Dianora Niccolini
Copyright © 200
1 Dianora Niccolini, All rights reserved.

My Photo history

      I am a fine art photographer and considered by many to be the female pioneer of the male nude in photography, a trend setter. Photographing the male nude now is commonplace, but a quarter of a century ago it was a different matter. It was not considered an art form but rather was relegated to homoerotic pornography. Homosexual men had always photographed their lovers (and other men willing to pose for them) since the onset of photography. Not too many women dared. If they did, few showed their work publicly. However, gay magazines were full of photographic images of sexy men. Thus, the male nude became stigmatized! Fine art galleries refused to exhibit male nude photographs until I had my male nude exhibit in 1975 at The Third Eye Gallery in NYC. Luckily it was reviewed in the Sunday New York Times by Gene Thornton. It was a favorable review! The male nude in photography was finally legitimized and accepted by the art community. The fact that I was a woman helped to de-stigmatize it. Robert Mapplethorpe surfaced several years later and his association with Sam Wagstaff, a very well respected collector of photography, really helped him a lot. He arranged a simultaneous exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s photographs at the 3 most prestigious places in the NYC Art scene - The Robert Samuel gallery, the Miller gallery and the International Center of Photography. This propelled Mapplethorpe to a super star status. Unfortunately for me, his photographs looked very similar to mine. Coincidence? I don’t think so! When I met Mapplethorpe in 1978, he knew who I was.

      I had been exhibiting my male nudes and had received many favorable reviews in the 3 years that preceeded his first male nude photographic exhibit in NYC. I continued to have photographic exhibits on an annual basis until after the publication of my second book in 1983 (MEN IN FOCUS) . By then, I was completely burned out. The death of my mother in 1981, the publication of my 2 books (WOMEN OF VISION in 1982, AND MEN IN FOCUS in 1983), establishing the Professional Women Photographers as a viable and professional organization, and a major auction to generate money for PWP, completely wiped me out. By 1984, I decided to step down from my (unpaid) position as president of the Professional Women Photographers and decided to concentrate on making a living. By 1984, my career as a medical photographer had come to an end . It was then that I decided to go into a completely different direction.

      I opened up a portrait studio on 32nd. St. in NYC. My bread and butter clientel consisted primarily of “would be” actors and models. Because my clients were very young and were struggling to pay their bills with part time jobs etc., I had to rely on volume in order to keep my prices low. I did very well until the stock market crash of 1987. This crash affected everyone including my clients who lost their jobs as waiters and part time workers! My business dried up almost overnight. Needless to say, I spent the last half of the 80’s and most of the 90’s trying to “keep my head above water”. Between 1984-1997, I had very little time and money to continue to exhibit my fine art photography. Consequently, the momentum that I had created for myself in the art world came to a near stand still.

      My male nude photographs not only had influenced Mapplethorpe but probably paved the way for the scantly clad male models in commercial advertising and the Calvin Klein avante-guard brief ads of the 80’s. Commercial photographers like Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Nan Goldin, Greg Gorman and scores of other lesser known photographers entered the art scene in mass and began not only exhibiting, but publishing books of their male nudes.

      Major anthologies, however continued to include my photographs throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and greeting cards as well as posters of my photographs of men were published and sold around the world. I am convinced that even though I did not exhibit my photographs on a regular basis for almost a decade, the publication of MEN IN FOCUS and the reproduction of my photographs in books as well as the cards and posters, continued ( and continues ) to directly or indirectly influence photographers who photograph the male nude. Today everybody and anybody with a camera is photographing naked men. Cameras are so easy to use now that It is common place for every Tom Dick and Harry to consider himself( or herself) a photographer.

      It wasn’t until I met David Leddick in the mid ninety’s, that my reputation as the female pioneer in photography of the male nude was re-established. David had seen my photographs in a few anthologies, and being a collector, wanted to purchase a few. He tracked me down, and bought a couple of photographs. That was my introduction to David Leddick. He subsequently decided to put together books of photographs of the male nude..and of course wanted to include me. THE MALE NUDE by David Leddick, and published by Taschen in 1998, was one of the most comprehensive historical surveys on the male nude ever published. 15 of my photographs were included, as well as on the cover of the book. He also included my photographs in the male nude books that followed until he and I collaborated on BIG FUN WITH BILLY. Having seen some photographs of the Billy doll that I had taken on Cape Cod, David went to the publisher and convinced him that a book of my photographs of the doll should be published. The publisher agreed as long as David wrote the humorous text which accompanies the photos.

      I have much for which to thank David. He has been my knight in shining armor! He included my photos in all of his books. He championed my cause giving me credit where credit was due, and helping me wherever and whenever he could. He never asked for anything in return! David is one of the most generous and kind people I have ever met.

      It is important for me to clarify why I have specialized on the male nude for over a quarter of a century. While it is true that I photograph and have photographed a myriad of different subjects, I somehow always return to photographing naked men. Why? There are 3 different reasons that come to mind.

      The first is psychological. Because my father and I never bonded , my relationship with men has been dysfunctional, to say the very least. My father was a chauvanist of the first order! Growing up, I remember constantly hearing my father tell my mother that she should obey him because he was the master of the house. Of course my mother, being an American, refused to do so and constant battles for power ensued. This was such a turn off for me that I decided never to marry and never to have children. I loved my freedom too much to risk losing it in marriage.. and I never had a desire to raise a family. Consequently, I only dated men with whom there was little or no emotional attachment. In photographing gorgeous naked men, I can safely look at young( 21+) handsome naked hunks without getting involved... It is much more acceptable to be a voyer with a camera than one without it! The men who have posed for me tend to be exhibitionists of sorts..not the pathological kind, of course. So we have mutually benfited each other. Therefore they were comfortable posing for me and I was comfortable photographing them. Having been a medical photographer, I was accustomed to photographing naked bodies-both male and female. I never felt embarrased. Because it was my job as a medical photographer, it became second nature to me.

      My second reason for photographing naked men is artistic. Growing up in Florence (Italy), gave me a very different perspective on nudes than most Americans. The streets of Florence are filled with statues of both naked men, women..and even children (as cherubins etc.). The museums house most of the great art of the renaissance and Michaelangelo’s work was my favorite! I loved his statues of men with their powerfully muscular bodies. It is no wonder, then, that I chose and still choose to photograph muscular men in their prime. I love to make them look like statues.

      My third reason is political. I couldn’t believe that exhibiting photographs of the male nude was a taboo. This was America, after all, the land of the free!! The sexual revolution had already happened. So what was the problem???? It was HOMOPHOBIA!!! I became determined to bring about change. After some photographs of the male nude were removed from a group exhibit at the 14th.street Y in NYC ( early 70’s), I decided to take this issue on. I was a member of a cooperative gallery called THE THIRD EYE. It was there that I had my first exhibit of the male nude.. and it was that exhibit that was favorably reviewed by Gene Thornton in the Sunday (Dec.7th.,1975) New York Times. This review, obviously not only influenced Mapplethorpe, but opened the floodgates for all who have subsequently followed.

      The Third Eye Gallery was a wonderful place to exhibit my work. It was a member run gallery with less than 10 of us. We were all young anti- establishment rebels, thus we exhibited work that no one else dared. Consequently it was a great opportunity for me. My first exhibit ( EYE A WOMAN NAKED AM I) was in 1974. This is when I exhibited my female nudes. It was my second exhibit, the following year, in which I presented THE MALE NUDE. Because this subject matter was such a taboo, I decided to challenge the establishment. In so doing, I broke many photographic rules. For example, In order to make my models look timeless and impersonal, I often cropped off their heads. At the time, this was not considered an acceptable way to photograph people. I received much criticism for this. I also used a lot of close-ups..including one’s of the penis which I photographed in idyllic settings ie., next to tree trunks, in lake water etc. By using the above techniques and often placing my models in non threatening environments like nature, I seduced the viewer to look at the naked man. Following is the press release(1975) which was sent to every newspaper and magazine on the market.

      “The Male Nude is not only a photographic presentation, but most of all, a plea for awareness. In the 20th. century, the threshold of the Aquarian age, where everyone is so concerned about becoming more aware , more sensitive to the reality of oneself and others, it is appaling to find that we still hold on to archaic untruths and blatant double standards..such as the myth that the naked body is evil, dirty and therefore must be hidden, especially the male body. It is interesting to note, however, that this myth has been compromised in the art of painting. Long before the renaissance, painters and sculptors had been painting and sculpting the naked female and male body unabashedly. Even cathedrals are blessed with such examples. In photography, however, the double standard not only remains, but is constantly reinforced by the proliferation of smut literature generously illustrated with pornographic photos of nudes that degrade the human body to a dehumanized level. This exploitive attitude has served one purpose only , and that is to reinforce the attitude that there is something inherently wrong and/or evil with the naked body..especially the male’s. That is why today when so many people are concerned with consciousness expansion and psychological breakthroughs, there is a dilema. We still remain blind to the wonder and beauty of the human body in its naked natural form .

      In my photographic studies of the male nude, I try to illustrate the subtle connections between the naked body and nature, the natural person and our universe. With pride and dignity, I invite one and all to look upon the body with total acceptance and reverence..for in its natural splendor it is the greatest work of art.”

      A year after the male nude, I exhibited my experimental multi media work ( photo and painting combos) which were hand made and NOT computer generated. The first I called The Monster Series. The second exhibit, was called The Mona Lisa Recycled Series. I then returned to exhibiting my men again solo and in group shows. The Male Nude In Photography exhibit at the Marcuse Pfeifer gallery ( a major gallery) in 1978 included 5 of my male nude photos. This exhibit was very controversial and created quite a furor in the art world. Odd..since my one woman exhibit in 1975 had received such positive acclaim. In spite of this, I continued to exhibit my male nudes and the reviews continued to be favorable. After the publication of my book, Men In focus (In the early 80’s), I had several exhibits (in NYC, and Provincetown, Ma.) .

      In the summer of 1984 or 1985 (I can’t remember the exact year) I introduced the mermale ( half male and half fish) in the Coney Island parade. A mermaid had always been featured in their parade.. but not the male counter part - until I introduced the mermale. Since then the organizers of the parade have included the mermale ( which they now call the merman) in their annual parade. I continued to show my male nudes through various other venues throughout most of the 80’s. In 1986 I had a slide show and exhibit at a popular NYC nightclub called the Limelight. In the late 80’s, I was a guest on the Joe Franklin TV show.

      Although I stopped having one-woman exhibits until 1997, my photographs continued to be included in group exhibitions throughout most of the 80’s, and 90’s. My images of the male nude also continued and still continue today to be published in major anthologies.

Dianora Niccolini's photographs are in major collections below


Throckmorton Fine Art gallery  Phone (212) 223-1059


Vance Martin in San Francisco Phone (415) 621-2139  

Copyright © 1974 - 2009 Dianora Niccolini