Rhodes College, the University of Louisville, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The 2009 exhibit in Wilmington, unlike the others, was censored since the university officials there refused to allow the photos of minors to be shown. Ironically, the student bookstore was selling the uncensored book at the same time the censored exhibit was on, the student newspaper (The Seahawk) published photos of the minors on March 5th that year, and the university had exhibited all of the photos in 2002 without incident.

Some Americans publicly opposed his exhibits on the grounds that the photos might be “exploitative” and “objectifying” and that they could motivate men to engage in harmful sexual acts against children and women [notes 4,5,6,7,8,9,10].

In response, Cordelle said, “I think the fundamental flaw with a lot of men in our society is that they equate nudity with sex. There is no need to go to this extreme; the pictures are completely innocent… They are very non sexual.” [note 11] Cordelle opposes the idea that nudity is shameful.

His models defended his work by writing to the provost of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to urge him to reverse his decision to censor the minors’ photos [note 12]. A female who had been photographed at the age of 14 wrote, “The experience was a wonderful one that was incredibly beneficial to my view of my body.” A female who had been photographed when she was 15 wrote, “The day I saw The Century Project was the day my own distorted view of my body started to heal.”

Mahogany Gamble posed for Cordelle at the age of 16. She told Lauren Gard of East Bay Express, “Seeing all of the photos actually helped me kind of realize the beauty of women in a way that I hadn’t before. Maybe not so much looking at my own picture — I think that brought up a lot of other things — but thinking about the project as a whole, and even seeing my mom’s pictures and going through the experience with her. I felt then, and I still feel, the very real strength that women have. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself.” [note 13]

In the book, Nora Stewart, who posed nude at 11, wrote, “For me, my naked bodie is normal; for me, my naked bodie is wild and free; for me, my naked bodie is being proud for who and what I am.”

If girls have no problem posing naked, I have no problem with them doing so. I think it’s harmful when outsiders try to interfere with and condemn projects like this. The models and their parents can make these decisions on their own. It’s not abusive to photograph a child or adolescent in the nude.

Notes
1. “Bodies and Souls: The Century Project” was published by Heureka Productions in Canada in 2006.
2. Nude & Natural, Autumn 2006; Art Monthly Australia, April 2009; Going Natural Magazine, Summer 2009.
3. “Art or exploitation?” by Julia Riesenberg in The Flat Hat, March 20, 2009, http://flathatnews.com/content/70300/art-or-exploitation
4. “Divisive nude photography show comes to the College” by Mike Crump in The Flat Hat, February 17, 2009, http://flathatnews.com/content/70001/divisive-nude-photography-show-comes-college
5. “Against The Century Project” by Dustin Crummett in Dog Street Journal, March 4, 2009, http://www.dogstreetjournal.com/story/4428
6. “Renowned nude photos banned by University of North Carolina at Wilmington” by Heureka Productions in PRNewswire, February 24, 2009, http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/02-24-2009/0004977445&EDATE=
7. “UNCW won’t allow nude photos of minors in art show” by John Staton in Star News Online, February 24, 2009, http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20090224/ARTICLES/902240264/1050?Title=UNCW-won-t-allow-nude-photos-of-minors-in-art-show
8. “Exhibit censored, but book’s for sale” by Ben Steelman in Star News Online, February 25, 2009, http://blogs.starnewsonline.com/default.asp?item=2339614
9. “The Century Project sparks controversy at UNCW” by Jennie Klahre and Tyler Sparks in The Seahawk, March 5, 2009, http://media.www.theseahawk.org/media/storage/paper287/news/2009/03/05/News/The-Century.Project.Sparks.Controversy.At.Uncw-3659484.shtml
10. “Group protests exhibit of nude children as part of U of L health program” by Roger Alford, Associated Press, in The Courier-Journal, February 21, 2010, http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100221/NEWS01/2210351/1008/NEWS01/Group+protests+exhibit+of+nude+children+as+part+of+U+of+L+health+program
11. “Artist upset UNCW is censoring nude photos of minors” by Laura Sinacori in WECT.com, March 3, 2009, http://www.wect.com/Global/story.asp?S=9934480&nav=menu157_2
12. “Protests over banned photos pour in to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington” by Heureka Productions in PRNewswire, March 2, 2009, http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/03-02-2009/0004981017&EDATE=
13. “What’s Wrong with This Picture? By confronting society’s greatest taboos, Oakland photographer Frank Cordelle has created something truly extraordinary” by Lauren Gard in East Bay Express, December 6, 2006, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/Issues/2006-12-06/news/feature_full.html

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