William Witt (American, 1921–2013)
printed 1950s, early gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in. (36 x 28 cm)
Gift of Jon and Nicole Ungar, 2016.46.219. Artwork published under fair use.
Photographer William Witt is known for his photographs of New York street scenes. However, he also devoted part of his career to picturing nude female bodies. The women in this series of photographs adopt various poses for the photographer. While three of the photographs are presumably taken in the same setting, one photograph removes the setting entirely, only giving us a view of the woman’s body. Their unrecorded names and invisible faces are a form of erasure, leaving only their Black bodies on view for the world. Playing into Western art traditions of portraying the female nude, Witt’s photographs are layered with a legacy of enslavement, ethnographic exhibition, and conquest of Black bodies. His photographs raise issues about the connotations of the Black female body: hypersexual, unfeminine, obscene, and grotesque. One might question Witt’s relationship to the women. Are they models he employed or perhaps acquaintances?