The Bathers

Jennette Williams
Foreword by Mary Ellen Mark

These stunning platinum prints of women bathers in Budapest and Istanbul take us inside spaces intimate and public, austere and sensuous. Over a period of eight years, Williams, who is based in New York City, traveled to Hungary and Turkey to photograph, without sentimentality or objectification, women daring enough to stand naked before her camera. Young and old, the women of The Bathers inhabit and display their bodies with comfort and ease—floating, showering, conversing, lost in reverie. Williams has created quiet, dignified images that not only invoke canonical representations of female nudes but also early pictorial photography. At the same time, they raise contemporary questions about the gaze, the definition of documentary photography, and the representation and perception of beauty and femininity, particularly as they relate to the aging body. Above all else, her photos are sensuously evocative. They invite the viewer to feel the steam, hear the murmur of conversation, and to reflect on the female form.

“Jennette Williams’s photographs of women bathing portray the female form, but they transcend simple representation to speak powerfully about women’s own private sense of identity and beauty. It doesn’t matter that these bodies are not conventionally ideal—when these women are in front of Jennette’s camera, they are proud to reveal their full femininity. . . Jennette is both an excellent documentary photographer and a superb portraitist, a rare combination.”
Mary Ellen Mark, from her foreword

“Imagine a vector, a cutaway, of a bath in Turkey and one of a sports club in Manhattan and what the bodies in each would look like at any given moment in time, how they’d be posed, their shapes. Even inside a steam room in the city, we’d sit differently than the ladies in Williams’s images do: farther apart, semi-erect, draped in towels. We are thinner, more muscular. Our notions of privacy are evident in how we sit and in the position of our eyes—cast down, away from other eyes and bodies. The Turkish bathers are engaged, with each other and with the camera.”
Macy Halford, New Yorker Book Bench

“On a depictive level, [Williams’s] work is straightforward and thoughtfully speaks to the physical realities of aging bodies. But coupled with her unassuming approach is an elegance and quietude that is half location, Eastern European and Turkish baths, and half observer. Avoiding obvious pitfalls—photographing nude women has many pitfalls—Williams offers the viewer a chance to reflect on the presence a physical body has in the world.”
Darius Himes, assistant director, Fraenkel Gallery, and cofounder, Radius Books

Selected by Mary Ellen Mark to win the 2008 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography

The Bathers
46 Duotone photographs
Duke University Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies
Publication Year: 
Number Of Pages: 
11" x 13.75"