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The Naked truth: A look inside a new Vegas picture book

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Naked Las Vegas by Greg Friedler (W.W. Norton and Co., $24.95)

Who doesn’t want to look at naked people? You might not by the time you get to the last page of Naked Las Vegas (W.W. Norton and Co., $24.95), a book by photographer Greg Friedler that pairs clothed and unclothed shots of people photographed here (it’s the fourth in the Naked series, after New York, LA and London).

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Naked Las Vegas

The point Friedler tells us he’s making with this parade of body morphologies (“stripped of clothing we are stripped of society’s judgments and expectations”) is both crushingly obvious and possibly wrong. These subjects may feel impervious to society’s judgments, but society continues judging nonetheless; not a single reader will think the bulging, sagging, googly-eyed “adult entertainer” on Page 62 is really on an “even playing field”—Friedler’s words—with the hot third-grade teacher on page 88. Not in body-aware America, where we are most definitely all not created equal. In fact, judgment becomes part of the point here, and not just because the subtext of looking at naked people is always some form of would I hit that? Rather, you find yourself probing their faces for some clue as to what confidence or pathology makes them not only willing to endure such public, and pubic, scrutiny, but to seek it out. That probing is very much about judgment (“that’s cool” or “that’s disgusting”).

It’s not long before the (frequently shaven) genitals take a back seat to the questions that sprout in the space between the photos and the descriptions each subject provides (no names are used): To what degree is this mousy guy who describes himself as an “aspiring adult entertainer” fooling himself? Or is it us he’s kidding? How would I respond if that were my kid’s third-grade teacher? Until, finally: What would it take for me to stand in front of that camera? At times like that—if not while indulging naughty teacher fantasies on Page 88—Friedler is exactly right when he says, “This book is not at all about eroticism. It is about identity.”

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