Magnus Weidemann

Magnus Weidemann was born in 1880 in Hamburg, Germany. As a young child he looked up to his older, artistically-inclined brother Theodor. Theodor died young and Magnus inherited his art supplies. By 1898, at age 18, Magnus began his career as a painter, mostly of watercolors. The latest Magnus Weidemann painting I could find is Storm Surf, painted in 1967. He was a painter for at least 69 years.

Mädchenakt mit Vergissmeinnicht (Naked Girl with Forget-Me-Nots) was painted in 1927. In searching for Weidemann’s paintings, I was unable to find many young nudes. Art sites devoted to Weidemann concentrate on his landscape paintings. A few landscapes have a nude adult woman in the painting. I found only two Weidemann paintings of girls, both on auction sites. Mädchenakt mit Vergissmeinnicht was very small on the auction, but Pip provided a better example.

Magnus Weidemann – Mädchenakt mit Vergissmeinnicht (1927)

Some time around 1898 to 1900 Weidemann found his first nude model, who was also his cousin and would later become his first wife. Weidemann was married three times. The names of his second and third wives, but not his first, can be found in online biographies of Weidemann. It would be interesting to know how old the first Mrs. Weidemann was when she started modeling, but I could not find any more information about her.

Magnus Weidemann – Children on the Beach (1944)

Children on the Beach was found on a Czech auction site, and the title of the painting was in Czech. I have used the English translation of the Czech title. Children on the Beach was painted in 1944, during World War II. Weidemann complained during the war that it was prohibited to paint outdoors or to make any pictorial representation of the landscape. Presumably, Children on the Beach was not painted from life.

Painting was Weidemann’s passion, but did not pay well enough to support him and his wife. In 1900 he began studying Protestant theology, and in 1908 became the pastor of St. Clemen’s Church in Nebel, Nordfriesland, Germany. At the start of World War I Magnus Weidemann volunteered to serve as a medic in France. Later during the war, Magnus and his wife divorced. When Magnus returned to Nebel he made a studio in the rectory and hired a housekeeper. The housekeeper brought with her a twelve-year old foster daughter. Both the housekeeper and the child modeled for Weidemann.

Magnus Weidemann – Heidewanderin (1926)

Weidemann met Molli Mollenhauer, a twenty-year-old dancer and gymnast in 1919. She became Weidemann’s model, and in 1920 she married him. Magnus resigned as a pastor and moved to the nearby town of Siethwende. Magnus and Molli became involved in Freikörperkultur (FKK, nudism) which was gaining popularity at the time. Weidemann became friends with two other prominent artists: the photographer Lotte Herrlich and the symbolist illustrator Fidus (Hugo Höppener). In 1926 Weidemann moved to the German Island of Sylt, which was then and remains to the present a popular destination for naturists. He continued to live on Sylt for the rest of his life.

Magnus Weidemann – Gretchen (1926)

In the 1920s, Weidemann’s painting came to be eclipsed by his work in photography. His photography documented the FKK movement with images of people of all ages, mostly female. In 1923 he became editor of the nudist magazine Die Freude. Many of his photographs and poems appear in the magazine, and other German FKK magazines. He wrote the preface to Lotte Herrlich’s book Rolf, and wrote books of his own, including Körper und Tanz and Deutschen Baden.

Magnus Weidemann – Gisela (1926)

Heidewanderin (Heath Walker) is from the July 1926 edition of the German nudist magazine Lachendes Leben. Gretchen, the next photograph, is from the May 1926 edition of Lachendes Leben. Gisela is similar to Gretchen in that both are simple poses with the model looking down rather than at the camera. Gisela is from the April 1926 edition of Weidemann’s own magazine, Die Freude.

Magnus Weidemann – Glückliche Kindheit (1927)

These photographs are all from naturist publications available online at the FKK-Museum site, and are from the period of 1926 to 1930. Naturist magazines from the 1920s and 1930s in the FKK-Museum contain many artistically-posed photos, similar to poses in nude paintings. Publications of the 1950s and later have a greater proportion of casual photos, more like family snapshots than fine art paintings.

Magnus Weidemann – Blumen (1927)

Glückliche Kindheit (Happy Childhood) is also from Die Freude; this photo was published in the May 1927 edition. Although Weidemann concentrated on women and girls, he photographed some males as well, as in this photo. In his 1997 book Empire of Ecstasy, Karl Toepfer quotes Weidemann as saying he finds female subjects more suitable for nude photography because males are “active in contrast to the passive-intuitive character of women.”

Magnus Weidemann – Die G’schamige (1927)

Blumen (Flowers) is from the November 1927 issue of Lachendes Leben. Note the similarity of the pose to Gretchen and Gisela. The last two photos are from the book Deutschen Baden by the artist. Weidemann lived and worked on the North Sea coast of Germany, in the area where Frisian is spoken. Die G’schamige is translated from standard German (Hochdeutsch) as “The Shameful” , and from Frisian as “The Shy”. Struwwelpeter is a colloquial term for a child with messy hair.

Magnus Weidemann – Struwwelpeter (1930)

Molli Weidemann moved to Cologne to train as a dance teacher, and Magnus hired a housekeeper whom he married in 1932. He continued working as a painter and photographer until his death in 1967.

Allan O’Marra

Allan O’Marra grew up in Bancroft, Ontario, and his art often features the natural beauty of central Ontario. He is an artist, an art teacher, and a psychotherapist. As a painter, his work includes both realistic and abstract images. O’Marra paints portraits, figures, landscapes, and still-life. According to the artist, he is “Aiming always to reflect the wonder of existence in all its beauty and complexities.”

Allan O’Marra – Sweet Thing (1979)

O’Marra began exhibiting his paintings in 1971. The first of ten paintings included in this article is Sweet Thing (1979). It is a relatively early work, but O’Marra has already mastered the realistic style. The lake in the background is typical of O’Marra, he often paints aquatic scenes.

Allan O’Marra – Aphrodite’s Child (1981)

Aphrodite’s Child (1981) is another figure of a girl at a lake; this one a nude. Most of his figures are clothed, but a few are nude.

Allan O’Marra – After the Swim (2005)

Allan O’Marra – We All Need Our Heroes (2011)

The next two paintings are After the Swim and We All Need Our Heroes. I have not been able to determine who the models are for these paintings. They have the feeling of O’Marra’s paintings of his own family.

Allan O’Marra – Naturists in a Grotto (2015)

Naturists in a Grotto shows a group of seven naturists, including both males and females, young and mature. O’Marra wrote, “This painting is from a series that I am working on that celebrates my fascination with the idea of family naturism—working from reference images found on naturist websites across the globe.” By using reference images from naturist web sites rather than his relatives or other live models, he had access to plenty of images of people of both sexes and all ages. In Naturists in a Grotto, six of the seven figures are female, and three are adolescent girls. Were young girls given prominence because, in O’Marra’s artistic judgement, they are most aesthetically pleasing?

Allan O’Marra – Sisters (2019)

Allan O’Marra – Ashlyn —Swimming in the Rain (2019)

I find Sisters appealing for the sisterly affection evident in the two girls. Ashlyn—Swimming in the Rain was inspired by the time the artist took his great niece swimming, and it started to rain.

Allan O’Marra – April (my granddaughter) (2021)

Allan O’Marra – Granddaughters (2021)

Allan O’Marra – Rayvin on the Fence (2021)

The last three paintings are some of O’Marra’s more recent work, and feature his family members. Allan O’Marra’s web page is here.

Random Images: Arthur Benda

In case it is not abundantly clear, the presence of children in the nude is hardly a rarity since practically the advent of photography. Almost exclusively, they are taken at naturist camps or produced with the cooperation of the families who frequent them.

Arthur Benda – Zwei sitzende Nudistenkinder beobachten Kaulquappen im Rexglas (1930)

Maiden Voyages: July 2017

Mission Statement: As this site developed, it has become more and more apparent that it serves a greater purpose than one would assume at first glance.  As if living in a nightmarish world of doublespeak, it seems as if the mainstream culture would portray us as misanthropes.  We have, in fact, pursued the exploration of the subject of little girls with a sincere desire for self-knowledge.  Every investigation and every decision has two sides and thus we are not only examining the character and nature of little girls themselves, but why they have such a psychological effect on us.  A few serious people out there understand this and realize that this site must survive and persistently make its presence known to the mainstream community.  It was thought that to help bridge the gap, there should be an explicit mission statement so that those unfamiliar with this site and who might get the wrong first impression can see that this is a serious endeavor with a challenging mission.  The first four, and most essential, clauses in this statement have now been published—each introduced through the Facebook page and then added to the ‘Mission Statement’ page here.  More clauses will be added, but the key points are now in place and other pages will be added in time to make Pigtails in Paint a more effective resource and launching point for relevant and constructive social change.

An Image is Worth a Thousand Words: In the June ‘Maiden Voyages’ I reported how Google+ censored a photograph by Ilona Szwarc, hinting that it “depicts the exploitation or abuse of children” or “presents children in a sexual manner”. Now Christian informs me that his profile was temporarily suspended under a similar pretext after having participated to a Google+ discussion group opposing the stigmatization of minorities and, by extension, pedophiles; which was eventually banned. On the other hand, groups or individual profiles propagating hate, in particular glorifying Nazism or promoting anti-Semitism have not been removed, despite being reported; some of this content happens to be illegal in certain European countries, according to anti-racist watchdog organizations. So efforts are underway to put pressure on Google if it wishes to continue operating in those countries.  For any Google+ users who want to protest this hypocrisy, they can write on the profile of the Google+ owner or on the Google+ Help community.

Rescuing the Girl Next Door: There is a new film called The Book of Henry (2017) about a boy who uses his genius to help others.  His next door neighbor, played by Maddie Ziegler, is being abused by her stepfather while Henry helps strategize what to do about it.  You can watch the trailer here.

Archetypes of Femininity: A colleague recommended an interesting book published in 1988 called Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Sìecle Culture by Bram Dijkstra.  It is an intelligent overview of the perceptions of women in Victorian times and how that shaped their portrayal in imagery.  Dijkstra’s research is excellent, but he condemns artists too much for being the products of their own age.  It also points out how artists, including women, could only gain success if their work presented acceptable subjects and interpretations.  The eventual fascination with the girl child came about in an age that was infantilizing women and artists were escaping to so-called purer forms supposedly devoid of the evils of sexuality undeniable in the adult female form.  Because of this, it became possible for artists, like Charles Dodgson, to explore—however subconsciously—the eroticism of children with impunity.  This offers some real insight into the cultural environment these artists worked in.  The book is more valuable for its observations of cultural movements and how they shape today’s attitudes rather than Dijkstra’s opinion on the merit of particular artists.  The book is discussed on Celestial Venus and a book review can be found here.

Putting the Nature Back in Naturism: An associate mentioned a couple of images he found featuring naturists in the San Francisco area.  The TreeSpirit Project  founded and photographed by Jack Gescheidt was already reviewed by Pip but continues to add new images of which prints can be ordered.  It is important to realize that nudity can be used as an important political tactic that is both consistent with the group’s agenda while challenging people’s perceptions and complacency.

Child Models and Actors: Often lost in the sensationalist debate is the reality of child modeling and the children’s perception of their experience.  One of our readers has been feeding me interesting articles and tidbits on this subject and I keep meaning to pass them on.  So for the next few months, I will be publishing the links here until I have gotten through all of them.  Most of these items have to do with the stigmatization of children being nude, but I know that these issues overlap with many other ethical and legal subjects as well.  The first submission is anecdotal; it appears that there is actually a Facebook fashion blog that features a nude girl as its avatar.  I have also been informed that a nude image was successfully uploaded on IMDb from The Spy Who Caught a Cold recently reviewed on this site.

A Skin Thing: The producers of a recent exhibition called Skin Thing in Australia made a very apt choice for introductory speaker, Olympia Nelson.  Those familiar with Nelson will remember that her family became the subject of controversy and she courageously defended her mother’s (Polixeni Papapetrou) work publicly at the tender age of ten. Interestingly, there are reports that the artist will soon be releasing certain images that were held back at that time because of the thoughtless and hurtful comments received.

Cool Fascination: The Spy Who Caught a Cold

The charming thing about short films is that they allow the filmmaker to put forth an idea that would not yield enough plot for a feature. The title of this short piece is a take-off on the film, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). However, beyond the wordplay, there is no similarity between the films. The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) is a light-hearted—one might say almost frivolous—British piece. It was written by Lucy Ellmann and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe and was produced by Channel 4 (not to be confused with BBC4, see comment below). The premise is that a single mother (Lesley Nightingale) has decided to spend a few days at a nudist beach along with her daughter, Clozzy (Isabella Nightingale Marsh). Being a 10-year-old girl, Clozzy pretends to be embarrassed by her mother’s interest in this excursion. But her actions throughout speak of a secret fascination. Instead of participating with the others, she prefers to study the goings on with amusement.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (1)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (1)

Early in the film, Clozzy gets into the spirit of things and has a moment of joyful abandon, doing cartwheels along the water’s edge.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (2)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (2)

Her mood is quickly deflated when she observes her mother being friendly with a man.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (3)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (3)

This is the only time Clozzy is seen naked in the film. She and her mother dine out to find the man, a fishmonger, entertaining everyone with his accordion. Mother decides to get his attention and does a kind of seductive dance, again to the dismay of Clozzy. The couple leave together. Cozzy had teased her mother about spending time with a fishmonger—that his clothes probably reek of fish. But when no one is looking, she stops to smell the coat he was wearing

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (4)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (4)

At this point, the girl wears an interesting shirt spangled with stars which serves as a reminder of the symbolic connection between women and nature. The next day Clozzy has a cold, but not being life-threatening, mum decides to leave her to recuperate and rejoins the others in their activities.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (5)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (5)

Clozzy sneaks off to continue her spying, sneezing along the way.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (6)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (6)

When she returns, she finds her mother and the fishmonger making love. She watches quietly.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (7)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (7)

After mum leaves, Clozzy investigates further. She enters the tent where the man is sleeping and waves her hand over his body as though she were stroking him. Then as she leans over to kiss him, mum walks in.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (8)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (8)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (9)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (9)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (10)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (10)

After the trip and in a predictably duplicitous manner, Clozzy is heard telling her friends what a silly waste of time it had all been.

This film is currently viewable on YouTube. [I have learned that it was removed and no other copies appear available online.  Copies of this film have been the most requested so far and so this is a test case for a new video service by Pigtails in Paint.  Details about the terms of this service will appear in the August 2017 ‘Maiden Voyages’. Thank you and enjoy, -Ron]

A reader reported a glitch in our link to MediaFire where you can view or download the film so please just link to it here. My apologies for any inconvenience. -Ron

Random Images: Helmut Schulz

There is nothing to be found on the internet on this photographer but this image suggests he was probably a contemporary of Lotte Herrlich and Ernst Vollmar.  There may be more information in German, but there happens to be too many people with that name to sift through.  Leads or help in this area would be very much appreciated.  In the mean time, I hope you appreciate this postcard.

Helmut Schulz - Forst (Early 1920s)

Helmut Schulz – Forst (c1930)

Keys to the City: Carl Lepper

I love dealing with readers who recognize the gravitas of this site and generously offer leads and research. I have been collecting images of this photographer for a couple of years and yet I have found almost nothing on him. Recently, one of our German readers did a little digging and found a small account from a local newspaper published in 2009.

Carl Lepper (1882–1962) was born in Nieder-Stoll and raised in Reichelsheim. He taught as a substitute teacher at a number of towns—including a school for the deaf—until settling in Lampertheim in the southernmost part of Hessen. In the 1921–22 school year he became the principal of a newly-established evangelical elementary school. After serving in this capacity at several schools, he retired in 1951.

By that time, he had been serving as a local historian for 20 years. He started by continuing the work of those who came before him and then filling in more of the details. In 1951, Lampertheim was officially recognized as a city and at a special celebration, Lepper presented the first manuscript of a chronicle about the city’s history and was made an honorary citizen. The final version of the chronicle was published in 1956. These materials are now housed in a small city museum. But perhaps the biggest tribute to the man is the street that bears his name, Carl-Lepper-Straße.

It is not known how he became associated with naturist culture or whether any of his subjects were also his students or family members. A number of his images were published in a magazine called Die Schönheit in the early to mid-1920s and although he did not shoot girls exclusively by any means, he does seem to convey their character with an understated simplicity.

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (1)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (1)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (2)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (2)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (3)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (3)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (4)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (4)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (5)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (5)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (6)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (6)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (7)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (7)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (8)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (8)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (9)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (9)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (10)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (10)

Carl Lepper - (Untitled) (c1926) (11)

Carl Lepper – (Untitled) (c1926) (11)

Most of the images I acquired came from the Marc Allegret collection which is an interesting story in itself—to be revealed in an upcoming post. Also, I expect more information will come in over time on Lepper, necessitating periodic revisions to this post.

The Definition of Gymnastics: Ernst Vollmar and Ludwig Hohlwein

In contemporary society, students find it surprising that the word “gymnastic” comes from the Greek meaning to train or exercise naked. Further digging would reveal the ancient Greek ideal of the nude masculine form, the foundation of the Classical Nude in sculpture. The peculiarities of that culture relegated women and children to second-class status except in those few instances when a young boy happened to catch the fancy of a powerful older patron. In today’s more complex world, children feel more iconic of the notion of free spirits than those “free” and chauvinistic citizens of the ancient city-states.

A wonderful book has come to my attention that I felt ought to be shared right away. It is a photographically illustrated book on children’s gymnastics published in 1925 called Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (Children’s Gymnastics in Play), written by Alice Bloch and published by Dieck & Co.

Ludwig Hohlwein - Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (cover) (1925)

Ludwig Hohlwein – Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (cover) (1925)

The cover illustration was painted by Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949), a well-known illustrator of posters. Lamentably, he did not do any other work featuring children in this style. The photographs were by Ernst Vollmar. Practically nothing is known of him except that he was a contemporary of Lotte Herrlich, Carl Lepper and Genja Jonas who also did much work with German naturists. The first two images set the stage showing everyday scenes and some pagan-inspired rituals commonly associated with these communities.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (1)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (1)

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (2)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (2)

The book was not meant to be the kind of serious exercise guide that would become ubiquitous later in the more regimented and rigorous Nazi regime. It is as the title suggests—playful. The names of the exercises are clearly light-hearted or fanciful: Sounds of Spring, Clapping to the Beat, Blowing Trumpets, Leapfrog, Rocking Horse, Ostrich, Somersaults and Scurrying Like Mice. Quite a few of them required interaction with a partner. The first illustrates some mock flute blowing.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (3)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (3)

The next shows two children forming an arch or gate.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (4)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (4)

These children appear to be hopping like rabbits. I remember an incident when eBay refused to allow a seller to post an image of a girl in such a pose even while wearing a swimsuit! I suppose Playboy has spoiled the sweet innocence of the bunny for many of us.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (5)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (5)

It is interesting how stereotypes and language change. The caption calls the next image “Greeting Like a Mohammedan”. Mohammedan is an old-fashioned term for Muslim, but perhaps the American term “Sitting Indian Style” is more appropriate as this meditative posture was in wide use in northern India well before the advent of Buddhism or Islam.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (6)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (6)

These girls are demonstrating “Flying Like a Bird”.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (7)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (7)

Different stages of this “Clock-Flower” are illustrated in the book.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (8)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (8)

Here are two illustrations of the “Flying Jump”.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (9)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (9)

It is hard to say what these girls are doing, but it appears to be some kind of alternating stroke motion.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (10)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (10)

There are many scenes of these girls skipping rope.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (11)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (11)

It should be pointed out that naturism was very popular at the time. A demonstration of this was the fact that Hitler and the Nazis initially wanted to ban these practices, but thought better of it and instead incorporated them into special events promoting their notions of racial supremacy.

I have been informed by one of our readers that some of these images also appeared in a book called Book of Nudes (2007) by Alessandro Bertolotti but in a smaller format.

Breaking the Ice: Michael Otto

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase some photographs that were part of a reserve used for publication in naturist magazines in the 1980s. Properly, naturist photography is classified as photojournalism and not art. But because of the subject matter, oftentimes an image strikes a chord—accidental art, if you will. I noticed some photographers seem to have a knack for capturing the charm of childhood and I was introduced for the first time to names like Leif Heilberg, Iris Bancroft and Michael Otto.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1982) (1)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1982) (1)

Later, when researching Lotte Herrlich (post forthcoming) for this site, I found a short biography (in German) written by Michael Otto and was delighted to discover an account of his childhood and how he became a naturist. Except for those born into that culture, I think many of us are curious how one becomes interested and then involved in such a group. The most uplifting thing about Otto’s story is that it is so playful which I think captures the true spirit of the practice. And by coincidence, I happened to be reading Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, MD and Christopher Vaughan which helped frame in my mind the sincere intent of these people.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1982) (2)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1982) (2)

Michael Otto was born in 1959 in Hamburg, Germany. Before telling his tale, he advises the reader that there is no single path to nudism and each person must find his own way and have a genuine desire to be naked with no ulterior sexual motives. Some people seem to need a little nudge, but that is easy once they see how beautiful and pleasant nudity can be.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (1)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (1)

He remembers taking an interest in being naked and in being around other naked people in 1969 (at age 10). At that time, there was no internet, so a child’s routine was typically school then homework then outside to play. He, his best friend and the other neighborhood boys would usually play soccer, but when girls were around, they had to play something else. A favorite pastime was “Spin the Bottle” and, in the beginning, the rules seemed harmless enough. If the bottleneck pointed to someone, that person would have to do a somersault or a handstand or some other benign “dare”. However, at some point, the girls came up with the idea that the person would have to take off an article of clothing. In due course, some player would end up completely naked and then what? They decided the way to raise the stakes would be to have him/her run naked at least 25 meters down the street and back again. The girls were very resourceful, dressing as though it were the dead of winter so the boys were usually naked early in the game and the girls arguing about whether a particular article of clothing counted as one or two garments. Nevertheless, the girls would sometimes reach the point of being completely naked and have to run down the street. Otto felt it was a nice feeling to be naked and to be naked with other children. In a more extreme version of the game, a kid would end up completely naked and have to ride his/her bike around an entire city block! However, given the speed at which they rode their bikes, it seemed that no one had ever noticed and as far as everyone knew, they were just a bunch of well-behaved children. For some, even this escalation was too easy so more innovative and forbidden dares had to be concocted.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (2)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (2)

The problem for Otto was that since he enjoyed these activities with the other children, he wondered what it all meant and who he could talk to about it—surely not his parents, siblings or teachers. Therefore, this secret pleasure had to stay hidden from others for the time being. The family had a large backyard garden but the neighbor’s was better because it had the advantage of being much larger, L-shaped and included a small shed at the end which could afford some cover. He could enter the garden by climbing the fence, but none of the adults would do that so there would be plenty of warning if someone entered the garden through the gate at the other end. At first, these excursions into the garden naked were an adventure, but after a while, it was boring just wandering the same patch of garden by himself. At some point, the family had to move and the new situation did not allow for any further excursions.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (3)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (3)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (4)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (4)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (5)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (5)

During that time, he had heard of nudism, nudist clubs and nude bathing beaches, but they were unavailable to a child because they were too far away and he would have to ask his parents or siblings, who certainly had more important things to deal with. He realized it would be years before he could fulfill his dream of being naked openly. At age 17, he took an interest in photography and his first camera was a Yashica. After completing school and studying for a profession, he served a short tour in the German Army (Bundeswehr) in 1981. In the course of his training and assignments, he became comfortable and familiar with the city life of Neumünster. It was there that he had another memorable experience with nudity.

One of Otto’s training exercises took him and a small group to the Cologne (Köln) area. The exercise included a three-day endurance and orientation march. They disembarked and after reviewing the proper use of the compass, they set out in the direction of their base camp. It was a warm summer and they were carrying a full backpack and military equipment which weighed much more than they do today. After a few hours, they reached the site, drenched from their profuse sweat and convinced—had there been any real enemy—that their odor would have signaled their presence for miles. After setting up their camp situated near a cool mountain creek, they wasted no time and jumped fully-clothed into the chilly water. Then there was the problem of drying out the uniforms, so they took them off and waited patiently for them to dry stark naked. These were his first hours spent in nature naked and all the men seemed to enjoy the experience—getting into their sleeping bags naked and even performing their guard duty shifts in the buff! It may have seemed silly, but his was the only group that returned without an offending cloud of stench from wearing their uniforms for three days.

After returning to Neumünster, he could not find any nude clubs in the area and he managed as best he could to get a hold of naturist magazines. He decided to go out and find a suitable forest to roam in. He finally found one just north of Einfelder Lake—now a built up area—and screwed up the courage to take off his clothes and explore like a naturist. He visited there many times since. After completing his military service, he returned to Hamburg. There, he could socialize with a consistent group of people he knew and who knew him. He planned a couple nudist vacations (Cap d’Agde in France and Rovinj in Yugoslavia), but as a one-time guest, it was difficult to take full advantage of the social life there. It took him a little while to realize it, but his friends, his “family” in Hamburg were a legitimate naturist group and he had achieved his dream.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1985) (1)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1985) (1)

Naturally, he wanted to document this happy time and these wonderful people and thought with his experience as a photojournalist, he could bring his two hobbies together while legitimizing the group to the naturist media. He assumed he would be taking pictures of his adult friends but, as strange as it may seem in today’s political climate, they were reluctant to be photographed and offered their children as subjects instead. It’s really logical if you think about it; children exemplify the free spirit of naturism and parents would be more than happy to have someone capture these treasured memories of their beautiful children. Once Otto got established as the group’s photographer however, adults did begin to participate. Familiar with the nudist (FKK-Freikörperkultur) magazines of the time, he offered some selections for publication and got to see his pictures in print. And today he is still friends with his former models and their parents.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (6)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (6)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (7)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (7)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1982) (3)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1982) (3)

I am always concerned that with Pigtails’ focus on girls, that readers understand that many of the artists we cover also shot boys and so I include one of Otto’s here.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1985) (2)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1985) (2)

There is a lot more to be said about the distinctions between naturist photojournalism and studio “art” photography, but that will have to wait for another time.