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Photographers began to capture the nude body nearly as soon as images could be fixed on paper. Rendering the nude realistically was long an academic concern in Western art for artists working within painting and drawing, closely associated with a classical appreciation of the body. The advent of photography allowed artists to emphasize form, composition, and emotional content over a realistic treatment of the body.
Despite the academic association, the nude in photography has always sparked controversy and debate. In the early 20th century, Thomas Eakins photographed a wide variety of male body types, from youths engaged in sports to models within studio walls. Though it is clear that Eakins was interested in these subjects as an anatomical exploration, the homoerotic nature of the photographs continues to inspire debate.
More contemporary examples are the conversation raised by Sally Mann's photographs of her children, or Robert Mapplethorpe's sensual depictions of both nude females and males.
Edward Weston was among the first of the straight photographers to abstract the human body in his work. His work was significant for its marriage of abstraction and realism, and this dichotomy is clearly seen within his nudes
The nude is common in fashion photography, often bordering on risqué. The German-Australian photographer Hemut Newton celebrated the provocative and erotic in his campaigns for Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and other publications
At the turn of the 20th century, Imogen Cunningham first experimented with pictorial photography. Her later work was more direct, especially her nude images of the model Twina Thiebaud. Cunningham was also credited with being the first female photographer to publish nude images of her husband