A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Tittymouse & A Perception Of Distances
Friday, November 27, 2009

In my last few posts I have been a bit of a ranter and writer of stuff that is much too heavy to counter the dark and rainy days of November. Today it is sunny outside and I can see the bright gold leaves of my gingko on the lawn (they all fell in one day during a windstorm a couple of weeks ago). I could almost assert that I feel a tad uplifted. So I have found another excuse to be able to include, here, pictures of two very beautiful women. At age 67 I keep wondering if my obsession (mania?) to photograph undraped women is finally over. Is this sort of obsession an obsession that one outgrows? Have I seen it all? Or must I keep at it to satisfy what seems to be, now, a faint but unceasing little voice in my head that nags me that it is never over until it’s over?

In my years in Mexico City and Vancouver I have purchased many art books and photography books. Many are about the nude. My granddaughter Rebecca likes to sit in the living room to look at them. One of her favourites is the great big book with large photos taken of the Hollywood stars of the 30s, 40, and 50s by George Hurrell. In particular she likes his portraits of Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. It was the picture that made me take her by the hand, (while her interest was high) and drive to Videomatica one Saturday afternoon. We rented Tarzan The Ape Man (1932) with Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. We had an enjoyable afternoon. Now Lauren (like her sister did some few years ago) hangs from the stair banisters like an ape. We will have to teach her the Tarzan chest stomping yell.

I will not deny that Rebecca also looks at the “other” books comfortably reclined on the psychiatric couch of our living room. She had asked me last week if I had used any of the pictures in the nude books as inspiration. I answered, “Yes,” and then she made a startling statement, “Papi your pictures, the ones in your hard drive, are a lot tamer than the ones in the books.

I feel that Rebecca has seen enough paintings and photographs in museums and books to make up her mind what she likes and what she doesn’t. At age 12 I did not have the library that she has now at her disposal or the image banks of the internet. I think that Rebecca has intelligence and good taste to look for what is good.

All the above makes me think of a book, The Naked and the Veiled - The Photographic Nudes of Erwin Blumenfeld (note his picture below) (1999 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London) which has a most interesting introduction by his son, Yorick Blumenfeld was, 1999, a correspondent and features editor for Newsweek.

Yorick Blumfeld’s introduction is the best and most persuasive apology I have ever read about the merits and benefits of the study and exectution of nudes in painting, sculpture and photography.

In particular he cites his father as a little boy and his relationship with his nanny Tittymouse. There is an illustration, a reproduction of Hans Memling’s Eve, From Adam and Eve, 1479 that reads:


Memling’s classic ‘gothic’ elongations appealed to Blumenfeld’s sense of the erotic. He [1897-1969] was introduced to Cranach, Memling and the Flemish school of painters when he first visited the Berlin museums with his nanny around 1906.


It seems that I may be my Rebecca’s art nanny so I don’t feel at all uncomfortable at the fact that she pours over my art books. Of Blumenfeld’s nanny this is what Yorick Blumenfeld writes:


Before he ventured out into the world he took his heterosexual apprentiship in the nursery. His beloved nanny, ‘Tittymouse’ was the daughter of a talcum-powder manufacturer. ‘And she smelt of it,’ Blumenfeld wrote. ‘She had tiny pock-marks which I tried to kiss away. In return she taught me the butterfly kiss…’ Secretly in an era when it was considered risqué for a ‘lady’ to show her ankles, he already longed to see naked women.

He claimed that that his enduring obsession with transparency and veils was born, when at the age of nine, he was taken by his governess to visit the studio of a Berlin painter. The model, surprised by their entrance, quickly threw a diaphanous cloth over herself. But the outline of her body was still visible against the light. Later in his teenage years, the thin suggestive veils employed by such admired painters as Memling, Cranach and Botticelli made Blumenfeld realize that naked women could become ‘even more naked by their transparent veils.


And more to the point of what you cannot see in my photographs here (breasts) Yorick Blumenfeld quotes his father:


In all the widely ranging variations on the theme of the nude shown in this book, the youthful female breast plays a dominant role. I don’t think my father had anything like a breast fixation, but breasts were obviously a source of titillation deeply rooted in his psyche. The breast was something of a personal shrine to him and he eroticizes its form by focusing on the nipple. He always depicted the breast with great delicacy and something akin to reverence, striving to capture the elusiveness of perfect symmetry while trying to define photographically the ideal of the beautiful form. His photographs of breasts (unlike some of his collages and drawings) are never ironic, pornographic or even jokey. They are pure evocations of joy and celebrations of the feminine.

‘It cannot have been the influence of my nurse’s breasts alone which led to the development of this development of this addiction to golden sections. (“Our first perceptions of the distance between the nipples determines our sense of proportion for life”) he wrote in Eye to I. The highly evocative and and often voluptuous female forms shown here may therefore be interpreted in part as an effort to improve the gender. And there is no doubt that many are erotically linked to his early recollections, and to his dreams, as well as to the classical education he received in the Berlin ‘Gymnasium’in the golden era before the First World War.


The two women in today’s blog were as beautiful as I ever saw. Anna, left, was curvaceous and her breasts would have instantly attracted Blumenfeld’s interest and camera. The other woman, Mae-Britt was the only person I ever met who was born in Greenland. Her father was Inuit and her mother was Danish. The combination of her voluptuousness and the blue-green-gray shade of her eyes, which resembled the colour of the Antarctic ice I had seen so many years ago drifting by in Ushuaia, could melt me one moment and freeze me the next.


Previous Posts
A Splendid Lapse

The Bloedel Conservatory - A Botanical Tower of Ba...

Chopper Smarts & A Dry Martini

That Ingenious Hidalgo - Monsignor Quixote


We Would Rather Not Smile

The Colour Of Money Is Blue

Argentine Nostalgia

Argentine Nostalgia

Kyuquot, Essences & Plato's Cave Via Halsman, Sand...

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010