Two views of female sexuality: David Hamilton’s Nymphettes and Norman Lindsay’s Amazons

This blog is a comparison of the work of two artists, one a photographer, the other a painter. The aim of the comparison is to shed light on the nature of their work by using each as a frame of reference for the other.

David Hamilton (1933 – ) is a British photographer and film director best known for his nude images of young girls.

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As much of Hamilton’s work depicts early-teen girls, often nude, he has been the subject of some controversy and even child pornography allegations, similar to that which the work of Sally Mann and Jock Sturges has attracted.

Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969) was an Australian artist, etcher, sculptor, writer, editorial cartoonist, scale modeller and an accomplished amateur boxer.  

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Lindsay is widely regarded as one of Australia’s greatest artists and, like Hamilton, has been surrounded by some controversy. His book The Age of Consent was banned in Australia until 1962. Sixteen crates of his paintings which were taken to the US were impounded by authorities and burnt for being indecent.

There is much in common between David Hamilton and Norman Lindsay. The first and most obvious commonality is their celebration of the naked female body. However,  their work is in quite different traditions of this celebration.

Lindsay subjects are big women with Amazonian, gravity-defying  breasts of impossible proportions and thighs to match.

This great tradition of big women goes back to Peter Paul Rubens, probably greatest celebrator of big women and also to Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

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 Rubens Andromeda Chained to the Rocks (1638-1639)

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Rubens’ The Judgement of Paris looks forward to Renoir’s big women.

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Renoir The Large Bathers

Much of Hamilton’s work celebrates the latent, but developing, sexuality of young women, also known as nymphettes.  His work is strongly rooted in a more recent tradition  in literature, photography and cinema. Most notably in Nabokov’s Lolita

and a series of films about highly sexualised young women and older men.

Nymphs

Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, Jane March in The Lover. Mena Suvari n American Beauty, Ariel Besse in Beau Pere, Jane March Colour of Night and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

Hamilton is part of a photographic genre made famous by David Bailey and his portraits of the beauties of the 1960s and 70s.

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Jean Shrimpton

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 Jane Birkin

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and latterly Kate Moss

Perhaps  one of the most famous nymphettes is Natalie Portman as Matilda in Luc Besson’s  morally ambiguous The Professional.

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These two different celebrations of the naked female body are apparent in a detail from Lindsay’s The Olympian Web, and in one of Hamilton’s portraits of the many beautiful young women that he photographed.

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As well as their different traditions, both Lindsay and Hamilton have a very distinctive views of the sexuality of their subjects. In both cases, the depiction of this is closely linked to their stylistic approaches to their art.

There is a sense of innocence in Hamilton’s portrayal of youthful sexuality that is absent from Lindsay’s work. We see this in the etherial, dreamlike and, in many ways idealised, vision of innocent beauty and sexuality in Hamilton’s work.

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graces

The sexuality of the young women in Hamilton’s photos has an inward and reflective aspect. Hamilton subjects very rarely look directly at the camera. They often appear preoccupied with some inner reality even when in the company of other young women.

Lindsay’s subjects, by comparison, are rarely reflective. Their sexuality is outgoing and aggressive and they are often focused on something, or someone, beyond the frame of the picture.

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In  Lindsay’s The Invitation,  there is none of the demure innocence that characterises Hamilton’s work.  The invitation has a sense of sexual aggression and challenge that is frequently present in Lindsay’s portrayal of sexually desirable women. Certainly, there is a sense of the potency of female sexuality and power that is often in sharp contrast to the portrayal of the males in the paintings.

THE INVITATION

The Ragged Poet shows the poet, altogether a more attractive figure than the male in The Invitation,  surrounded by six women, all of whom appear to embody different aspects of female lust. While the women concentrate on the poet, he seems to be engaged with something beyond the frame of the picture, his art perhaps, which makes him oblivious to the  amorous attention of the women.

THE RAGGED POET, 1924

Another key difference is the embodiment of female beauty that the two artists celebrate. Hamilton subjects are young, long legged, blonde, delicately demure and almost impossibly beautiful.

Early work

nude classic

It is rare for Lindsay’s subjects to be as delicately demure.  And even at their most slender, they are still powerfully built women.

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Many of Lindsay’s depiction of women were based on his muse and later, wife Rose Soady.

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But often considerably enhanced.

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Floral Inspiration

(Four Nudes) By Norman Lindsay ,1937.jpg

Four Nudes

 Even from these few examples, it is clear that there is a richness to the narrative surrounding Lindsay’s paintings that is absent in Hamilton’s work which has a much narrower frame of reference. I will discuss this aspect of Lindsay’s work in my next blog.

David Hamilton’s soft porn images inspire new novel “The Merkin Chronicles

David Hamilton and the sexuality of the nymphet (ii)

David Hamilton’s work did much to glamorise the sexual transition of the nymphet to the butterfly. His is not the world of pimples and awkwardness but of fabulously long-legged and beautiful young blondes floating around the etherial French countryside bathed in soft light and muslin dresses. Over time, his work underwent a series of subtle transitions: the muted erotic images of his early work gave way to more voyeuristic views of his young models. The emphasis moved subtlety from their beautiful faces to their rather less attractive genitalia. There was also a move towards sexualising the young women as the imagery moved from innocent young women exploring their surrounds to young lesbians exploring each other.

His early work was characterised by the wonderful photographs of the two young women in the French countryside.

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These were wonderful compositions that captured the innocence of the young woman in the idealised countryside. They also showed the budding and blossoming of young friendships, as well as of young bodies.

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The blossoming of the friendships was never free of erotic overtone. In many ways, the young subjects of Hamilton’s photography appeared to be non-existent outside their own sexuality.

Couples 7

Couple 7

David Hamilton - Souvenirs de vacances 4

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The carefree gambolling and bicycle rides in the countryside appeared to be a thing of the past as Hamilton increasingly explored the developing sexuality and lesbian relationships between his subjects.

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So the question arises: When does the celebration of the transition of young girl to young woman become male-oriented voyeurism? The photograph above must be getting close to that borderline. The issue is the extent to which Hamilton’s portrayal of these young women continues to be a celebration of the nymphet or has simply become a sexualisation of their obvious beauty.

Hamilton recalls an incident when he was young. He goes to visit a young woman he is attracted to and looks at the front door of her apartment:

She was naked on her bed; lying on her back, one leg outstretched and the other bent over. A lovely picture—a painting by Bonnard come to life. I looked at her for a moment, then realised that she was not alone; a man slept next to her, he too was naked. I left the rose for her. In my mind’s eye the image remains; the girl asleep in that beautiful position, the sheets in disarray; it is a favourite pose, which I have used many times in my photographs.

From this account, Hamilton makes it clear that this was an extremely sexually charged experience for him and he returns to this particular image again and again.

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These images and this experience are important because they provide a very clear connection between the sexual nature of the relationship between the photographer and the model. It also shows the way an artist can return to sets of central themes in the composition of his photographs.

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Pleasure 1

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There is an element of Hamilton’s work that consists of pictures of very young nudes, possibly as young as 10. Set in the context of Hamilton’s consistent sexualising of his models, this takes is work to an area which may be increasingly discomforting for his audience. Many serious photographers have taken photographs of naked children: Bill Henson, Jock Sturges and Sally Mann and none have been free of controversy. Looking at the work of these three artists, it is possible to see the limitations of Hamilton’s work and the way in which these limitations are imposed by the relatively narrow nature of his vision of young girls. It is difficult to imagine Hamilton taking a photograph like Sally Mann’s evocative Candy Cigarette, 1989

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Or a photo like Jock Sturges Estelle et Mylene, Montalivet, France where the subjects seem far less constrained by the photographers view of them and direct a quizzical and slightly confrontational gaze towards the camera.

Sturges

Every photographer develops their own style and Hamilton was no exception. His photographs are immediately recognisable but it is his inimitable style which makes his photographs so beautiful but which ultimately serves as a limitation to the range and depth of his work.

The final photograph bears all the hallmarks of Hamilton’s handling of light and of the compositional strength of his photographs.

Hair

More on David Hamilton

David Hamilton’s soft porn images inspire new novel “The Merkin Chronicles

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

David Hamilton’s soft porn images inspire new novel “The Merkin Chronicles

More on David Hamilton

David Hamilton’s vision of young women

Much of the discussion on the use of young women and girls as models in photography that purports to capture the delicate transition between childhood and adulthood is not only bedevilled by his accusations of pornography (often not supportable) but also discussions of the impact that the photograph has on the subject. Part of this argument is that the young subjects are not able to understand the implications of the photo being taken and published and that ultimately this will be detrimental.

However, none of Bill Henson’s subjects reported that they had suffered ill effects from being in his photographs. In looking at the photographs of Bill Henson and David Hamilton, it is clear that they both have have their own unique focus on their subjects. Henson’s photographs of children are dark, both literally and metaphorically.

Henson's subjects inhabit a dark world

Henson’s subjects inhabit a dark world

They appeared to inhabit a stygian netherworld where bliss and torment seem to be closely related. By contrast Hamilton’s live in a dream world of soft pastels and delicate light. While Hensons subjects appear to enjoy moments of ecstatic, almost adult, pleasure, Hamilton’s subjects appear to have little sense of enjoyment of their surroundings or of each other’s company. In the montage below, none of the subjects really seems to be enjoying being photographed.

Bored and unhappy, Hamilton's models have also got younger

Bored and unhappy, Hamilton’s models have also got younger

The wistful dreamy look of the early works has been replaced by one of boredom. You find yourself wishing that one of them would smile. And it shows that simply having very beautiful subjects is not a surefire recipe for producing interesting, challenging or novel photography Gone also is the models’ air of wistful detachment that made the early works so appealing and which is shown brilliantly in this beautifully composed picture of the two young lovers.

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There is also a palpable sense of pleasure that the photographer is getting in his work. He has taken a group of very beautiful young woman and produced exceptionally beautiful photographs of them and part of the appeal is the often casual disdain and disinterest that the subjects appear to show the process of being photographed.

DIstain

It is interesting, if somewhat unfair, to look at some other photographs of children by a photographer who was well out of David Hamilton’s league: Henri Cartier Bresson. Some of his photographs of children are amongst the masterpieces of the 20th century.

The joy of childhood caught in the

The joy of childhood caught in the “decisive moment”

What is noticeable in all of Cartier Bresson’s work is that, because he was essentially a street photographer, his photographs are set in a social context and that gives them a great richness. His photograph of the French boy carrying home two bottles of wine with the look of satisfied self-importance on the young boy’s face brilliantly balanced by the slightly out of focus young girl in the background who appears to be applauding some just-completed act of wonderfulness must rank as one of the great masterpieces of child photography.

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The comparison between these two photographers serves to highlight what is Hamilton’s great strength but what is ultimately the limitation on the nature of’s photographic vision. The dreamy wistfulness and detachment of the young models in the early photographs, and their incredible beauty, is what made Hamilton’s work so exceptional in its time. But eventually this way is thin and was later work even this quality was lost. It goes to show that is just so much you can do with beautiful young models and a French farmhouse.

David Hamilton’s soft porn images inspire new novel “The Merkin Chronicles

More on David Hamilton

Men and their muses (i): two ends of the spectrum

In reviewing the work of David Hamilton there is an interesting and intriguing photograph. It is a picture of Hamilton with one of his favourite models, Mona Kristensen, who featured in most of his best work.

Correction: Many thanks to Lee Rivers (9/12/16) who has pointed out that the photo is Hamilton’s wife, Gertrude not Mona Kristensen

David Hamilton and Mona Kristensen

David Hamilton and his wife Gertrude , not Mona Kristensen as previously posted

It appears to be one of the few pictures of Hamilton with any of his models. He was later to live with another, Mona Kristensen.

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And so Hamilton appears to be one of many talented artists who have had relationships with the young and beautiful women with whom they have worked.

At one end of the spectrum, is the most famous of these: the Dark Lady and the Fear Friend of the Shakespearean sonnets, Sonnets 127 – 152 devoted to the Dark Lady while the earlier sonnets are devoted to the “Fair youth”

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compareMy mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Sonnet 130

The earlier sonnets are devoted to the “Fair youth” who is clearly much younger than the poet as seen in Sonnet 73

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Unfortunately, we know all too little about Shakespeare’s sources of inspiration. Speculation on the identity of the Dark Lady ranges from Elizabeth I to a madam called “Lucy Negro” or “Black Luce”, who ran a notorious bawdy house in Clerkenwell and poet and member of the minor gentry, Emilia Lanier.  It seems that the Fair Friend was almost certainly Henry Wriothesley. It is intriguing to know that the Sonnets were probably published without Shakespeare’s permission meaning they represented an altogether more private and personal body of work that his plays.

And of course we have the wonderful story of Viola de Lesseps in Tom Stoppard’s play Shakespeare in Love where the heroine is seen as the inspiration not only for Romeo and Juliet but for some of the later shipwreck plays, Comedy of Errors, Pericles and Twelfth Night.

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f I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Romeo and Juliet !.V ll 93 – 96

Another great example of the writer and his muse is seen in the recent film The Invisible Woman tells the story of Charles Dickens mistress, Nelly Ternan.

Ralph Fiennes as Dickens and Felicity Jones as Ellen Tiernan

Ralph Fiennes as Dickens and Felicity Jones as Ellen Tiernan

Unfortunately, that film does not explore the complex relationship between Tiernan and Dickens heroines such as Estella Havisham in Great Expectations, Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend, Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities, there are clearly parallels.

At the other end of the spectrum there are some modern examples, some more creepy than others, the most famous of which is probably Woody Allen whose relationships with his glamorous film stars are well documented but his reputation is now irreparably sullied by accusations of sexual abuse which is the destructive downside of the older man younger poet muse relationship.

Poet Robert Graves, no stranger to the Muse himself had an interesting observation:

“As a rule the Muse is one whose father has deserted her mother when she was young and for whom therefore the patriarchal charm is broken, and who hates patriarchy. She may grow to be very intelligent, but emotionally she is arrested at about the age of fourteen or fifteen.”

David Hamilton has a similar view, he rights in Twenty years an artist

“There exist among young girls, within a clearly defined age group, some rare beings who are able to exert a powerful erotic attraction upon certain much older men. It is a kind of magic, a fleeting charm which touches such men, of whom I am one, in a secret part of their sensibility. By means of my photographs I make a sincere confession that few men, bewitched as I am by the forbidden desire, will dare to make.”

Humbert Humbert the narrator in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita describes

“Now I wish to introduce the following idea. 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 (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.”
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Judy Berman has written a great blog on How to Become a Woody Allen Muse which documents some of the spectacularly beautiful women he has been involved with.

Woody Allen and his many muses: Mia Farrow Louise Lasser , Diane Keaton, Muriel Hemingway, Scarlett Johannson, Lindsay Lohan

Woody Allen and his many muses: Mia Farrow Louise Lasser , Diane Keaton, Muriel Hemingway, Scarlett Johannson, Lindsay Lohan

There is a group of people, himself included, who think Allen is one of the great movie directors of the 20th century. Yet only one of his films is generally recognised as being outstanding. Viewers voted Annie Hall 169th on IMDb top 250 movies. The movie fared better in the American Film Institute rankings coming in at 37th, while Rotten Tomatoes ranked it at 64th. So the question is: Have the muses made a difference? If history is to make a call the answer is: probably not in the case of Woody Allen.

And then there’s the case of the rather less good-looking Serge Gainsbourg, the French believe is their version of John Lennon. To check out this claim listen to Je T’aime,…Moi Non Plus. Gainsbourg had a long affair with which Bardot with whom he recorded the first version of Je T’aime,…Moi Non Plus, which was never released.

Serge and first muse: Brigitte Bardot

Serge and first muse: Brigitte Bardot

Correction: As Claire (claire.bertaina@wanadoo.fr)  points out ” I m sorry, but the pic with Brigitte Bardot on, the man is not Serge Gainsbourg!!!!! this man is one of the numerous husbands of BB: he’s Gunther Sachs, german man!!”  Thank you Claire, you obviously right particularly when you look at the picture of Gainsbourg below.

Then there was the relationship between the impossibly beautiful Jane Birkin.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? During this time, Birkin starred in If Don Juan Were a Woman with Bardot

Bardot and Birkin as smoking lesbians

Bardot and Birkin as smoking lesbians

The film was directed by Roger Vadim who had recently been married to Bardot. Birkin clearly decided that living with an erratic and unpredictable drunk outweighed being a musical and poetic inspiration when she left after 13 years.

David Hamilton’s soft porn images inspire new novel “The Merkin Chronicles

More on David Hamilton

David Hamilton: bringing a soft focus to soft-core porn

Much of David Hamilton’s work celebrates the sensuality of young pre- and post-pubescent women. It is also the celebration of the exceptional beauty and of his young models and also a celebration of of many of the women.

Much of Bailey’s work can be seen in reference to the work of a number of painters and sculptors: Degas is a very good example of Hamilton’s onwards to earlier artists. The photos of the ballet dancers represent a high point in Hamilton’s art.

David Hamilton's homage to Degas

David Hamilton’s homage to Degas

Edgar-Degas-Dancer-Putting-on-Her-Slipper-Oil-Painting

There are other paintings that Hamilton draws directly from

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degas ballerinas

But Hamilton can’t resist popping a nude into the background, to what effect desired to understand the Sydney draws the viewer’s eye away from the central figure in the photo and certainly lessens its impact.

There is also a beautiful sculpture by Degas

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that Hamilton probably had in mind when he photographed this nude.

Best of 4

The self preoccupation of these two young women is a constant theme in Hamilton’s work. Time and again we see his models lost in a reverie that precludes the viewer all of which goes to enhance the ethereal and otherworldly nature of much of Hamilton’s work.

David Hamilton's Demoiselles

David Hamilton’s Demoiselles

In this photograph the three women are almost oblivious to each other. Two of them appear to be watching something on the ground and the other has turned away. Are they reflecting on some shared experience, if so they appear to be distancing themselves from it as their gazes appear to show no sense of engagement with whatever is just outside the frame of the photograph. True to form, Hamilton later gives us the nude version of this photograph

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It’s a beautifully composed piece, with carefully modulated light falling on the models, two of whom frame the third. Again there is a sense of sad reflection, they all look slightly crestfallen, heaven knows what they’ve been up to.

Another three young women appear in Hamilton’s version of the Three Graces

Hamilton's Three young Graces

Hamilton’s Three young Graces

It’s a bit unfair, but it is a pretty anaemic work when compared with Hans von Aachen’s work

Graces von axhen

What is really goes to show is that the use of soft focus and washed-out pallet, while extremely beautiful and appealing, sacrifices are lots of dramatic impact. The languid poses of the three Hamilton models lack the dramatic tension of the figures in the painting.

Perhaps one of the things that is most noticeable in Hamilton’s work is that, by and large, the models/subjects really do not relate to each other. The most knowledgeable exception is in the series of photographs taken in and around the farmhouse and on the jetty in France.

The photo in the farmyard with the two young women and the birds is one of Hamilton’s masterpieces

Farm and doves

It is a brilliant composition. There is a subtle tonal variation in the grey greens of the wall, the grass and the young woman’s clothing. The two major visual elements of the photo the light falling on the birds and the two young women are bound together by the bird that is in flight. Hamilton has managed to capture the line that runs down from the head of the model on the left over the model on the right and then up into the wings of the bird. It is truly a “decisive moment” photograph. There’s also a sense that she young women are retching engaged in some social activity, feeding the birds in this case and the visual and emotional elements of the photo are held together in a way that is not often the case in Hamilton’s work.

Another outstanding photo from this series is the picture of the two young women on the jetty.

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Again it’s a Hamilton classic. Two beautiful long-legged young woman, bathed in a etherial light and seated on a jetty that leads out into the background.

Compositionally, it’s very similar to the picture of the same two young women in the bicycle photo.

bicycle 2.

There is also a series of photographs of the two young women sharing a bath.

Best of 2

The light from the window floods into the room and separates the two young women. There is some tension flowing between the two of them. The one on the left appears to be contemplating an answer, not engaging with her companion whose body language suggests some form of reproof has flown between them. Again, it’s Hamilton at his best pulling together the compositional and emotional elements of the photograph.

David Hamilton’s soft porn images inspire new novel “The Merkin Chronicles

More on David Hamilton

David Hamilton: The nymphets and the line between art and soft-core pornography

It is first necessary to place the work of David Hamilton in its context and a good point to start is his lifelong preoccupation with the nymphet.

Humbert Humbert, the narrator in Lolita explains the idea of the nymphet:

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. 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 (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.’

It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial ones. In fact, I would have the reader see ‘nine’ and ‘fourteen’ as the boundaries—the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks—of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast, misty sea

Nabokov, Vladimir (1991). Lolita

Sue Lyon and Melanie Griffith as Lolita

Sue Lyon and Melanie Griffith as Lolita

While Lolita is the most famous of the nymphets there has been a long succession of them, and their older admirers, in films

The second one actress is not Melanie Griffith, as is noted. That is Dominique Swain. Griffith played the mother of “Lolita” in that 1997 movie adaptation of the Nabokov book. Thanks to Stephen Melton for the correction

Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, Jane March in The Lover. Mena Suvari n American Beauty, Ariel Besse in Beau Pere, Jane March Colour of Night and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, Jane March in The Lover. Mena Suvari n American Beauty, Ariel Besse in Beau Pere, Jane March Colour of Night and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

One of the famous nymphets is Matilda, played by Natalie Portman in Leon the Professional.

Natalie Portman in Leon the Professional and Jeisa Chiminazzo photographed by David Hamilton

Natalie Portman in Leon the Professional and Jeisa Chiminazzo photographed by David Hamilton

While the nymphs have many embodiments in the cinema, it is Hamilton who has devoted the bulk of his work to the examination of their allure and beauty. Hamilton’s young models are exceptionally beautiful but they are very special group: slender, long-legged, ethereal and inevitably blonde. They are either clad in revealing, diaphanous muslin or in various stages of undress.

On the way, he has courted controversy and criticism because of the fine line that he treads between between erotic art and pornography. Many would argue that he has produced some of the iconic images of young women in the last 50 years. Others would argue that he is simply a child pornographer.

His particular style is an idealised and romantic view of his subjects. His soft focus images hark back to the work of the late 19th century pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema RA much of whose considerable output could be described as swoony voluptuousness.

Unconscious Rivals, (1893) and The Favourite Poet (1888) by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Unconscious Rivals, (1893) and The Favourite Poet (1888) by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

This particular style is seen in Hamilton’s earlier work

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Two of these photographs in particular demonstrate Hamilton’s talent for composition. The photograph of the two young girls and the bicycle is one of his masterpieces.

In what appears to be a chance encounter, the two young women appear to have reached a post on a conversation and have retreated into some self preoccupied reverie. The theme of two young women together yet lost in their own world is one that Hamilton returns to again and again. The young woman appeared to inhabit a world beyond their obvious sensual beauty and Hamilton adds an extra poignancy to his photographs in his ability to induce this mood in his subjects. The photograph is also spectacular in its composition. The gentle pastels of the young women’s clothing stand out against the muted grey light of the road which intensifies as it winds towards the darker foliage in the background. It’s a spectacular and original composition.

The picture of the two young girls on the steps is a similarly brilliant composition. It was a wonderful tonal gradation between the sun bleached walls in the top left-hand corner, the spotted dress of the model on the top step, the slender legs of the other model and the light on the steps where they are sitting. There is also a unity of design in the composition of the bodies of the two young women. The line of the dress meets the line of the left leg of the girl on the bottom step binding the two figures together in the compositional whole. This is further reinforced by the colours of the girls arms and legs and the subtle modulation of the brick coloured hat into the reddy-brown dress. Again, it’s Hamilton at his best

There is frequently a motif of understated and slightly innocent eroticism in the relationship between the young women in the photographs which becomes more explicit as Hamilton’s work matures.

The innocent eroticism of Hamilton's early work

The innocent eroticism of Hamilton’s early work

In this photo, the focus is the light that falls on the faces of the two young girls. This focus is contained by the hand of the young girl where the light falls on her fingertips leaving the rest of her arm in shadow. The colour tones of her hand provide a visual link to the faces and hair ensues to anchor the image in the top left-hand corner to the white in the lower part of the photograph.

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