I was reading the April 1949 issue of "Sun and Health" and came across this interesting letter to the editor, and a thoughtful reply by Erik Holm. I found it very interesting that the exact same issues and concerns over what constitutes a true naturist photo are still being debated today. Please note that the above photo is not the image in question in the following letter, but is an example of they type of art photo being discussed.
Letter to the Editor:
Naturism and Art Photos
I congratulate you on your publication Sun and Health. We need a good international sun bathing magazine and I think your magazine fulfills all our wishes: good articles and perfect photographs. I absolutely agree with your editorial about nudism and naturism "On Understanding" and I should like to translate it for our Dutch "Zonnewijzer". But I do not like the photograph on page 15 of No. 2. Such "art" photos are perhaps good for a photographers' trade paper. Certainly they are harmless to us naturists, but other people may think they are the expression of the real background of our movement. "Now you see for yourselves", they will say, "what sort of people they are, these naturists." They will ask us if naturists are accustomed to stand together in such attitudes. They will ask why? and what does this mean? And they certainly will not believe that it means nothing more than the fancy of a photographer specialising in photos in the nude. You say that such aesthetic photographs should attract people. But what sort of people?
As you know, the naturist movement principally originating from the revolutionary youth movement in Central Europe, there was a natural balance in the number of male and female adherents. But in other countries the number of male applicants surpasses many times the female, and everywhere it is a great problem to get more female members - girls, women, families. Now, we in the Netherlands think that such photographs do not attract "people" but only "young men" of whom we already have too many, whilst on the contrary women are repulsed by these art photos.
Would it not be a good thing if other naturist readers were to give you their opinion on this question?
Your naturist friend, Harry Dissen, Sun and Life, Postbox 6003, The Hague, Holland
Dear Harry Dissen,
I thank you for the letter and the criticism which is always held in the right spirit. Our magazine will always be glad to hear the opinions of colleagues and readers, and we are keenly alive to any view serving to clarify the means and aims of naturism. Already in the previous issue of "Sun and Health" I stated my opinion on the so-called "art" photos in an editorial reply to a question from a reader. The particular photo to which you refer has been sent to me by a well-known German nudist. Neither he, nor the two girls had any bad intentions, and the same applies to me in publishing the photo. They are members of a recognized German nudist club, who have for once tried "something new" with regard to photos in the nude. Thus they are nudists of the same opinion as I; that is to say that they believe that not even in photos which may look a little artificial there can be anything provoking or indecent - art and naturalness are here fused in a higher unity, which I find must be unchallengeable. We must accustom our readers to see naked human bodies so that they realize that there is nothing strange or mystical in the nude. The readers must learn to look at nudity in the same way as we do, and then they will understand in the end. They should be "saturated" with visual impressions. Undoubtedly, this "policy" will fail in some cases when the readers have some perverse notions of sexuality and eroticism, but I venture to maintain that those who are affected in the right direction by seeing our photos and reading our articles will ultimately outnumber those who buy the magazine out of filthy curiosity.
The reasons why we primarily publish photos representing women are, in the first place, that the female figure has better and greater photographical possibilities than the male figure, at least in the majority of cases, and secondly, that it is more necessary for men to get accustomed to the sight of a naked woman than vice versa (this is a compliment to the female character), and finally I am myself a great admirer of female beauty, and accordingly I want to make every issue of "Sun and Health" one great homage to the fair sex.
As is known, the excess of male candidates among those who apply in order to join our nudist clubs is mainly due to the wrong notions of eroticism and nudity, which so many men have. Therefore we must be very careful in accepting male applicants as members, and therefore it is a good thing that some "screening" can be done. There should thus be a fair chance at choosing the right ones! And as far as the women are concerned, they should be happy and proud that they possess these beautiful figures, which make them so attractive in the eyes of the men. They ought to be happy that the Creator has given them these divine and beautiful bodies and limbs - and they ought not to be afraid of walking out into nature together with the men, and try to become identified with the Universe from which they have arisen. However much naturists we are, however much we have strengthened our characters by naturistic habits of life, we cannot quite make ourselves free of an admiration of the fair sex, even though we have married one woman, whom we love, and with whom we want to live the rest of our lives. But there is nothing evil in that. It is but - natural!
Much more might have been written about this subject, but for the present I will let this suffice. And I say as you did in the end of your letter: let us hear the opinion of the readers.
Not everything Mr. Holm says sounds "politically correct" by today's standards, but at the heart of the issue he is correct - that pornography is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to photos of nude people, and that only by saturating the public with nude images, such as what I try and do on this blog, will people begin to become desensitized to the sexual objectification of body parts. One can certainly admire the human form without lusting over it. By covering up the body, society only guarantees that most people will not be able to look past the flesh and into the heart and soul, to find the true measure of another person. Once the skin is exposed entire, there is nowhere else to look except into the eyes.