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


There are other paintings that Hamilton draws directly from


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


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

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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


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.

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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.

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