On this day in 1896, National Geographic printed its first ever image of a bare female breast. That’s of some interest because when I was young, that seemed to be the whole point of the magazine: to provide boys with the opportunity to see what breasts looked like. It was only later that I realized that it actually did some of the best photojournalism ever. The last time I checked, it was still a great magazine.
But I do find the disconnect strange. It is certain that the people at National Geographic understood this. There is no question but that most societies don’t have the breast phobia that we do. So breasts are not usually hidden away. And it would be deceptive to present these women covered up. But I suspect that the reason that the society was okay with it was almost entirely racist. It was all right to have partly naked people because they were somehow less than human — in the sense that the apex of humanity was Victorian dress and behavior and mores.
For the record, the image is of a Zulu bride and groom on their wedding day. They don’t look any more happy than people getting married today. I really do think that people should get rid of photographers in their weddings. I don’t think I’ve been to a wedding where a photographer was not staging reality rather than chronicling it. At least this couple was made miserable for a good cause.