Life & Culture

The Sensuous Female Nudes of David Lynch

The filmmaker’s photographs of naked women are part of a new exhibition opening at the Helmut Newton Foundation

Over the past four decades, David Lynch has become one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our time, best known for his surreal style of storytelling exemplified in Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive. But Lynch is also a photographer, too, whose passion lies in a profound love for the female nude.

“I like to photograph naked women… The infinite variety of the human body is fascinating: it is amazing and magic to see how different women are,” he said in a quote accompanying the launch of his book, David Lynch, Nudes (Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain), a collection of more than 100 black and white and colour photographs – a selection of which are going on display for the first time at the Helmut Newton Foundation on December 1.

In Lynch’s fascination with the female form, he uses the camera as a tool to delicately devour every inch of flesh and bone. “It’s a subtle and sensitive approach,” Dr. Matthias Harder, curator of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, tell us. “Lynch gets very close to the figure with his camera and creates extreme close-ups. Thus, the motifs get a tactile physicality. As a museum’s visitor, you think you might be able to touch parts of the bodies. In his nude photography, he works very sensitively, almost shyly, surrounding the female body and the spirit with his camera as if he would touch the women just with his eye, tenderly. Eventually, in our perception there is a connection between what we can see and what we can’t.”

That desire to see the unseen reveals itself in Saul Leiter. David Lynch. Helmut Newton: Nudes, the first exhibition in the foundation’s history dedicated exclusive to the genre of nude photography. Neither Lynch nor Leiter’s female nudes have ever been exhibited before, underscoring just how fresh the familiar can become when seen in a new light.

“Lynch combines night scenes with the uncanny of our soul. The photographs were taken independently of his cinematic work but they are as enigmatic as his films,” Dr. Harder explains. “We can think of these kinds of sexual allusions like Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut. The models are nameless, mostly in undefined rooms. You don’t know exactly what happened or what will happen – it’s all about your own associations and imaginations. It’s up to you how to define it and how you feel about it.”

In this way, a thread runs between the works of Lynch, Leiter, and Newton that sets them apart from the vast proliferation of female nudes dating back to the Venus of Willendorf, a 30,000-year-old fertility idol. Here, both artists and models seduce us into a state of surrender, silently giving in to our timeless fascination with the feminine and its ability to find strength and power in a state of supreme vulnerability.

Saul Leiter. David Lynch. Helmut Newton: Nudes is on view at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, December 1, 2018 – May 19, 2019.