Laurie Toby Edison

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Laurie Toby Edison
Laurie Toby Edison in 2003.jpg
Laurie Toby Edison
Born(1942-03-05)March 5, 1942
New York City, United States
Known forPhotography
Notable work
Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (1994)
Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (2004)
Women of Japan (2007)

Laurie Toby Edison (born March 5, 1942) is an American artist, portrait photographer, and visual activist. Much of Edison's work is black-and-white fine art photography, with an underlying social change message, which she often phrases as "making the invisible visible.”[1] She has published two books of photographs: a series of nude environmental portraits of fat women (Women En Large), and a series of nude environmental portraits of a very diverse cross-section of men (Familiar Men), plus a photo essay of clothed environmental portraits of women in Japan (Women of Japan). Her current work-in-progress is "Memory Landscapes: A Visual Memoir."

She and her writing partner Debbie Notkin blog about body image, photography and resistance at Body Impolitic. A long-time resident of San Francisco, she lives in the Mission District. Edison identifies, among other things, as Jewish and queer.[2][3]

Early life and work[edit]

Edison was born in 1942 in New York City in a family of artists and designers. Living in Jewish neighborhoods as a child, she noted Holocaust survivors with number tattoos and was "deeply affected" by photographs of naked dead bodies from concentration camps.[2] Her early influences include the beat movement, abstract expressionism, and jazz.[1]

Edison attended Wellesley College from 1958-59.[2] She has two daughters. She says they have had important influence on her work.[4]

Edison's early art was primarily jewelry and sculpture. She co-owned jewelry stores in Sarasota, Florida and Provincetown, Massachusetts during the 1960s. She began making sculptural jewelry in 1969, and later included mythic, fantasy, and science fiction designs.[2] She became a feminist in the 1970s and moved to San Francisco - an epicenter of feminism - in 1980. In the 1980s, she taught herself photography to use as an art form better suited to her social activism.[2] It has become one of her primary arts, though she has never stopped designing and making jewelry and sculpture.


'Women En Large, Edison's first book

She has published two black-and-white fine art photography books: Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (1994); and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (2004).

Women of Japan, a suite of clothed portraits of women in Japan, from many Japanese cultures and backgrounds, was completed in 2007. Photographs have been exhibited in Japan, China and the US, and the project was included in an exhibition in Shenyang, China in 2014.

A retrospective of one hundred of her photographs “Meditations on the Body: Recent Work” was exhibited at the National Museum of Art in Osaka in 2001.[5] Her photographs have also been exhibited around the world, including New York City, Tokyo, Kyoto, Toronto, Boston, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Budapest, and San Francisco.[6] The complete Women of Japan project was shown at the Pacifico Convention Center in Yokohama in the fall of 2007.[7]

Edison has photographs in the permanent collections of Gallery Fleur, Kyoto Seika University, and the National Museum of Art, Osaka. The National Museum included six of her photographs in their 35th anniversary exhibition, The Allure of the Collection, in 2012.[8]

Photographer and commentator Tee Corinne said that Edison’s work "is unique in focusing on the nude without eroticizing it."[9]

Edison practices environmental portraiture, collaborating with her models to find settings which reflect their sense of themselves. They are frequently in the model’s home or garden, but can also be in natural or other outdoor settings. For instance, Edison's three photographs of Okinawan artist and activist Hanashiro Ikuko show Ikuko at her loom, at a sacred forest site, and in front of a fence around a US military base.

The collaboration also extends to the communities from which the models come. Edison and her writing partner Debbie Notkin spent ten years working among Fat Acceptance activists before the publication of Women En Large. Familiar Men also entailed outreach to different men's groups and individual men, as well as substantial research into masculinity.

Women of Japan required especially broad efforts, in recruiting models, in arranging exhibitions, and in ensuring proper translations of the models’ written contributions. Notkin and Edison, with Kobayashi Mika and Rebecca Jennison, wrote an article for the Asia Pacific Journal, “Body Image in the US and Japan,” which discusses outreach in Japan, with references to their experiences with Women En Large and Familiar Men.[10]

Edison's views on her work[edit]

Edison says:[1]

Just as Women En Large is my statement on the female nude, at least at this time, Familiar Men is my statement on the male nude. The five years I spent photographing men and talking with them have transformed my vision of masculinity in this time and place, as well as how I perceive the body in my work.
I first saw all my nude photographs, men and women together, in Kyoto in November of 2000. I realized that they are a single body of work imbuing the individual nudes with dignity and presence.
Women of Japan, my first group of clothed portraits, had me grappling with all the issues from the previous two suites, from the position of a foreigner, and included the additional complex issues of Japanese identity.

Edison's current work-in-progress is "Memory Landscapes: A Visual Memoir" - color iPad images that will create an aesthetic of time and memory. Edison says:<ref><ref>

I am re-engaging with the memories of my life, creating an autobiographical visual memoir, expressing the poetics of non-linear time. Memories are filtered, by who we are now, who we were then, and what has happened in between. We view our past through layers of memories, and the past is everything that happened except this moment.


  1. ^ a b c "Biography - Laurie Toby Edison: Photographer". Laurie Toby Edison. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Corinne, Tee A. (2004). Edison, Laurie Toby (PDF). The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual Arts. pp. 106–107.
  3. ^ Edison, Laurie Toby. "Laurie Toby Edison - Biography". Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  4. ^ Putt, Leanne (28 March 2014). "Interview with Laurie Toby Edison". Open College of the Arts. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  5. ^ National Museum of Art — “Meditations on the Body: Recent Works” (100 photographs from Familiar Men, Women of Japan, and Women En Large), Osaka, Japan, August –September 2001
  6. ^ "Curriculum Vitae - Laurie Toby Edison: Photographer". Laurie Toby Edison. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  7. ^ "Laurie Toby Edison". Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  8. ^ "NMAO:国立国際美術館". Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  9. ^ Afterimage, December 1994
  10. ^ Laurie Edison and Debbie Notkin, with Kobayashi Mika and Rebecca Jennison; Body Image in Japan and the United States;

External links[edit]

External video
"Meditations on the Body" at the Osaka National Museum of Art, first of three parts, 2001 on YouTube
"Meditations on the Body" at the Osaka National Museum of Art, second of three parts, 2001 on YouTube
"Meditations on the Body" at the Osaka National Museum of Art, third of three parts, 2001 on YouTube