Poster for Robert Fraser Gallery 1963, by Robert Brownjohn
I recently went to see The Look of Love, a film about the 1960s porn baron Paul Raymond.
Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond in The Look of Love 2013
I thought it was pretty dreadful and full of graphic and period errors, along with a flourish of horrid false beards and wigs. The very nature of the subject, Soho strip clubs and adult magazines, demanded a lot of nudity – only of women, of course.
It got me thinking about nudity and in particular how women were portrayed in graphics and design back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a period I am very familiar with. But before I show you the array of images I have turned up, here’s a bit of historical context.
From 1900 to 1968, The Lord Chamberlain’s office was responsible for censorship in Britain’s theatres. All scripts had to go through that office before a theatrical performance was granted a licence. But all that ended in 1968 when the censorship laws were relaxed. Obscenity was still a crime of course, but many young Turks of the thespian world wanted to push at the barriers of acceptability. In 1969, Kenneth Tynan, a theatre critic turned writer, devised the musical Oh! Calcutta!
It caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, mainly due to the fact that the entire cast appeared completely naked during the performance. Audiences, including many rain-coated gentlemen, flocked to the show. At the same time, Hair,
Masha Hunt star of Hair
another all-singing-all-dancing nude production that had been held back until the censorship laws changed, was doing great business.
Prior to 1968, the use of ‘live’ nudity was restricted to the seedier strip clubs of Soho, where the ‘models’ were not allowed to move...
Above the more innocent times of London 'Review' clubs of the 1950s
But no such restriction applied to the more esoteric world of ‘conceptual art’. In the early ‘60s, the French artist Yves Klein was using naked women as human paintbrushes.
Before an invited audience, complete with string orchestra, he would have naked models smear themselves with his distinctive ‘Klein blue’ paint and would direct them to roll onto large sheets of paper. The resulting body prints...
were then displayed and later sold for 4 million francs – nice work if you can get it. You can see a little movie of one of these events from 1964 here.
The ‘60s were also full of so-called artistic ‘happenings’, which normally involved women wandering around naked to the delight of the assembled males gathered. Andy Warhol was famous for these impromptu events.
A Warhol event from the 1960s
In 1965, Yoko Ono, in her art performance piece Cut Piece, allowed members of the audience to cut off her clothing,
In the mid-‘70s, another performance artist, Marina Abromović, often appeared nude in very confrontational pieces. She often mutilated her body, which was very disturbing for her audiences.
But all this was under the guise of conceptual art where the audience could gaze at naked forms with an air of detached sophistication.
Greater liberalisation of the body came in the 1960s, coinciding with the ‘hippy’ counter-culture with its ‘free love’ and ‘flower power’, encouraged by the introduction of the Pill, the proliferation of hallucinogenic drugs and the feminist movement.
Music festivals started to pop up everywhere and it became de rigueur to strip off at the sound of the first bar of music, which was greatly helped by the uninhibited effects of LSD. This youthful, freeing attitude to nudity found its way into advertising, movies and graphics. But, as always, it tended to be the women who were naked because these areas were dominated by men. Even that staunched feminist Germaine Greer (she of The Female Eunuch fame) stripped for the controversial magazines Suck and OZ , the latter of which was embroiled in a hilarious obscenity case.
OZ magazine ran from 1963 to 1969
Above, for the time rather good covers for King 1965
it was trying to present itself as a serious read, often commissioning some of the best writers of the day. It was art directed by Michael Foreman (now the long-established and celebrated children’s book illustrator), who had spent a short period at Playboy magazine in the US prior to joining King. Unfortunately, it failed and was repackaged as Mayfair (Below) with predictable girly covers and fold-out pin-ups.
The psychedelic flower power era spawned well, lots of psychedelic flowers, mostly painted onto women’s naked bodies.
From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
Above: a modern recreation of Aldridge's handiwork
Masha Hunt in the 60's
LA,LA,LA ala Caravelli & His Magnificent Strings album cover 1968
From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
46th Annual New York Art Director’s Club Exhibition poster 1966
Alan Aldridge film poster promoting London from the mid-1960s
The singer Janis Joplin entered into the spirit of the time back in 1966
The was even a nude alphabet created by Anthon and Anna Beeke and photographed by Geert Kooiman 1970
Over the ensuing years, effective lobbying groups have slowly changed attitudes towards women and how they are portrayed. The ‘90s and ‘00s saw female nudity starting to slowly abate from advertising, design and book covers, but the music industry, with its historical image of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, doggedly hung in there.
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland 1968
Blind Faith 1969
Roxy Music Country Life 1974
Pulp This is Hardcore 1998
The Stokes Is This It 2001
Bat for Lashes The Hunted Man 2012
The fashion world is still very wedded to nudity to sell their wares...
Wonderbra poster TBWA 1994
Tom Ford for Men advertising campaign 2007
Tom Ford for Men & Women advertising campaign 2011
Calvin Klein advertising for Obsession for Men 1993
Today what goes on in the deepest recesses of the internet makes all that I have shown here look distinctly innocent. Some of our red tops still insist on their antiquated page-three spreads and there is still a plethora of ‘lads mags’ that continue to see women as little more than objects to ogle.
But far more sinister is the attention given to highly unrealistic body images (mostly Photoshopped) aimed directly at young girls: a sad and worrying aspect of this 21st century. It is a tragedy that children are no longer able to be children anymore.
I’ll give the last word to Barbara Kruger. I think she is spot on.
Detail from Barbara Kruger’s ‘Brainy Illustration’ for a New York Magazine cover 2000.
But what comes around goes around. In 2007 the youth fashion chain, American Apparel aligned its brand with far more blatant imagery than any other retailer. It got many complaints. Here are some examples, you can judge for yourself.
Despite 5 decades of the various women's movements, some things never change.