Fiction, Vol. 6.3, Sept. 2012
The subject of this archival study is the nude body of Mrs. Frances Mailer as it appears in a collection of nearly fifty photographs and visual arts renderings spanning from the subject’s infancy to present day (32 years). Regarding nude or partially nude photographs of the self, we can casually distinguish five categories of people: those who own no image of themselves nude or are knowingly captured nude in a photograph belonging to someone else; those whose nakedness before camera or artist constitutes a profession; exhibitionists, whose self-exposure is for thrill rather than money; nudists, whose undress is the manifestation of a broader ideology of freedom; and finally, a great middle ground among us who own or have transferred ownership of one or several nude photographs of themselves, having posed nude or partially nude, whether in the spirit of art, fun, seduction, or experimentation, a handful of times for partners, spouses, friends, or strangers. Having dabbled in all five, Frances Mailer poses the interesting scenario of not fitting neatly into any single category.
Following the short biography of Frances Mailer below are listed the images currently held by the archive. I record for each exhibit, where applicable and possible, the date and location of the image, as well as the name of the person who has generously given or loaned the image, or an indication as to the source of the image. A short description of each image follows, and where appropriate, more specific biographical information that I hope will provide story for those who would enjoy it—which is not to suggest the story is complete. As sure as I am there are images of the subject this archive does not yet own, so am I sure the production of nude images will continue—at a slower rate, no doubt, and for different purposes as the subject, now married and with child, enters her 32nd year. I must look on this circumstance favorably; nothing impels the archivist like incompletion.
Never shy, never showy—a fitting description of the relationship Frances has had with her body since the age of fifteen (Exhibit C). Born Frances Marie Brauer, January 10th, 1979, our subject is the second daughter of Alvin and Maxine Brauer. Her sister Leslie is older by six years, her brother Luke, younger by two. With the exception of four years in college (University of Chicago, 1997-2001) and two years working in Philadelphia (2002-2003), Frances has lived in the Church Hill district of Richmond, Virginia. She is married to Scott Mailer, with whom she has a six month-old boy, Owen. The Brauer family is inclined toward the arts: Alvin owns and curates the Zeitgeist Gallery in the arts district on Broad Street; Maxine, although recently retired from a long profession as a French and Spanish translator in the Federal Building, has been an avid painter since a young age, working mainly in watercolor and oils; Leslie, married to Phillip Tooley (2001), is a freelance interior designer for homes and offices; and Luke’s career as a musician has, in the past three years, blossomed in his most recent band, Blood Waltz, for which he writes, sings, and plays rhythm guitar. As a child Frances dabbled in ballet and various visual arts; in her twenties she occupied herself with photography, both taking “artistic” photos and collecting antique prints. The artistic environment of her home has no doubt played a role in many of the “posing” images we find in the collection (Exhibits D, K, M), and an artistic appreciation for or ease with nudity may partially account for the subject’s more commercial modeling endeavors (Exhibits H, I, J).
Neither sister would describe herself as sharing a “friendship” with the other outside the family context. The views they hold of one another are typical of a sibling pair with a substantial age difference, where Frances is supposed by Leslie to make consistent errors in judgment and short-sighted life decisions, and to be negligent of family obligations, and Leslie is supposed by Frances to be nagging, self-important, and given her own youthful mistakes, hypocritical. Both sisters have healthy relationships with Luke, the “baby” brother, though their age differences put Frances in closer and more frequent proximity to him, at least before each sibling left home. In some respects Alvin and Maxine make an unlikely pair. Meeting at an art opening in 1971—a month before Alvin opened his own gallery, which has since grown to become an important venue in the Richmond arts community—Alvin was so smitten he promised to present Maxine’s work before seeing any of it (the story is told at least once a year, usually at Christmas dinner). While their common love for art drew them together, the couple differs aesthetically, with Alvin on the side of clean lines and photorealism, and Maxine preferring more experimental, abstract, and modernist works. The parental relationships with the children have been generally stable and nurturing; if delineations were drawn, we’d find Leslie closer to Alvin in terms of their more conservative values and aesthetic tastes, and Frances closer to her more liberal, outspoken and outwardly passionate, though unpredictable, mother. Luke waffled from mother to father over the years, some of which were turbulent for him (drug and alcohol abuse), but seems these days to fit in comfortably between the two, receiving from his mother emotional support and encouragement, and from his father pragmatic and financial wisdom.
A. 1979, 3″ x 5″ prints, color
Various locations, Richmond, VA
Brauer Family Album (“Welcome Home, Frances, 1979,” “Summer 1980,” “Fall/Winter 1981,” and “Summer 1982”)
Sixteen prints depict Frances’s unclothed body as an infant and toddler. Of the seven photographs taken on the first day of Frances’s life, only one, among the apparatus of the delivery room at St. Mary’s Hospital, shows us the messy affair of birth: the tiny body, held by Maxine, is blue, sheathed in milky vernix and spotted with blood. The umbilical cord still connects mother and daughter, and it is highly probable that in this image Frances has not yet taken her first breath of air. The other six, taken in Maxine’s postpartum room, are traditional images of mother cradling child: the infant is clean, dry, and pink, her eyes pinched shut, her body still inclined to the shape of the womb.
We have three “bathtub” photos, one from “Fall/Winter 1981” and two from “Summer 1982”; in the former, Frances is held in the bathtub by Alvin, whose shirtsleeves are rolled up; in the latter, she sits unaided in a bubble-bath with Leslie, who is presumably responsible for piling bubbles atop her and her sister’s head. The six remaining prints show us an unclothed Frances in various outdoor locations: two in which she is held by Alvin in a wooded area; another at what appears to be a picnic at Maymont Park (Richmond, VA); two standing unassisted along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean (Virginia Beach, VA); and one, with her arms outstretched, running freely away from the photographer across an open field; on the back of this print is written “peu derrière” (Maxine’s hand).
I have not used the word “nude” or “naked” in describing the images above. While in Middle English “naked” was used especially to describe the innocence of a newborn, the critic Kenneth Clark (1903-1983) articulated the now common position that “naked” connotes vulnerability, deprivation, and embarrassment, while “nude” is a position of aesthetics and power. Yet it is impossible that a child can stand before the lens empowered by his or her nudity, for that requires an awareness of the distinction between clothed and unclothed—the same awareness needed for the possibility of feeling vulnerable and embarrassed. The debate seems to be one for the world of art, and while this archive has clear examples, according to these definitions, of both the “naked” (Exhibit G) and the “nude” (Exhibits D, H, I, J), what we are in need of presently is a word relevant to family photographs depicting the neutrality of a child in undress: hence the term “unclothed.”
Yet, one wonders if including such photographs here does not make them all “nudes,” insofar as an archive may somehow turn each primary source object into art.
Attic Studio of Maxine Brauer, East Leigh Street, Richmond, VA
Brauer Residence Attic
Of the hundreds of photographs of Frances as a child, we have only a few of her unclothed; likewise, of the dozens of paintings Maxine made of her daughter, only one, when Frances was six years old, renders her exposed. Frances spent many childhood hours painting and drawing beside her mother, and occasionally posing (clothed) for her as late as the age of fourteen. The painting in question is of a tawny-haired child holding and stroking with her fingers a plucked flower. The subject is undressed and turned in partial profile, making visible portions of her stomach and flat chest, as well as her back and small buttocks. The lines of her legs taper off abstractly. The gaze is directed downward at the flower, her hair hanging loose and unkempt. This romantic sensibility is unlike most of Maxine’s other works. The body exists, furthermore, in an environment that is only half-rendered in lighter pencil strokes; of the three or four “floating” details—the attic’s circular window, the arm of a manikin, a jade houseplant—the 35mm camera resting alone upon an edge of a steamer trunk, and pointed in the direction of the standing girl, is most curious, as though the camera was first attracted to Frances, and not the other way around.
C. 1994, Polaroid
West Grace Street, Richmond, VA
Courtesy of Jason Mueller
The earliest known photograph in which Frances poses in partial nudity is taken by boyfriend Jason Mueller, when she is 15. The subject is posed opening a plaid button-down top (belonging to the photographer) in an impromptu display revealing pert breasts. The photo is cropped at the waistline of the subject’s jeans and the top of the subject’s head. Her stance is explosive and jovial: she is gripping both sides of the shirt front, and with her elbows to her ribs, holding the shirt open curtain-like, as though imitating a male flasher opening his trench coat in a quick, forceful motion of short duration. The breasts are pushed together by the slight pressure of her arms alongside them, echoing the jutting chin and jaw. The slender neck suggests a thin, rather bony, figure. Her smile is a faux-sneer reminiscent of Elvis or Billy Idol and her eyes are appropriately narrowed with exaggerated seduction. Although the colors of a Polaroid are often monotone and flat, the tawny shade of her hair is not far off from its true color, and its general length and style are quite similar to how Frances wears it today (a few inches shy of or beyond shoulder length, without bangs). While the skin of her torso is clear in the photo, Frances will contract chickenpox later in the year, which leave at least four miniscule circular discolorations about her chest, and at least seven others about her legs and hips.
The subject is standing in a threshold, and Mr. Mueller confirms the location as the upstairs bathroom of his parents’ house. The couple had been toying with the Polaroid all day and Frances, evidently anticipating a surprise snapshot from Mr. Mueller as she exited the bathroom, countered with one of her own. It is justifiable to call this Frances’s first “nude” by her expectation and her willingness to pose, apparent not only in her posture and facial expression, but in the preparation of having removed her bra and undone all but the lowest two buttons on her boyfriend’s shirt, which she had found and donned in the bathroom. Still, we might call it a “faux-nude,” given the spirit of irony and imitation described above. Mr. Mueller recalls that even though Frances expressed some belated shock at her behavior, she was not regretful, and allowed him to keep the photo. He further confirms that of the photographs taken that day, this was the only nude, the sole reason it has survived and the others have not. Mr. Mueller’s parents were not home that day and to his knowledge have never discovered the photograph.
D. 1995, 3″ x 5″ prints, matte finish, black and white
Bedroom of subject, East Leigh Street, Richmond, VA
Courtesy of Todd Byrd
The four photos here depict the subject in various positions—two lying, one sitting, one standing—and may properly be classified as “nudes,” if Kenneth Clark’s definitions stand. Far from the sardonic and impromptu nature of the Polaroid (Exhibit C), these shots are serious and posed, with attention to posture, expression, lighting, and setting. This, along with the more “artistic” black and white film used, suggests a growing interest of young Frances in producing more mature images of the unclothed form, hardly unexpected given the nude photographs and paintings she was exposed to in her daily life as the daughter of two artists. In no photograph is the subject smiling, and her sullen expression suggests a trend of ennui popular in fashion magazines of the time. Mr. Byrd took 24 exposures of the subject, but only the “four best” survived.
In the first lying pose, the subject is completely nude upon her own bed; she is on her stomach and gazing up at the photographer, whose frontal and elevated angle affords the view of her feet, legs (crossed at the ankles), buttocks, back, shoulders, and face. Her hands, one atop the other, obscure her nipples, but the breasts are suggested by the shadow of cleavage. The face is neutral, the hair pushed back, the lips slightly parted, and by virtue of these aspects (more so than the elapsed time since Mr. Mueller’s photo [Exhibit C]) the subject appears more mature; closer comparison, however, reveals that the body is still quite thin and angular, the face still young. The second lying position is inverse of the first: the subject is supine and staring up at the viewer. The image ends at the subject’s hips, and Mr. Byrd informs us that though the subject was fully naked, she would not consent to unobscured images of her pubic region (for unobscured images of the subject’s pubic region, see Exhibits H, I, M ). The lazy sprawl of her hands and arms, the spread of her still small breasts, and even her sleepy expression convey a sense of elegant lethargy. A small scar of discoloration is seen about the left side of her torso (chickenpox).
In the third image, the subject sits in profile with her knees close to her chin and her face to the camera. In the final one she is standing so as to provide view of the length of her back; the subject looks over her left shoulder; her left breast is visible and she is holding a piece of fabric, likely her shirt, as though about to don it. Thiers was a short-lived affair. Mr. Byrd tells us this was the only time the couple engaged in nude photography, though Frances’s ease with being undressed around him was something he had not experienced with girlfriends in longer relationships, before or since. Neither was their relationship short on other new experiences: although Frances had, by Mr. Byrd’s account, three previous boyfriends, and by the end of their four months together, neither was a virgin any longer.
E. 1996, one strip of six black and white photos; photo booth with female friend
Courtesy of Ms. X
Ms. X, the friend posing beside Frances, has blocked out her exposed body with a permanent marker, and in her accompanying letter has written that she “considered snipping [her]self from the pictures but [she] didn’t want to ruin the photograph.” Ms. X has unwittingly made several interesting points, the least of which is that redacting her image via a black pen rather than snipping the print in half is less destructive. Given the obviousness of her pseudonym—it is not even a fake name, but an annihilation of any name—my first impulse was to believe Ms. X wanted to hide her identity. Why then, I wondered, did she not simply obscure her face as she might scribble out a signature, and leave the rest of her exposed? While Exhibit J, below, proves a face is not always needed to recognize an undressed body, I found it highly improbable—unless Ms. X has her own astute archivist—that anyone could identify her own teenage figure. It dawned on me then that Ms. X’s broad strokes with the marker go beyond identity; they are meant, even if we do not know her, to obliterate her nakedness.
Ms. X has not provided the location of this photo booth, but we can imagine it was once inside a mall or movie theater (my investigative telephone calls have not turned up any facility that still owns one). In the first three photos, Frances poses fully clothed with silly expressions appropriate to photo booth shots. In the final three photos Frances poses in partial nudity: in the first she is lifting her shirt to reveal her dark-colored bra; in the second, she is lifting her bra to reveal her breasts; in the third she has turned and pulled down her pants to moon the camera. We can assume that Frances and the obscured figure beside her acted in unison; the typical two- to four-second delay between each shot implies some preparation taken on behalf of the girls before initiating the process.
F. 1996, 3″ x 5″ prints, color
James River, Richmond, VA
Courtesy of Michelle Dayton
Seven nighttime photos depict the subject and others along the banks of the James River skinny dipping; given the visible geography and ease of access, the location is most likely the region of the river known as Pony Pastures on the city’s western side, popular for its “rock waterslide” among the rapids. The others present (at least two boys and three girls) are unnamed by Mrs. Dayton, although she claims Frances had a “fling” with one of the boys that same summer. The photos are not good quality given they are taken at night, some of them from a distance, and appear almost as black and whites . We can only see by the flashbulb that Frances is naked in most shots, while at least one boy and two other girls remain clothed. The photographer, Mrs. Dayton, close friends with Frances at the time but now a “distant acquaintance,” did not swim that evening, as she had forgotten her nose-plug; Mrs. Dayton reports that night swimming was a regular activity that summer and that Frances frequently chose to go nude, thus inspiring others to do the same. To this researcher’s mind, the anecdote confirms what we can already see (at least since Exhibits D, E, or F) is the beginning of a clear pattern of habitual nudity that will manifest later in various ways.
In the first picture, the subject is in a state of disrobing from a hooded sweatshirt, under which is a T-shirt; her pants have been taken off, but her underwear remain. In the next she is fully disrobed and stepping precariously into the river. The angle offers us a view of her legs, buttocks, and back, as well as the side of her left breast; what we can see of her expression is concentration on the matter at hand, which is likely a combination of maintaining balance and braving the cold river. With her arms outstretched for balance, and the eerily bright hue of her skin in the flash, she reminds me of a white heron about to fly. In the third and fourth image the subject is in the water up to her lower ribs; she is smiling at, and perhaps speaking to, another girl who is wading out and close to Frances. In the fifth image Frances is either further out into the river, or has submerged herself so that the water reaches her at mid-breast; the shoulder and arm of the second girl is at the edge of the picture. The water catches the light of the bulb; the background of sky and water is black. In the sixth, the water is to her clavicle or lower neck; her head is smaller, which is to say, she is now definitely drifting further away. The seventh shows only a small flash of her face, further and deeper still; she is nearly invisible. Most interesting is that in these seven prints, although we see Frances’s face, her eyes never meet the camera. There can be little doubt of her awareness, given the flashbulb firing off in the night. She knows she is being photographed, yet chooses not to acknowledge the lens.
Other photographs exist of this night depicting several people, Frances among them, in the middle of the river and on land, but the quality is such that no clear nudity can be discerned or described.
G. 1998, 3″ x 5″ prints, color
Chicago; Edgewood Beach
Frances attended the University of Chicago (1997-2001), graduating with a Bachelor of Science in linguistics and a minor in photography, but the beach she is pictured on is not a south side beach. Judging by the proximity of the city’s skyline in one photo, particularly recognizable downtown buildings like the (then-named) Sears Tower and the Hancock Building, and a defunct pier in another (Roger’s Park Beach), the careful analysis of Wayne Hutchins, resident of Chicago, concludes that it is Edgewood Beach on the city’s north side. It is unclear for what purpose the subject would travel the city’s length to visit a beach, unless for a social function she was invited to. Three photographs show Frances in a bikini posing with two other unidentified girls; in one they have their arms around each other’s shoulders, in another they are in a fit of laughing, and in the third they seem unready for the photo. Frances and another girl hold what appear to be alcoholic beverages. The subject has taken on weight in these photographs as compared with the more waiflike or bony figures of her youth; her hips have more girth, her breasts, though still smaller than the girls aside her, more heft. It is likely the subject was undergoing a quick weight acquisition commonly called the “freshman fifteen.”
Although not technically nude, I’ve included these photos as they connect with the fourth, fifth, and sixth photos, which are altogether different, being taken in an unidentified apartment and with no indication of the subject’s awareness. The subject is bent over in a bathroom stepping out of her bikini bottom; her buttocks are exposed as is a single breast in the mirror above the sink. The second image is similar, with the subject holding her swimsuit and in the motion of perhaps reaching for a towel. The third image, taken an indeterminate time after the subject has dried and changed, captures the subject asleep on a sofa with her left breast exposed. The nakedness—and I adamantly call it this because it is evident Frances is unaware of what is happening to her, that she is being deprived of her right to concealment—seems to have been deliberately effected by the photographer, since the shirt has been lifted and wrangled up over the breast (on the right side, the shirt is tucked tightly between the torso and arm, which is perhaps why both breasts were not revealed). There is a hairy male knee by the subject’s head, indicating that at least one additional person was in the room when the photo was taken.
While it cannot be determined if alcohol was involved in Frances’s deep slumber, or what other events occurred the same day or night, this was Frances’s first summer in Chicago (she’d stayed to take a summer class) and the researcher knows of several anecdotes from this period which portray the 19-year-old as reckless. Evidence of this is furnished by a rash-like patch along the subject’s exposed right hip, buttocks, and thigh in the two bathroom photos, an injury she sustained in June of the same year while riding on the back of a motorcycle when its driver lost control. The involvement of alcohol was suspected by family members, and there was a short-lived but memorable family row concerning whether or not she should be forced to come home that summer. The family’s stress was exacerbated by Luke, who around the same time, was engaged in drug and alcohol abuse, soon to enter rehab, and it is suspected that his more drastic, or in any case, more immediate troubles in Richmond served to draw the brunt of attention away from Frances.
H. 1999, Shiro Magazine, August issue, page 22
New York City, 1 World Trade Center
eBay, seller name withheld
In what is the subject’s earliest known venture to use the nudity of her body for remuneration, Frances is pictured fully disrobed in a triptych composed of an anterior, lateral, and posterior view. Shiro Magazine, a Japanese men’s publication that ran from 1996-2001, features images of Caucasian women in neutral postures and is organized according to size: Ookii (large), Chuui (medium), and Puchi (small). Frances is featured in the Chuui section. The magazine was sold in both the US and Japan, and the photography was done from a small studio in New York, presumably for the availability of Caucasian models. The photos are tall and uniform throughout, showing each body from head to foot, with each body in a natural standing posture with feet slightly splayed, shoulders back, arms at the side, head straight and level with the spine. The subject’s face is emotionless, but unlike Exhibit D, this appears less a constructed visage of chic impassivity and more a natural state of neutrality, as though she were standing before a doctor’s camera or X-ray machine (Exhibit L). Complementing this “clinical” feel, the room in which each model stands is empty and painted a uniform cement grey-blue; the lighting is cold and even. Below each triptych is a list of measurements and dimensions, and the archive is indebted to this veritable goldmine of meticulous detail, especially as the body we see here—fit, proportionate, womanly—is very much the body Frances will have throughout her twenties.
With the aid of translator Ken Oohashi, Frances’s measurements are as follows (converted from the metric): 68” height; 127 lbs weight; 18 years old; 34” bust; 28” under bust (ribcage); 38” hip; 27” waist. Circumference of thigh, 27”; of knee 13”; of calf 14”; of upper arm, 11”; of forearm, 9”; of wrist, 5½”; of ankle, 8”. Length of leg, 35”; of arm, 28”; of neck, 5”; of middle finger, 3½”; of second toe, 2”; of foot, 8”; of nose, 2¼”; of eye, 1½”; between eyes, 1½”; of mouth, 2½”; of ear, 2½”; of vagina, 2¾”. Width of nose, 1½”. Size of nipple, 1/4”; of areola, 1¼”; apex to apex (nipple to nipple), 8½”.
Although we cannot verify the accuracy of these measurements by looking at the photographs, and it may be the case that they were generated from a pool of common “Chuui” sizes and descriptions, there are no glaring fabrications among them; if we take the level of detail offered by the magazine in earnest, we must trust that they performed each measurement on Frances. One can imagine a team of people looping the subject with measuring ribbons, and sticking rulers between her toes. The only item we can prove fictitious is age, since we know Frances posed for Shiro a few days after her 20 th birthday in January 1999, not when she was 18, which was likely altered for the sake of additional taboo. The shoot corresponds with the winter break before the spring semester of her second year at the University of Chicago, when she was spending the holidays with her family in Richmond. A week after New Years, Frances took a three-day trip to New York with the ostensible purpose of visiting friends. Because Frances, the following semester, had begun renting an off-campus apartment in Chicago, but failed to leave her new address with the University, the magazine was mailed to her “permanent address,” i.e., her parents’ home, in August, and discovered by Frances’s sister, Leslie. It is unclear why Leslie opened the magazine, which was packaged in either opaque plastic wrapping or a padded mailer, and clearly addressed to Frances. (Leslie was at the time living back home and going through a divorce with her first husband, Nathan Clark, and beginning to casually see Phillip Tooley, the man she’d wed in 2001).
The magazine caused a considerable rift in the sisters’ relationship. The elder sister called the younger and expressed disapproval; the younger sister accused the elder of malicious snooping (Leslie claimed it was a mistake and blamed the recent stress of her divorce). Frances asked that the magazine be sent to her apartment; Leslie refused and cited an unsubstantiated law against mailing pornography. Not long afterward, the magazine was discovered by Maxine. That the mother found the magazine lying conspicuously on Leslie’s dresser fanned the sisterly fires, appearing as it did as though Leslie were trying her hand at sabotage. To Leslie’s disapproval (the root of which, I must add, lay ultimately in concerns for her sister’s safety) Maxine discreetly sent the magazine on to Frances, whether in the spirit of camaraderie with her younger daughter or simply to remove the magazine from the home before Alvin discovered it, has never been settled. Neither is it confirmed how much Frances was paid for the photographs, but some research suggests it was between $800 – $1000.
I. 1999 – 2002, 2004, Life Model (pencil, charcoal, oil, watercolor, pastel, pen and ink)
Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia
Courtesy of Donny Baker, Marie Buxton, Donald Easterling, Josephine Ernst, Donna Hall, Connie Jackson, Judy King, Alverta Marshall, Ellie Morris, Collene Nguyen, Edward Perryman, Ronnie & Barbara Sims, Christopher Song, Phillip Tooley, Sandra Walsh
The subject’s intermittent work as a life model began in Chicago in 1999 at the University’s Outside the Lines weekly figure drawing program, which was free for students and opened to the public for a nominal fee, and for which Frances posed nude an indeterminate number of times. She was introduced to the program by a divorced assistant professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University who helped run the program and with whom Frances had a discreet sexual affair for a number of months. Notably, her life modeling begins only a matter of months after her shoot with Shiro Magazine, suggesting a more active interest in posing nude for remuneration (Mr. and Mrs. Brauer, it should be added, were financially comfortable, and could not be called tightfisted with money, but were careful not to acclimate their children to allowances, handouts, and “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, as Alvin called such cash advances). News of her life modeling activity was not withheld from the family, given their artistic professions and pursuits; Maxine was supportive, while the more conservative Alvin made no formal objection. Leslie disapproved, and felt justified in doing so when in 2000, Frances reported to the police a man who had followed her home after posing at Hyde Park Art Center, and had subsequently been seen snooping around the alley of her apartment twice in the following days. The man was questioned by police but not arrested; the Art Center would have prohibited him from returning to class, as per policy, but he was not seen again.
Frances continued life modeling, posing either nude or partially nude, in Philadelphia, to subsidize her incomes from waitressing and photography. It is impossible to know how much money the subject netted; each studio offered different rates and usually paid in cash, which would not subsequently be reported on the subject’s yearly income tax forms. The lowest paying job I’ve discovered was Gale White Studio, a privately run arts workshop paying $11 per hour, while the highest paying job was for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which paid $40 per hour.
The archive holds the work of sixteen artists who rendered Frances, the acquisition of which is an accomplishment in itself given the difficulty of obtaining such items—most artists never learn the name of their model, nor are lists of artists’ names who may have drawn Frances easy to come by. The work of the sixteen contributing artists below comes from two sessions in 2004 at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.
The subject is rendered in various media (pencil, charcoal, oil, watercolor, pastel, pen and ink), in various degrees of realism. My object here is not to criticize these pieces so generously donated, but only comment on the features that best capture, whether realistically or abstractly, certain aspects of Frances’s nude form. For instance, Mrs. Morris’s pencil sketch of Frances, cross-legged and reclining in a chair, is unmatched when it comes to rendering a certain slinkiness about the subject’s shoulders, but it is difficult to recognize Frances in the facial features. Mr. Sim’s brush and ink captures the face, but the breasts are rendered a fraction too large and too low upon the chest. Ms. Walsh’s scratchy red pen depicts Frances as something like street art or graffiti, and is quite unique, but more important, manages to capture something of the subject’s extroverted but non-showy attitude about her body. Mr. Baker’s charcoal emaciates the subject (depicted standing with one knee on a bed) but presents his impression of the subject’s hitherto unseen vulva (also see Exhibits H, M).
J. 2002, Delilah’s Wardrobe (Catalogue)
eBay, seller’s name withheld
Delilah’s Wardrobe is a fetish clothing and accessory mail-order business; it ceased printing catalogues in 2003 and now operates solely online. Frances is known to have posed one time for the company, appearing on pages 42 and 43 (Studded Body Harness and Leather Bust Harness), and page 89 (Spandex Hood with Blindfold and Mouth Hole). No images of Frances appear to have been uploaded to the online site, though it is possible they may have been uploaded at one time and subsequently replaced. The two Studded Body Harness photos present an anterior and posterior view of the subject standing in an ornate room with marble-like walls and a plush purple ottoman; the photos are cropped at the knees. Unlike the Shiro triptych, where sexuality is disguised with neutrality, the subject’s posture here is more traditionally charged: in the anterior image, the body’s weight is upon the right leg to accentuate both body and product; the fingers of the right hand trail along a decorative window sill, while the left arm hangs at her side. The subject’s hair is pulled back, eyes agaze at the lens, face flirtatiously impassive, resembling in some ways Exhibit D seven years prior. In the posterior photo, the body leans slightly forward, away from the viewer, presumably to better reveal the leather strap running between the buttocks. The subject’s face is in profile as she looks over her shoulder, eyes, once again, meeting the viewer’s.
The product itself is an elaborate matrix of studded leather straps affixed to steel rings: two straps run down the shoulders like suspenders and diverge into four in order to frame the breasts; another two straps, shorter, move down the rib cage and are linked by a third strap which spans the solar-plexus. The pattern is repeated so that the abdomen is framed in a shield-like outline, the vertex angle of this triangular shape converging at the vulva where the two leather straps become one and, continuing under the pelvis, follow the natal cleft up to the mid-spine, were we can see the aforementioned straps branching off. The Bust Harness is similar but less complex: from a leather choker around the subject’s neck, a single strap bisects the torso, diverges at the sternum, and wraps around the rib cage just below the breasts to the back. There are multiple steel rings fastened to the product, presumably used with restrictive devices pictured elsewhere in the catalogue.
But is Frances here a nude, or is she naked? The art critic and historian John Berger says, “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude.” I think back to Exhibit F, those lovely, eerie nocturnal shots of Frances swimming in the James. Clark would call her “naked” in those shots where she is unposed— blind to the camera, deprived and lacking the dignity of choice. Berger would call her naked, too, because her nakedness lays bare her self to herself. Yet Berger insinuates that my sight transforms her: in that world, the one captured on the print, her feet upon the cold, slimy stones, water dashing her ankles, the plangent river in her ears, and the breeze about the parts of her body unaccustomed to air—in that world she is fully naked, fully herself. But that world is not this print; this print is only chemical and color, a thing that has halted time, and the girl is no longer naked but a thing my eyes and this photograph have turned into a nude.
There is something disheartening in this, yet it is hard for me to say what it is. Consider Exhibit G, where Frances is presumably disrobed without consent as she sleeps and is quite literally displayed as an object to be gazed upon. Can this nude have anything in common with the “nude” of exhibit F? And now look, in both our present photographs, at the expression in Frances’s eyes, eyes which seek out our own. Is she not empowered by her consenting gaze? Does she not resist objectification? But what of this intersection of skin and leather she wears, this dissection of flesh into quadrants?—these clothes do not clothe but rather reveal and emphasize nudity. And for whom, other than a viewer? And, if we believe Berger, it is a male viewer—no matter that the products are ostensibly for women, and no matter that it may now be a woman looking, for even a woman looks with the gaze of a man, and seeks the eyes of the woman, the eyes of Frances, which are calculated for nothing else but to receive it. If this is the case, Frances obliterates herself by showing herself to us.
The final product photo, the Spandex Hood, not only objectifies Frances in the ways touched on above, it attempts to make her physically unrecognizable, for the mask reveals only the subject’s mouth: the removable blindfold is affixed, and there is no opening for the nose or ears. Yet because the photo reveals the subject’s naked body (cropped just below the navel), it gives us more than enough clues to verify that it is indeed our subject. Prominent dimensions such as hip, waist, and bust are already sufficient, and we have still other markers: two small discoloration scars from chicken pox on the ribcage; a freckle upon the inside, lower edge of the left breast; another upon the right clavicle; the small, shallow naval. If even these signatures fail, the subject’s mouth alone should be a giveaway despite the atypical amount of lipstick coloring: the shallow philtral column and light “cupid’s bow,” the robust, symmetrical lips, the miniscule though unmistakable upturned commisure. Does our recognition of her turn this nude back into the naked self she is? Have we set her free like some wild thing we trapped and then couldn’t bear to watch caged? I’d like to think we’ve rescued Frances from oblivion, though, perhaps turning our eyes away from the photograph does the same thing.
K. 2003, “Body Bridges”
Installation by Natsuki Kamimura; Zeitgeist Gallery, Richmond, Virginia
Courtesy of Milan Koch (official photographer for Kamimura)
Natsuki Kamimura, a Japanese installation artist featured by Alvin Brauer three times at Zeitgeist Gallery, plays an interesting role in the career of Frances’s nude body (though by now I am uncertain whether to call her body nude, naked, or unclothed).
Kamimura’s third installation exhibit at Alvin’s gallery was the first to feature nude human subjects. Thirty-four male and female subjects of various sizes, ages, and ethnicities sat cross-legged in multiple lines of three to six individuals; the human lines, or “bridges,” were placed between a variety of geometric shapes made of plaster and wood, often rectangles six to eight feet long serving as benches for (clothed) gallery attendees, of which this researcher was privileged to be a part.
The installation was prefaced by several weeks of growing tension between Frances and Maxine: daughter had been home from Philadelphia, where she had worked as a photographer, waitress, and life model (a “bohemian lifestyle,” according to Leslie), for only a few months when she began expressing an interest in moving west. Mother was vehemently against it, and had no compunction admitting it was for the selfish reason of missing her daughter and wanting her there and part of the family again. Leslie and Phillip Tooley had by now their 1-year-old son, Max, and even Luke was in a serious relationship; the delight and concomitant unease (“empty-nest syndrome”) in witnessing these familial developments, coupled with the loss of Maxine’s father and Alvin’s mother during the previous two years, probably contributed to Maxine’s desire that Frances stay in Richmond and begin putting down roots. In the weepy hours after a prolonged argument two days before the show, mother and daughter reconciled, and as though to manifest it in action, decided they’d both model in the “Body Bridges” exhibit, the invitation to which had been extended broadly to the family by Kamimura’s staff. Thus we have photographs (professional only, no personal photography was allowed) giving us a literal side-by-side comparison of mother and daughter, and the curious privilege of gleaning from the former how the latter may one day appear. Even now, nine years later, Maxine is still remarkably fit; she has lost some height, and suffers from the usual effects of time, while her hair, similar to Frances’s tawny color, shows thinning but no grey. Similarities also exist in hips, arms, and breasts. All in all, Maxine is still quite an attractive woman, and it should please both sisters that they share affinities with their mother’s body.
“Body Bridges” was, conspicuously, the only opening night at his own gallery Alvin failed to attend, claiming he felt a fever. Neither did Leslie or Luke attend, although Luke and his father attended the second night, when all new models were used.
Though there has been no confirmation, it is believed that Kamimura is the person most likely to have introduced Frances to Shiro Magazine (Exhibit H). Upon investigation, a man who is likely kin to Kamimura is listed as one of the editors for the magazine. Frances met the artist, older by ten years, in 1998 during his first exhibit when Frances was home for part of the summer; the two were reportedly “simpático,” and rumors abound as to their frequent outings during the latter half of Kamimura’s 2-week stay. (Six months later, Frances went to New York for the Shiro shoot.) Revisiting Maxine’s concerns about Alvin discovering the magazine (when it was erroneously sent to the house) in light of Kamimura’s possible involvement, we discern another, possibly more political motive: Kamimura was a rising star in the art world, and since the time of his first installation at Zeitgeist, had been shown in prominent galleries in New York and Los Angeles, not to mention his modest European tour. He was scheduled to return for a second exhibit at Zeitgeist in 2001, bringing with him his newfound fame; had Alvin discovered the magazine and Kamimura’s possible influence in the affair, the quiet, though fiercely protective father may have canceled the show outright.
L. 2005, A Practical Guide to Crowns and Bridges (2007), by Dr. Marnick van den Belt
Virginia Commonwealth School of Dentistry, Richmond, Virginia
Amazon, seller’s name withheld
There are two photographs of the subject’s mouth, one of the right and left mandibular quadrants, i.e., a view of the teeth held by the lower jawbone, and a close-up of the problematic second molar on the right side which brought the subject to the School of Dentistry. The photograph also shows at least three previously filled cavities (fillings seen in first mandibular molar, right side; and first and second maxillary molar, left side). No evidence exists to suggest other dental health issues, and casual photos of the subject smiling or laughing reveal normal, healthy-looking teeth, with the most prominent feature being a slight overlap of the left maxillary canine with the abutting incisor, and a soft corner to the right central incisor where a chip may have been filed down. The photograph was taken by Dr. Marnick, who was the supervising doctor for students at the level of crowns, inlays, and bridges, and was at the time compiling data for a textbook/workbook to be used in conjunction with his teaching. Frances’s second molar was uniquely problematic because the portion of exposed tooth necessary to receive the porcelain crown was not as prominent as her student-dentist and Dr. Marnick would have liked; they considered crown lengthening, a euphemism for what is really a surgery to expose more tooth from the gum, but in the end decided against it. The crown was a success.
The anecdote Frances tells concerning the photograph is that she hardly had time to give or refuse consent: while in the chair, her mouth numb from the anesthetic used for the preparatory tooth-filing, her student-dentist told her the doctor would like a photograph. No sooner had she considered it, than a metallic forceps-like device (the edges of which can be seen in the first photo) was inserted into her mouth to stretch back the lips, and Dr. Marnick was above her with a large camera, upon which was mounted a “bizarrely large” fluorescent lamp. Her student-dentist reportedly apologized for the eccentric doctor’s lack of “bedside manners.” No credit is given Frances in A Practical Guide to Crowns and Bridges, but the photos were not difficult to find, having learned of the issue they were meant to illustrate. Although the inside of a person’s mouth is not typically considered nude or part of the nude body, it is a region of the body we do not often see in detail or for great duration. The photographs are practical, not aesthetic, but we can still appreciate the pinkness of the subject’s gums and the glistening inner wall of her mouth. Her tongue sits timid, curled ever so slightly under itself in the corral of the mandibular teeth.
M. 2007, JPG files
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Subject’s laptop computer
We reach now a treasure trove of nudes taken by Scott Mailer, whom Maxine might thank for being the reason Frances did not, in 2003, move west. The twenty-seven images span one or several afternoons upon a deserted beach of white sand, flanked on one side by coconut trees, and on the other, the near-artificial blue of the Caribbean Sea. The body is tanned and the skin taut, but what strikes this researcher most is the body’s movement. Whereas in other photos, whether the subject is posed or not, she is motionless; here we see the subject running, spinning her arms, shaking her hair, leaping waves, stumbling into the water, arising from it in a halo of spray. Here we see the subject’s body in its freest, most natural form. She looks to the camera, she grins, snarls, laughs and looks away. Not for the most disciplined of archivists can her dazzlingly naked form be divested from its potent sexuality, and yet she is herself as much as she is in childhood photos (Exhibit A), and her nudity therefore resists objectification, commerce, and even the bonds of heady art. These are gifts.
N. 2010, Ultrasound (week 20)
St. Mary’s Hospital, Richmond, VA
Mailer Residence file cabinet
The only ultrasound Frances underwent in her 37-week long pregnancy shows us the dark and grainy image of new life: sucking his thumb and by all appearances healthy, Owen Alvin Mailer would be born on May 10, 2010. The procedure was done two days after Frances’s 31 st birthday. Aside from the fetus, we can make out the grey contours of the subject’s uterine walls. To those who argue that such an image does not constitute nudity, I would agree, so long as we understand the limited, and in this researcher’s opinion, deficient definition with which we are working. If “a state of undress” refers merely to the absence of clothing, then the opened eyes of a woman in a burka should make her a nude.
The average human adult wears 22 square feet of skin; the skin alone weighs eight pounds. This coat of soft, fleshy, fragrant, hairy, wrinkled layers is a disguise for what lies beneath: a more mysterious type of nakedness.
O. 2010, 3″ x 5″ print, color
Strawberry Street, Richmond, VA
The acquisition of one image of Frances posing nude while in her third trimester is reason for as much satisfaction as it is distress, for it is likely, knowing our subject well enough by now, that similar photos exist. A collection of images spanning all nine months, showing in detail the developmental changes occurring to the subject’s body, remains a goal toward which this researcher aspires and tirelessly works. The single shot we currently have captures Frances fully nude with her left hand cupping the bulge of the underbelly. The fingers of the right hand linger about the side of the cream-colored, gibbous abdomen, scarred slightly by the beginning of stretch marks. The umbilicus has not extended and remains an “innie.” The arms and what is visible of the legs (cropped at mid-thigh) evidences a new, healthy-looking layer of weight. Below the cupped left hand, the subject’s exposed pubic region shows a tuft of dark hair. The shoulders are relaxed, and the subject wears a smirking, pleasurable sort of grin. For the first time, the face shows blemishes, no doubt related to the pregnancy. She appears tired but happy. Her hair is swept aside from her forehead, and longer than we’ve seen. The pale, engorged breasts seem propped by the swell of the stomach; the nipples are slightly larger, darker.
P. 2010, 4″ x 6″ prints, color; 1979, 3″ x 5″ print, color
St. Mary’s Hospital, Richmond, VA; Mailer Residence; Brauer Residence
Source: Mailer Family Album (“May – Apr, 2010”); Brauer Family Album (“Welcome Home, Frances, 1979”)
We have a collection of nursing photographs taken at the hospital and the Mailer residence in which the subject suckles the infant Owen. Many of these reveal portions of the subject’s breasts and nipples; in others, one breast is exposed while the infant suckles the other.
These are the only photographs in which Frances’s naked body is accompanied. It is true, other people appear in many shots (Exhibits E, F, G, K, P), but the subject’s nudity remains somehow her own private affair. Bear with me. The images in our collection express a wide variety of social engagements between her naked body and the world, whether for the purpose of arousing lust (Exhibits C, D, H, J), facilitating art (Exhibits D, I, K), or science (Exhibit L), ensuring health (Exhibit N), or documenting history (Exhibits O, P). Yet there remains something mirage-like about them all. And those images meant as gifts (Exhibits C, D, M): whose gifts are they? We can linger upon the scenes unabashedly, but neither we, nor the photographers, nor even their intended recipients own an atom of her nakedness. We may behold her naked body, and her nude form may exist in our eyes, but it is only like an echo is to the ears. Frances doesn’t exist on the print. Her naked body is her own. Only in these final photographs where Frances nurses her child do we sense the presence of true nakedness, and the absence of possession, and we glean it by virtue of that child who accompanies her. Her nakedness no longer belongs to herself alone. It is shared with the infant, whose life came of it and now depends upon it.
The mother reclined among pillows and sheets, the light blouse open, the naked babe with its bright new skin swaddled in sunlit arms; the mother’s sleepy, wondrous gaze downward, the infant’s closed eyes and persistent mouth, its tiny blind hand upon that which gives it food. Included here from Exhibit A are the prints of Maxine holding her infant daughter; this last photo of Frances and her newborn is nearly identical.