Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I always think it’s hilarious when someone like Lars von Trier or Luc Besson are accused of sexual harassment or assault, respectively–and the news is treated as if there’s a real question as to whether the accusations are true. For example: I’ve seen the entire back catalog of both men and given that it’s not actually difficult for me to believe the accusers. (Same with Woody Allen, honestly; like have you ever suffered through one of his preposterous, narcissistic films?)

But there’s also the backlash against these moves toward something more like parity of justice. Reactionaries tend to say things like: so I guess I’ll have to quit being nice to my female co-workers or else I might wind up saddled with harassment chargers. I find that a disingenuous rejoinder–if you are making the remark then you’re both aware that you said something that made someone else uncomfortable and feel that it wasn’t the big deal the other person made it out to be; in other words: you know that you’re behavior can be seen as a problem but you think it’s incumbent upon others to cater to your comfort level even if it means ignoring their own.

The point I’m making and what it has to do with this image is that in the immediate aftermath of #MeToo there were a group of prominent models that wanted to ban photos or images where the photographer/image maker reaches into the frame to touch the model’s body. (The folks in this case were arguing for a de facto ban on such images.)

I was super onboard with the spirit of the law in this case. I mean work by Insuh Yoon and 9mouth are intensely problematic with a lot of the stuff they do.

The letter of the law? Yeah, I’m less on board with that. So much has to do with context and across the board prohibitions tend to be problematic.

I think if you frame things as a photographer or image maker should never touch a model. That’s probably a good rule. However, I can see situations where touching the model is agreed upon. I’m generally very much against touching models in any way shape or form but as I’ve become friends with models and have built a solid foundation with them, things get a little more porous. When I do touch a model it’s usually to brush aside a loose strand of hair or to change the angle/way they are holding something. I’d never be comfortable touching a model as in the above image whether or not my hand was also in the frame.

But that begs the question as to whether or not this is a model. Like if this is two lovers and making images is part of some sort of ritual foreplay, is it wrong for their to exist images like this.

As gross as the trope of photographers and image makers who use their steady stream of lovers as models in their work, I do think there’s likely situations where it’s appropriate for a photographer/image maker to document things in their lives.

I’ve noted before that the bottom frame edge in any photo or image has an intrinsic functionality as a sort of fourth wall. So I think it might be better to first ask whether or not the viewer of the photo/image is a witness or a voyeur? (One of the biggest problems with work that features the photographers hand jutting into the frame is when it equivocates on whether or not the photographer/image maker is seen as a surrogate for the viewer.

The hand here is absolutely a surrogate for the viewer. The composition is voyeuristc and less documentary… except: it’s more complicated than that.

The depth of field is such that both the foreground and background are blurred. (And effect I adore.) In the background, the woman’s face is just enough in focus to determine that her face has taken on blissed out expression but the blurring allows her a degree of anonymity and privacy.

It’s clear she’s reach back to either indicate her anus or most likely to insert a finger to begin to loosen her sphincter for anal penetration. In most cases when a disembodied hand enters the frame if the hand is meant to read as the photographer/image maker’s there’s usually an emphasis on the taboo nature of the touch. It’s a possessive squeeze of a buttock or the spreading of labia, in this case the hand is more about maintaining the explictness of what is being seen while rendering it less graphically illustrative. That taken together with the flash and the ostensible scene of presumably a prelude to coitus–there’s something surprisingly sophisticated about this.

But that’s the other thing: this is one girl’s interpretation. Others’ mileage will almost certainly vary. Which is I suppose my point: I’m not very much in favor of a total ban or total permission. I suspect it’s really more nuanced than that and that given the language and familiarity with social, political and historical context I think the average person can easily learn to identify what’s maybe not ideal but is at least less outstandingly creepy and inappropriate.

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