Female Desire and Transformed Masculinity: Imogen Cunningham’s Photographs of the Male Nude*

Jui Chi Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores how Imogen Cunningham boldly envisioned woman-made, white masculinity and parodic subversions of the normative gender roles in her pioneering photographs of male nudes, which have received little attention in gender studies. Of special interest to me will be investigating the collusion and collision of Cunningham’s gaze with the New Woman’s gaze toward the woman-made men in the early-twentieth-century dance culture in theater and dance hall. My argument is that the New Woman’s emergence as the primary figure in the consumption of the ethnically-other type of androgynous masculinity, gradually established in dance culture, inspired Cunningham to articulate her own fascinations and desire for the male nude through her photographs. However, her most innovative performative intervention, I believe, lies in directly offering a startling transformation of gender norms through shooting the sexually desirable white, male body without dissimulating her fantasy around the liminal Oriental scenarios. I would also like to apply Judith Butler’s gender theory to further interpret how Cunningham created a radical New Woman’s alternative visual practices for female desire and pleasure, which enacted a feminist deconstruction of the normative gender roles of the white man and woman in her day.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-210
Number of pages32
JournalConcentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Anne Brigman
  • dance culture
  • gender parody
  • Imogen Cunningham
  • Judith Butler
  • male nude
  • Vaslav Nijinsky


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