Source Unknown – Title Unknown (19XX)

Although I am not especially into retro/vintage porn thing, I do kind of dig that this image was snapped, printed and published in a magazine that someone held onto long enough to scan and upload it in the Internet age. (Not to mention the way the center fold presents here resembles a similar sort of photo stitching used by someone like Accra Shepp.)

While from an art historical standpoint, it’s enormously problematic to suggest that part of what determines whether something is capital-A Art is survival–how many brilliant works have we already lost because the author wasn’t a white cis man?

Yet, there is something to be said for the test of time. This is an imperfect image–I really can’t overlook the way her legs have been amputated by the frame lines render her legs perpetually spread toward the viewer–not unlike a dead butterfly pinned through the thorax to felt under glass.

There are several allowances that while they certainly don’t mitigate the objectification, they do perhaps soften it: the young woman eschews eye contact with the camera, she’s wearing both a top (ostensibly her own, instead of a wardrobe piece), earrings and a watch; lastly, the three different textures of the back of the couch, the cushions and the carpet are sumptuously rendered in nearly synesthetic detail.

It seems as if the direction she’s been given is that she’s beginning to masturbate. As much as one can accurately judge an expression based on a fraction of a seconds representation of it, she seems very much on board with the notion; however, the contrivance of her pose and self-consciousness directly address the inherent on-your-mark’s-get-set-go! approach that underlies the majority of heteronormative porn.

I feel like if this wasn’t a porn shoot and the goal wasn’t based on a vague erotic notion of depiction of orgasmic paroxysm as narrative denouement, then this image–if it had been content to wait patiently and adopt a wider, less implicitly violent/objectifying frame–could’ve been pornographic art instead of artfully depicted porn.

It strikes me that current international literary cause célèbre Elena Ferrante (and feminist enfant terrible) is addressing something on a similar track when she points out in a recent interview:

I hold that male colonization of our imaginations—a calamity while ever
we were unable to give shape to our difference—is, today, a strength.
We know everything about the male symbol system; they, for the most
part, know nothing
about ours, above all about how it has been restructured by the blows
the world has dealt us. What’s more, they are not even curious, indeed
they recognize us only from within their system.

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