David Hamilton and the sexuality of the nymphet (i)

Like Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s narrator in Lolita who says “Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic”, Hamilton acknowledges “some rare beings who are able to exert a powerful erotic attraction upon certain much older men”. and that “It seems to me that their femininity is revealed sooner than that of their contemporaries. A femininity too mature for their age, an animal instinct that they already know to be right for them”

He goes on to say “It is true, the rare delicacy of their physical appearance sets them apart, and everyone knows how much it costs to be different in this world These young girls take refuge in dreams which they have wished me to bring into reality.”

There is certainly a strong theme of the precocious sexuality of Hamilton subjects running through his work.


This sexuality is captured in a number of ways. This portrait appears to be of quite a young girl who radiates a sexuality well beyond her years and Hamilton has documented such young women extensively in his work.

Montage 3

However, his claim that “These young girls take refuge in dreams which they have wished me to bring into reality” needs to be examined. To argue that young girls of this age are as aware of the incipient sexuality that these pictures would suggest, is perhaps stretching the point. The latent sexuality in these pictures is a reflection of the photographers view of the subject and the interpretation that the viewer brings to the photograph, which will be true regardless of the quality of the work.

It would also be true and fair to say that Hamilton certainly extends his view of the sexuality of the nymphet beyond the photographs above. There is a series of photographs of young woman bathing in the farmhouse in France. In this series of photos the models appear rather more engaged with each other than they do in previous photographs.The first is a beautifully composed piece. The left of the photograph there are three separate elements, in ascending size, the water jug, the girl doing the washing and the girl being washed. The more compact image of the first girl serves to emphasise the slender beauty of the naked girl. The shadows on the wall, and in particular subtle line between the nude’s knee and the red towel provides a visual transition to the shadows on the wall to the right of the picture. It is Hamilton at his best.

bath copy

In the second photograph, the girl in the background is typically self absorbed in typically Hamiltonesque fashion. But against the composition of the photo that is so stunning. The light flows in from the window and between the chair and the young subject seated in the window and then spills onto the floor. It illuminates the nude standing in the bath tub is body is otherwise in relative shadow. The light in this picture binds together the four key compositional elements of the photograph: girl in the window, that chair with the clothes resting on it, the water jug and the girl in the bath tub.


The final study is again of two girls but this time it’s in black and white. Again, the composition is striking. The light from the window highlights elements of the two young nudes and a vase of flowers provides a visual link down over the head of the seated model to the bath where the light on the end of the bath creates a visual connection between the seated model and the towel that is draped over the bath.

bathers 3

There is also some tension in the photo. The model who is standing is looking down and a slightly exasperated and annoyed manner at her companion who is avoiding her gaze. Perhaps it’s an argument about who is going to have second bath.

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