Viola Winokan helmut newton nude vintage vintage photography


We grown-ups are in the fortunate situation that we can directly guide a minor’s attention to the positive and esthetical sides of a subject or situation. A child is open minded and curious by nature, and as a parent/mentor we are privileged to be often the first ones they address to when trying to understand what they see and what comes their way. By guiding a child’s look at the various parts and aspects of an artwork we are participating in far more than explaining a picture: we are forming his/her way to approach new things in a constructive and positive way. As the child will apply the constructive approach to other new things he or she comes upon in life, we are co-creating a better and safer future world by talking about art with children.

I always felt responsible when clients asked me about a nude picture: “How do I explain this to my son/daughter?”. This question I pose to myself as I have a son and I exhibit and collect works of art containing nudity.

It is our own sensitivity and opinion about sexuality which we are confronted with when looking at art containing nudity. In such moments the child or teenager is aware of the entire spectrum of our reactions, emotions, tone of voice and words we use to comment on the artwork.


Here’s a list of thoughts which might help to introduce nudity in art at home to children. There is no order in which to use these arguments; they can be used depending on whether the child asks you about the picture or you plan to introduce it to him/her.


  • I would tell the child/teenager in general that firstly we are all born without clothes. Being bare skinned with hair is our humans’ natural state. Like it is being with scales for fishes, feathers for birds, fur for cats, dogs and other coverings of animals.
  • Humans need clothes as a protection in the first place: from cold, rain, heat, hurt. Depending on the country, humans are either wrapped in many layers like in Alaska or walking and working bare chested like Hindu women in former Bali.

This first point is to show that nudity is natural, clothes are a necessity. The cultural and ethical reasons why we wear clothes are left out here.

  • The cultural and ethical reasons why we wear clothes would be a broad subject to jump on with a teenager. Interesting to compare the different levels of restriction in different countries. The range is broad from forbidding the depiction of the human form at all (so not only nude, but any human figure) by many in Islamic art, to Kinbaku in nude photographs by Japanese Nobuyoshi Araki – an example of the opposite amongst so many.

Starting this discussion, we can come to talk about our own cultural and ethical reasons why we ask the question How do I explain this to my child? In my experience it brings parents closer to their children when they speak openly (not necessarily fully detailed, but also not avoiding your own upbringing regarding nudity, your own parents’ views, the country and society where you grew up etc.). Name the restrictions that you came upon when shipping or bringing the work from one country to another, and why laws are different in different states: depending on form of government, religion, national history. Possibly you come quickly to speak about freedom, rights and power, how authorities use it and based on which ideology and with what objectives.

In my opinion a nude picture can serve as an introduction to a talk about essential social subjects in life.



  • The human body was always subject to exploration for scientists and artists; artists same as scientists want to explore the world and try to explain human existence.
  • Since ancient times artists explore the human body by the means of visual art, for example, to find its ideal proportions. Such ideals changed over centuries and eras, and you can talk about the time, epoch, era, cultural background of the nude in your picture.
  • However, artistic studies have been also done of dressed bodies, such as the fall of folds of fabric and the wet robe. The human body – dressed or nude – is for artists one of the greatest subjects of interest next to landscape and still-life.
  • It depends on the motive of the image and the composition why the artist chose to depict a model nude or dressed. In a composition, a nude body can be a contrast to its environment, for example it can look fragile and soft next to a vehicle made of hard metal. It can enhance the contrast between man and machine, which is a science fiction theme, and be a link to robots - how much they can replace us - and to demonstrate what makes us humans human…

The aim here is to take away the sensation from ‘naked’ and to show that nude as well as dressed are both interesting for esthetical studies of shape, color, texture, and the contrast which bare skin can create to other attributes in the composition and in general what it adds to the story the artist is trying to tell with the work.


  • Studying light and shadow using the bare human body is an artistic practice ever since. Especially in black and white photography, the body or face comes to existence through shadow. Or is it through light? In ancient painting it is called the Chiaroscuro – the Dark & the Light – which means shaping, sculpting, modelling with shadow and light.


Like any artwork, a nude picture is perfect to teach a child to start really looking, seeing details and naming things. Ask him/her where she/he sees light and shadow in the picture and which shapes are formed by the dark and light contrast: round or edgy. Which perspectives create light and shadow? A lit shoulder stands out, the other one in the shadow drifts back into the darker background, this is the classical way to create the illusion of 3-dimensionality images 


A nude in an artwork is not necessarily about nudity; it is way not about sexuality, and for sure sex is not something you must talk about with your child on the spot even if sexuality is the direct subject of the artwork. Mention some of the above aspects in a conversation with the minor and the subject nudity will be ‘defused’ and becomes a ‘normal’ thing to talk about instead of a taboo.

But you might want to talk about sexuality. A growing child starts automatically searching for answers related to sex. An artwork is a good opportunity to start such talk. Children are very sensitive in their perception. They see and feel when grown-ups are withholding something from them, skipping, hiding, avoiding or looking away from certain subjects because of fear or shame. Our own upbringing, cultural background, ethical views can unconsciously influence us when we are facing nudity.

What I learned from books of western European psychologists is that saying “I also don’t know” is okay when a child asks something unexpectedly which I am not prepared to answer promptly. “I don’t know either, but let’s have a look together,” or “I don’t know how to say it with words, so let’s talk about what we both see” could serve as a start to a step by step talk about nudity [and sexuality].

Admitting that I can also not know something, and that I don’t know everything has always put me on the same level with my son and deepened our friendship. This way I shared the same right with him to express personal impressions, rather than teaching him; I welcomed his view and honesty rather than lecturing him from my experience. Consequently, a child will also act open with his/her parent. He/she will learn that questions are there to discuss, and situations can be approached together. He/she is not the only one having questions – and not alone by not knowing the answers. On a small scale, at the practice with an artwork, this approach can be helpful with confrontations later in life on a bigger scale.




In my experience, such conversations with a minor don’t go far and don’t get as confrontational as we are afraid of. A child is often satisfied with one short answer already. If the answer comes naturally and friendly, a child is quickly content and happy to let go of the subject. Of course, if the answer is that ‘babies are found in cabbages’ or ‘brought by a stork out of the blue sky’, it will be more difficult later to look at works like the “Kiss” by Rodin, and any nude and erotic painting or modern photograph. Avoiding a subject means resign from your privilege to be your child’s trusted friend and not taking the chance to show him/her a significant part of the world and reality. It means also, you leave the answers over to her/his further environment as the child will for sure search answers to all life questions including – or especially - the ones which are confrontational.


  • Sexuality and emancipation are two subjects closely tied to each other. You hardly can talk about a nude in a picture without considering the rights of the model. At the example of Helmut Newton, who photographed mostly nude women in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, the explanation is easy because now Newton’s work is a document of his time. [Every artwork from the past is a document and a reflection of an epoch and society.] The photograph shows an old-fashioned image of a woman because it depicts a girl sitting neatly (and naked) on a motorbike as if it would be something ‘special’ and extraordinary. And it is, because she is naked on a vehicle. When it comes to the question why, turn to the argument mentioned here above about artists’ studying the human body. If you see Newton’s photograph in this light, not much difference is between this work and the reclining nude “Olympia” by Eduard Manet, or “La Grande Odalisque” by Jean-August-Dominique Ingres. Artists of all times have shown female nudity. The artists mentioned here are in collections of world’s most famous museums. If you look more closely, the classical nudes are situated on a bed or chaiselongue, which presents the length of their body and lifts it up like on a pedestal. Their hair is neatly done, they are wearing attributes like shoes to accentuate the contrast to their overall nudity. They represent the female beauty ideal of their time. Not much different is the model in Helmut Newton’s photograph (in our example Arielle Burgelain de Hugo): she’s the body-ideal of her generation; she is depicted in the way of the classical nude in art history: like a statue in a souverain pose, serene and quiet, thus reclining, her haircut and shoes in fashion of her time. She is not presented on a bed but positioned on a motorbike which serfs to lift her body like on a pedestal as well. She doesn’t make the impression to drive off, she is more decoratively seated but in control, like a horsewoman. She is a representative of the female kind, an esthetic role model. As this picture appears in a men’s magazine [Playboy], the purpose is to entertain its audience by serving the sexual curiosity, but this photo Helmut Newton took also - or mainly –to satisfy the needs for fine art and esthetics. The man who is looking at the nude picture (same as the child or teenager) perceives all aspects of art history, study of human body, esthetical and compositional aspects which I am mentioning here above.


 Finally, a word on this photograph as no danger for the image of women:

  • The photo has been taken in 1988. We are looking at it in 2024. In the 80’s indeed, less women had a driver’s license than nowadays, less females were holding leading positions in companies and organizations, the protection of women in societies was weaker in those times before #metoo. A child looking at such photograph made in the 80’s will also feel that this picture is ‘old’ and not depicting today’s reality or reality at all. That woman on the bike is not contemporary, she is a document of the past compared to half-nudity and suggested sexuality in social media and advertisement which a minor sees publicly nowadays. The highly esthetic look of the composition in total can have only one purpose, which is artistic. And this is to honor the female, to distinguish her from the male, and yes, to depict her as desirable and powerful in a suprahuman way like the machines in the picture. The image alone is empowering its viewer, who senses and enjoys the work of a fine photographer in it.


To our children (in the ‘Western world’), the today’s emancipated women in daily life are serving as an example in the first place. I think there’s no picture of a nude woman in art or media that can undermine the woman’s confident position in the society anymore. But in the face of the flood of images and fiction which our child  is exposed to, we have the privilege to guide his/her attention to the ones of fine art, deeper intellectual meaning and higher cultural values.


Viola Winokan


Amsterdam, June 2024



Helmut Newton
Silver gelatin print
Sheet size 25,5 x 20 cm                                                                             Framed size 42 x 37 cm




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