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The Body in Art

Discover how artists represent and use the body to investigate their relationships to gender and identity.

Back Torso From Below

John Coplans
(British, 1920–2003)

1985. Gelatin silver print, 13 3/4 x 17 1/4" (35.1 x 43.8 cm)

Coplans began taking black-and-white photographs of his naked body when he was sixty years old. Even though they are self-portraits, Coplans never includes his face in his images, representing a universal male body instead of a particular identity. “My photos recall memories of mankind,” he has said.1 Here the way he contorts his body results in a nearly abstract form that emphasizes line and curves. By photographing his body in the later years of his life—defying the conventions of youthful beauty—Coplans confronts issues of aging and deterioration, subjects generally ignored and feared in contemporary society.

Christopher Lyon. “Seeing from Inside: John Coplans on A Body of Work,” Members Quarterly, Museum of Modern Art, New York (Spring 1988): 3.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A representation of oneself made by oneself.

A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.

Changing Focus
Coplans’s career as a photographer didn’t begin until he was in sixties. Before that, he was editor-in-chief for the contemporary art magazine Artforum and the director of the Akron Art Museum in Ohio.