Back in 1999, Garrison Keillor suggested a broader conceptualization of what sex entails.
Sex is not a mechanical act that fails for lack of technique, and it is not a performance by the male for the audience of the female; it is a continuum of attraction that extends from the simplest conversation and the most innocent touching through the act of coitus.
A dear friend had posted it on her Facebook. It was literally the first thing I saw–all bleary-eyed–this morning.
It was one of those Oh shit moments where someone else somehow manages to express something you’ve been stumbling over for half a decade with a spare elegance.
For me, my experience of photography belongs to Keillor’s sexual spectrum. I mean, what but beauty causes anyone to lift a camera and sight a shot?
My reaction to beauty is unswervingly reliable: it overwhelms me, somersaults my tummy; makes me a blushing, shoe-tip-staring, dirt-kicking, boy-crazy teenage girl wanting from lips that won’t wet to shuddering knees.
Sex-negative messages don’t keep people from having sex. They keep people from having good sex. They keep people from having pride in their sexuality, from sexual self-awareness. They keep people from asking questions about sex, and communicating with their partners. They discourage experimentation. They blur the lines between consensual sex and rape by framing all sex as an undifferentiated mass of “bad.
I was like what the fuck? A second Oh shit moment in the same day?
Okay, confession time: other than masturbation, I have been celibate for four-and-a-half-years. This is less a personal imperative than the fact that I am too irrevocably fucked for anyone to ever reciprocate the wanting I feel for them.
People always tell me that I need to have confidence. I think that’s bullshit. I don’t lack confidence. I lack a sense of entitlement.
When I was a film student, everyone worked with was invariably asked to do something either outrageous or obscene. No one took issue. Well, mostly. (In hindsight, I realize that I unintentionally created some very fucked up situations for people about whom I claimed to care a great deal.)
A number of things happened to shift this but one in particular stands out. For a group project, I had envisioned a scene with a bleeding, naked man smeared with mud running down a forest track. The actor who was supposed to play the part was a no-call/no-show and so I had to stand in. I was completely unnerved–I have always had a lot of body issues, they just haven’t always been the same–by the prospect of being naked in front of the small crew. I insisted on doing the scene wearing boxer shorts.
Watching the first and only (long story) screening, besides how my refusal to go nude ruined the scene, it hit me how fucked it was that I expected someone else to do the scene nude but I was unwilling to disrobe once I was in front of the camera.
As a result of these experiences, I abide by three etched-in-stone rules for photographing others:
- The photographer will under no circumstances touch the person(s) being photographed.
- The photographer will never ask anyone to enact anything the photographer would be unwilling to enact were the roles reversed.
- The photographer will never ask the person(s) being photographed to do anything the person(s) being photographed would not mutually desire the photographer to perform were the roles reversed.
The above image is not without flaws but between the mirror and the way she is reaching back to pull aside the crotch of her undergarment to reveal her vulva and anus, it is pornographic and capital fucking-A artful.
This is the type of work I want to make–conveying anger-verging-on-vaguely-self-destructive-arousal. I hardly expect Pepe to abide by my rules but the edge between consent and coercion is ambiguous enough on a good day that I worry about what goes on behind the scenes at his shoots.
I just don’t know how one ethically gets so many people to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to pose in such a fashion. So many photographers seem to photograph their friends. That would be my preference. But the people in my life–who are fucking awesome and I wouldn’t trade for all the most-getting naked-est friends in the world–all have hang ups about nudity. It’s not that they aren’t sex-positive. (I just can’t do sex negativity. Not even a little.)
I worry that my own sexual frustration and realization that no one will ever ache for me the way I ache for them has tainted or will taing my work. It seems like if I could just find someone with whom I could share this sort of experimental openness in my work it would solve my problems.
The depressing truth is–there is no one who feels in kind toward me.