Nakedness and Nature

We say "nakedness is natural", but have we begun to think through all that means?
It is so basic. A human being is an innocent part of nature. Our civilization has distorted this universal quality that allows us to feel at home in our skin. Other animals have coats that they accept, but the human race has yet to come to terms with being nude.
Ruth Bernhard

Glen Johnson
People who like to be naked often call themselves "naturists". The publications they read often weave "natural" or "nature" into the title. It is implied that not only is it natural to be naked, but along with being naked comes a greater closeness to and involvement in the world of nature. So "naturist" is not an inapt term for people who like to be naked, although it is less familiar to the general public than the term "nudist".

Even so, it can be surprising when we stop to think how many common, familiar words have the same roots as "nature" and "natural". They are chiefly words related to birth, such as "nativity", "natal", "nascent", and "innate", "cognate". From this, somewhat surprisingly, we also have "nation", referring to the place of one's birth, and "native" for indigenous people. No wonder naturists say that if we were meant to be naked we would have been born that way.

Did you notice the "-gen-" in "indigenous"? Words are like living things, they have an ancestry and family relationships. Linguists long ago discovered that most European languages and some Asian ones (like Sanskrit) are all descendants of an ancient common language which has been called "Indo-European". In the latter, GEN is the root that is related to the concept of begetting or giving birth. English still has many words built on that root: things like gene, genetic, genealogy, gender, genital, genius, ingenuity, progeny, pregnant, generate, genesis, generous, genial, gentle, genteel, gentry, genuine, genus, genre, generic, general.

Tellingly, we speak of Mother Nature - acknowledging the feminine quality of our natural environment. And we also have the slang expression "mother naked".
The human body represents to me the same universal innocence, timelessness and purity of all seed pods, suggesting the mother as well as the child, the parental as well as the descendant, conceived according to nature's longings.
Ruth Bernhard

Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me... Nature was naked, and I was also... Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! - ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.
Walt Whitman, A Sun-bathed Nakedness

Glen Johnson
The idea of "getting back to nature" as a Good Thing is relatively recent in Western thought. It had its origins in the Romantic movement and developed during the middle years of the 1800s. At the beginning of that period, "nature" had rather unfavorable connotations, being the force that civilization was trying to overcome and rise above. But by the latter part of the century, the idea had been rehabilitated and given the positive associations by people like Walt Whitman and John Muir, which it retains to this day.

Some people, of course, feel that nature is overly sentimentalized, that the state of nature in which the Noble Savage once lived in harmony with himself and his environment is just a myth engendered in the minds of relatively affluent people by the frustrations of our urban civilization, that it is not now and never was quite so good as it is made out to be.

Perhaps. It may be a myth. But none of us live without our myths. Like art, myth is one of the ways we explain us to ourselves. There is beauty, and truth, as well as pathos in our myths.
Human beings to me are as much a part of nature as trees or birds, and the unclothed body expresses this belongingness directly and powerfully.
Wynn Bullock

The body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one's flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure glow not explainable.
John Muir

Glen Johnson
Why be naked in nature? It is, after all, not always convenient or comfortable. Sometimes the air is too cold, the sun too hot, the brambles too unforgiving of bare skin, the insects too thirsty for our blood.

But still... our skin is our largest sense organ. Wearing clothes when we don't need them is like wearing a blindfold over our eyes or earplugs in our ears. We miss so much - the warmth of sunlight, the coolness of fog or a waterfall's mist, the caress of the breezes, mud between our toes, a summer rain runneling down our flanks.

Everything has a price; life is full of trade-offs. Like a street vendor in a middle-eastern bazaar, nature is always offering us incredible bargains. If we don't want his fine, hand-made pottery today, perhaps some rare, imported silks... Because he knows we are uniquely able to appreciate the quality of his wares, he will let us have our choice for an outrageously low price.

What will we choose, if the only price nature asks today is to give up our clothes for a few hours or a day? A taste of freedom? An ample boquet of new sensations? A feeling of connectedness and belongingness to the natural world?

Yes, and what if we could afford at times to splurge, to be without our clothes for whole days all together, even at the price of occasional discomfort? What then?
By now I was utterly deprogrammed. I walked along naked usually, clothes being not only putrid but unnecessary. My skin had been baked a deep terra-cotta brown and was the constituency of harness leather. The sun no longer penetrated it. I retained my hat.
Robyn Davidson, Tracks

With a little inner pirouette of excitement I realised just how much there was to look forward to tomorrow. The thought of being all day naked in the sun was delicious enough in itself, but there was the whole of our new world to explore.
Lucy Irvine, Castaway

Nature is not, of course, always benign and beautiful. It can be frightening and terrifying also. Not too many generations (note: a gen-word) ago, raw nature and wilderness tended to inspire fear and dread in "civilized" people. They represented Otherness and the Unknown. That which is "wild" is also "bewildering".

Today, wilderness is usually considered to be something good and in need of preservation. The beauty and awesomeness of it dominate our attention. We are attracted by wilderness, the Otherness of it, the sense it is something inevitably outside of us. Always beyond us, it is what is ultimately real.

We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other.

To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.
In wildness is the preservation of the world.
Henry David Thoreau, Walking

Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet:

And the weaver said, Speak to us of Clothes.
And he answered:
Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy, you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your body and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Some of you say, "It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear."
And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,
But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.

And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

In the modern world, we are all too often our of touch with both nature and our selves, including our nudity. William Wordsworth had something to say about this:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not-Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Photographic interpretations of nudity in nature

Art is how we explain us to ourselves.

Art is the pursuit of truth about life through metaphors.

Both nudity and nature have been favorite subjects of photographic art since its beginning, but more often separately than together. Here are some of the best examples where the two subjects are combined to produce something considerably more than a sum of the parts.

Jim Furness Photography
Furness, based in Scotland, works in black and white, mostly with medium format equipment. His outdoor nudes in woods and streams are exquisite. Some of his work is at naturist locations, such as La Jenny in France. His other subjects are landscapes, people, and studio nudes. The gallery of outdoor nudes is here.
Sukumar's Fine Art Photography Gallery
N. Sukumar was born in India and currently works as a scientist in the U. S. His photography uses black and white, color, and infrared film. He deals with nudity in various forms, including studio nudes and digital abstractions. His depiction of nudity in nature includes infrared figues and outdoor figures in water, woodlands, and dunescapes.
Stereoscopic Imaging by Ray3D
Stereoscopic imaging recreates the appearance of three dimensions by means of two images taken from positions corresponding to the distance between a pair of eyes. This site, which belongs to Ray Hannisian, exhibits stunning work involving subjects as diverse as auto racing and nudes in nature. All images are in color and extremely sharp focus. A little practice crossing your eyes is all that's needed to appreciate the effect.
Outdoor Nudes by Will Jones
Jones works in black and white with a large format camera. His site showcases just a few of his images, which are mostly nudes, and mostly in outdoor settings Utah and Colorado. Each image comes with a brief description of the circumstances under which it was captured.
Jerry Avenaim Photographs
Avenaim is a very successful pro photographer of celebrities, athletes, and the like. He also does fine art photography, including (especially) nudes in nature. Some of this work is to be included in a book of black and white images: Naked Truth. Outdoor settings include beaches and deserts of California.
Stone Nudes
Stone Nudes is a project of California photographer Dean Fidelman, intended to promote the sport and experience of rock clibming by capturing the essence of the climbing spirit. Fidelman has compiled a series of powerful black and white images that juxtapose naked bodies and naked rocks. Reproductions of many of these images are available in calendar form. Unfortunately, the photos displayed at the Web site are in thumbnail form only.
The Infrared Nudes of Michael Fulks
Fulks is a Colorado photographer and educator. Infrared film produces black and white prints, but imparts a surreal, dreamlike quality to outdoor images.
Photographs of Glen R. Johnson
Johnson is a commercial photographer based in Oregon. The settings for most of his images of nudes in nature are mostly dunes, flowing streams, and waterfalls. The photos are monochrome, a warm, glowing brown. Both the models and the natural settings are rendered stunningly.

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Copyright © 1997-2003, All Rights Reserved
Images on this page are the copyrighted work of Glen Johnson, from Nudes in Nature, used with permission.

Last updated: February 8, 2003