HISTORY OF SKINNY DIPPING
Skinny dipping is the world's most universally recognized erotic social experience. For many, it was our first time being naked outdoors, even our first time being naked with someone else. Our first skinny dip may have been an act of rebellion, perhaps from parents, friends, or simply our own fears. We reassured each other and ourselves with the promise that darkness and water would conceal our naked bodies, when secretly we knew there was plenty of light to see. It was a good excuse to subvert our own fears of being naked together.
Through the 20th century, photographs of nude women were taken by men to be shared with other men. From wartime pinups to Playboy to Pirelli, the power to capture an image corresponded directly with social power. The commercialization of nude and risqué imagery followed two distinct routes: images that were themselves sold, and images that were used to sell something else. The former was porn, the latter advertising.
But today, we are witnessing the blurring of the dichotomy between photographer and subject. The Internet has democratized cultural production in all conceivable media and genres. It should come as no surprise that it has also fundamentally altered the production and exchange of nude imagery, both in practice and intent.
As the camera lens ceases to subjugate as it once did, a third category of nude imagery is emerging that is neither porn nor advertising but social erotica. In this new context, whatever value we ascribe to the nude image can no longer be attributed to its scarcity. Thus, the edit takes on new importance. We are far from being the first to identify social erotica as content worthy of collection, and we owe a debt of gratitude to genre leaders like Project ISM and Synthetic Pubes. If the role of these sites is to collect and catalogue social erotica images, ours is to delve deeper into the experience captured by the images.
Our choice of a calendar as a medium for The Skinny Dipping Report was not entirely innocent. As it happens, 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of Paul Émile Chabas' completion of his painting, Matinée de Septembre (oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art), depicting a nude woman bathing on the shore of Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France. The painting became a national succès de scandale when ordered removed from a New York art dealer's shop window by Anthony Comstock, founder of The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Millions of prints were sold, as well as reproductions on merchandise including umbrellas, suspenders, postcards, candy boxes, cane heads, and watch fobs. The controversy surrounding the painting is credited with helping break down American opposition to the display of nudity in art. The work is also known as the first subject of a nude calendar.
In the century that followed Matinée de Septembre, the nude calendar has become a recognizable form with its own clichés that are ripe for subversion, now more than ever. We aim to upset the form by shifting the dynamic away from objectification and toward identification.