The Model


The aim of this book is to give the student of photography some basis for self-criticism in his posing and arranging of the model. The basis of this criticism is necessarily largely negative—as all worthwhile and useful criticism of creative work is bound to be. It is only weaklings and incompetents who plead for “constructive criticism.” The constructive, positive part of any art-work must be furnished by the artist-pupil himself. The instructor or critic cannot “constructively” criticize a student’s picture or story or symphony without, in effect, doing the work that the student should do. It is true that a presentable picture (or story, or symphony) may be thus produced: but it will be, fundamentally, the teacher’s accomplishment.

Therefore, warnings and negative precepts compose a great deal of this book. To give positive and concrete instructions on just how to pose a model is impossible as to give instructions on just how to write a song. But there are, in both cases, certain errors and traps that the incautious or inexperienced worker is liable to, and which he may be warned away from.

Some of the faults that are hereafter represented may seem because of their isolation, ridiculously obvious, and nothing that any reasonable person would perpetrate. However, specimens of nearly every one of the typical errors that are isolated and described in this book may be found in the pages of photographic journals and annuals, in volumes devoted to the exploitation of nude photography, and on the august walls of international salons.

Study of the graphic and plastic arts of the past provides the only proper basis for pictorial arrangement of the human figure. Although art in the past has reveal many strange revolutions of taste, there may be traced, even through the most aberrated periods, a constant tradition of good design. Application of this tradition to the problem of posing a model before the camera will lead one, not to a series of stock poses, but to the principles that underlie good posing.

There is definite need for a book that approaches the plastic problems of the human body from the photographic angle. My conviction on this point lately has been strengthened by certain albums that pretend to offer advice and inspiration on these problems. These luxurious volumes are, in my opinion, thoroughly hypocritical in their pious avowals. Such instruction and inspiration as they may offer lie, not in the realm of art, but in the field of biology. Vulgar in conception, crude in lighting, execrable in photography, they seem to be aimed no higher than the parlour tables of sporting houses. Indeed, better taste and better photography are to be found in some of the sub rosa publications that are denied the use of the mails.

For the basic plan and method of this book I owe a lare debt to George Bridgman, in whose anatomy class many years ago at the Art Students’ League I first came to appreciate the dignity and logic of the human body. I am also indebted to J.C. Flugl’s Psychology of Clothes and to Laurene Hempstead’s Color and Line in Dress for valuable material in Chapters Two and Seven of Part One.

Laguna Beach, California
November, 1936

8 thoughts on “The Model”

  1. Lay Figure

    Mortensen designates Figure 1 as a “lay figure.” For the purposes of his modeling book, the live model Mary Jones will be regarded merely as a lay figure—“A more delicately articulated lay figure, no doubt, but needing just as…

  2. Corpus Delicti

    Generally the inexperienced photographer is embarrassed and surprised on discovering how unmanageable an apparently compliant model can be. Like someone who has incautiously committed a murder, he is left with an awkward corpus delicti on his hands, a…

  3. Suspicion

    Eyes so turned than they show a large glint of white suggest one of the subversive emotions—suspicion, jealousy, flirtation, or fear, and they should not be so displayed unless some such thought is meant to be conveyed (Figure 16)….

  4. The Spanish Main

    The Spanish Main is a thorough-going example of the picture of explicit drama. It is just the sort of moment and just the sort of interpretation that one sees in movie stills. It is, to repeat the distinction made…

  5. Delicacy

    When thought, action, or animation is implied, it is generally demanded that the head be tipped. Note that the head is tipped in Figure 10 (Windblown), although the angle is full-face. The animation of the expression, the swing of…

  6. Smiles

    We may assign photographic smiles to four different classes, only one of which is pictorially tolerable. First, there is what is known as the zizzy smile. I include no illustration of the pure type of the zizzy smile, but…

  7. Protruberences

    William Mortensen, The Model: A Book on the Problems of Posing (1937), p. 165 One caution needs to be given before I describe the mechanics of the collodion process. The solvent of collodion is ether; so, lest you anaesthetize your…

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