Nude Alphabet

Leave it to French students of the 1960s to incorporate sexual liberty in their list of demands for social change. In an article in Le Monde in 1968, the author Pierre Viansson-Ponté wrote that, in France, student uprisings “are mostly concerned that the girls…should be able to visit the bedrooms of the boys.” The right of young adults to have sex in their dorm rooms did in fact morph into the widespread student demonstrations of May 1968.

How better to merge scholarly achievement and sexual exploration than with a nude alphabet? Dutch designer Anthon Beeke created such an alphabet consisting entirely of photographed nude women. Shortly thereafter, in 1971, the series found its way into the final edition of the New York cult magazine Avant Garde, reproduced in its entirety on thick card stock with the French title Belles Lettres Photo-Alphabet.

Beeke’s human alphabet is one of the most elaborate ever created, a meticulous reconstruction of classic Roman capitals — specifically, Baskerville Old Face font — including thicks, thins, and serifs. His letters, built entirely out of choreographed ensembles of nude women (no less than twelve for ‘M’ and ‘W’) are a celebration of sensual design over explicit eroticism.

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