The nude in photography
The image pairs the American flag with traditions of using black and white to depict the nude in photography. Standing, a nude figure drapes an American flag over her head and behind her back. Her body faces the viewer but twists slightly to her left, pulling back one shoulder. One arm extends above her head, forming a delicate curve. The other stretches straight out from her side, her hand at hip-height. Her hands hold the corners of the flag, one gripping stars, the other stripes. She pulls it taut along one end and lets it drape down behind her, pooling on the floor. Her face is caught in profile and her hair descends over her breasts.
As the title suggests, the image is rendered in black and white. Situated on smooth expanse of gray, the light plays off of the woman’s skin and illuminates her curves. The image is so crisp that the viewer’s eye is drawn to the intricate folds of the banner’s fabric and the texture of the figure’s skin. The rigid geometry of the straight stripes bend as they drape behind her, following the shape of her body. The pattern of light and dark stripes, which we likely interpret as red and white, for a triangle to the right of her body, with her extended arm bisecting this element of the composition.
The figure’s face is serious, with her mouth slightly open and her eyes fixed on something beyond the frame of the image. Perhaps she is absorbed in her own thoughts. She appears to be in motion, with one knee slightly bent. She moves with the fabric, letting it billow out and wrap around her.
Her relationship to the significance of the flag is ambiguous. Is she patriotic, playful, or ironic? Is she merely enjoying the sensation of the fabric catching the air and moving across her skin? The flag is too large for it to be entirely lofted, it is greater in length than her raised arm. Despite her efforts to raise the banner in its entirety, it cannot be. This can be interpreted as comment on her experience.
The image is not alone in pairing the American flag with the nude in photography. It is reminiscent of the performance Trio A with Flags by the choreographer Yvonne Rainer, who had dancers perform nude, with only the American flag tied around their necks. She was also interested in the play of forms achieved by a nude body in motion placed in dialogue with the straight lines of the flag.