Art Review Archives:
by Robert Farber
Beauty, the body's elegance, nudity's grace: internationally celebrated photographer Robert Farber presents eighty-one works from the simple, to the glamorous, from images of romanticism softly light-washed, to crisp juxtapositions of positive and negative space that transform the body-imagery into abstractions and shape and form. Farber's versatility, technical mastery, and love for natural forms in everything from photographic landscapes to the curves of the naked body are well-presented in this softcover re-release of his out-of-print 2001 hardcover book. Natural Beauty: Farber Nudes is a welcome revisiting of Farber's sensuous photography.
From the earliest days of Farber's career the body's contours have provided him with endless material for photographic observation and experimentation. Natural Beauty is a commingling of works drawn from throughout this thirty-year span, a versatile selection of approaches combined into the pleasing offering of a single book. They find unity in a restrained application of color, where it is used, and a sense of ease that seems to glide naturally into Farber's photographs. Farber photographs beauty, pure and simple, whether classic or ultramodern; one needs no elaborate texts to enjoy this work. A modest three-page statement by the artist and a short commentary by Arnold Newman provide a brief introduction to the work. The rest of the book is given over to contemplation: photographs come to the reader's eye unencumbered by text, exposition or analysis, bearing in full the purity of Farber's intent, a visual purity of form and abstraction.
These particular selections are a degree less provocative than those in other of Farber's published photographic collections of the nude. This gives them an elegance, once-removed from desire, that awakens a deeper and more aesthetic appreciation of the artist's body-imagery. Which is not to say there is no element of touch or sexuality; Farber's photography invokes elegantly a thought as to how smooth that skin would be to stroke or to knead, how elegantly sleek. Here, however, such tactile pleasure is made subordinate to the nude body presented as art, as aesthetic work -- as a natural form whose planes and curves evoke grace. At times the compositions are straightforward, the human body simply and unassumingly placed in a natural setting, on site or outdoors. The young woman in Plate 49 is one such example, her unadorned pose providing a simple yet effective contrast to the horizontal and vertical repetitions of the white tongue-and-groove paneling behind her. In Plate 57 Farber brings forth multiple levels of seer and seen, using the model's reflection in a mirror to create the impression of a framed, wall-hung painting, at the same time calling attention to the similarity between her outline, and that of the water pitcher below.
In other works, warm, muted colors and rounded shapes enhance the feel of dreamy sensuality. Farber began not as a photographer but as a painter, and has continued to paint throughout his successful photographic career, one possible source of the 'painterly' quality which infuses many of his photographs. Plate 19 is characteristic, highlighting the model and the space around her, her nude body relaxed at length in peaceful repose. Softness, depth, and an intentional graininess lend the sensation of a brushstroke to these peacefully composed images.
In crisp contrast a series of studio photographs take the body to the realm of abstraction. In Plate 45 Farber radically flattens the picture plane, the models' bodies standing in as punched cutouts of positive space, the shadowed bodies and illuminate background resolving into contoured strips of varying tonal grays. Cropping tightens the focus on the bodies as abstract torsos. In Plate 46 three torsos form a sculpturally-modeled composition of curvaceous lines and tonal qualities. Positive and negative space hold equal weight, fooling the eye with their impeccable precision of contour. The studio lends Farber opportunity for more traditional iconography as well, and Plate 6 recreates the warm, sensual drama associated with the golden age of glamour photography.
Interspersed with the nudes, selections of Farber's landscape and botanic photography give the added depth of subjectural texture that lifts Natural Beauty into flight: a revelation that Farber's work, after all, is not about nudes per se, but rather, about seeing. The sleekness of a human body, the tumbling clouds over a distant landscape -- Farber's vision of 'natural beauty' encompasses both, a reminder that both are, in essence, natural forms. The two-page spread encourages appreciation of each work as an individual image, but turning pleasurably from page to page, and in the flow of imagery from one page to the next, the photographs of landscape or flower-forms carry over their remembered image to those of the nudes, and vice versa. Plate 58 brings a vision of a grouping of tulips, their slender forms elegantly restrained, barely visible in the darkness; the brightly-exposed nude in Plate 59 carries the remembered linear grace of this flower composition. One sees nude forms and natural forms, and marks the complementary qualities of both in contour and beauty.
Behind Farber's ability to conjure and evoke with the body's shapes, with contours, settings and light, lies years of technical experience. Photographers intrigued by Farber's work will find Natural Beauty also of interest as a technical reference, with an appendix giving the artist's production details including notes on the lighting, lenses, film speed, and paper used to develop each individual work. This detailed annotation, which also touches on the time or place of the photograph, holds one omission, that of the year of each work, which would have added the finishing touch to appreciating how each fits into the thirty-year span of Farber's output to date and the evolution of his vision and intent.
Whether in the controlled lighting of the studio or the ambient light of a room or outdoor setting, Farber devotes his loving attention to seeing. Natural Beauty: Farber Nudes evokes a deep aesthetic response, underlaid with a stimulating current of elegant sensuality. The pleasures of the nude, classical and ultramodern, the complementary qualities of nude and nature, are assembled in eye-opening transitions. One looks up from the book with a new awareness of vision, an appreciation of the exquisite flow of forms in the human body and in the natural world. Serene, meditative, sensual, this 208-page softcover release is a welcome revisiting of Robert Farber's lyrical photographic work.
Self-taught as a photographer, Robert Farber has become an internationally known and exhibited artist, successful in both commercial and fine-art photography. His main bodies of work include landscape, fashion, and nudes. A new 2004 release of Farber's photography, Robert Farber: American Mood, is also available from Merrell Publishers and features work documenting the life and landscape of America. Natural Beauty: Farber Nudes, Robert Farber: American Mood, and other books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews, may be purchased through this site's Amazon.com link or by clicking on the links above.