Paola AcebedoTiran Como Conejos (2012)

I’m of the mind that anyone/everyone is capable of making an objectively good image.

This begs the question: if anyone can do it, does that preclude lens based work from consideration as art?

Well, if you’re a photographer or image maker you already know the answer: of course not! There’s more to photography/image making than producing an objectively good image.

First off: you have to know a successful photo or image from an unsuccessful one. And this is one of the things with which photography/image making will forever struggle: each and every one of us has been inundated with lens based visual culture since birth–as such, everyone thinks they’re already a subject matter expert. (I’ve been running this blog for 5 years and I was a freaking MFA Photography student for a bit before I got seriously disenchanted with the whole charade and dropped out; point being I’ll be the first one to admit that my knowledge on the subject is found–more often than not–to be lacking.)

But distinguishing between a successful photo or image and an unsuccessful one isn’t always straight forward. Much in the way that you can ask a room full of 18 undergrads to define love and receive 36 different, often conflicting responses, show a group of folks an array of 36 different photos/images and while there’s likely to be more overlap than you did asking them to define love, there will be no immediate agreement.

I think: a lot of people privilege their own perspective. (And I do not mean that pronouncement as an implicit value judgment–only insofar as one is aware of and takes account for this bias; I will not abide blissful ignorance or arrogant equivocation.) Most beginning photography students believe themselves to be the next Cartier-Bresson just by virtue of the ontology of their status as a photo student. Hell, I did too when I first started.

The difficulty with that perspective is that you tend to use your misguided belief in your own creative infallibility as a means of justifying the importance of your Perspective. Yes, there is value in those truly outstanding makers who teach us new ways of seeing. However, of those, truly great visionaries–and pro-tip: a true visionary isn’t going to dub themselves as such (sick and tired of advertisements for hacky visual crap by the likes of dimwits like Zach Snyder and Gore Verbranski being termed ‘visionary’)–the ones who never bothered to scuffle along, stumbled and fell repeatedly trying to learn both the basics of visual grammar and the grown more intimately familiar with the history of the form, are the exception that proves the rule.

It’s dumb (again not a value judgment, more a noting of self-imposed limitation) to think you know better just because you’re doing the work.

Second, being able to distinguish between an objectively good image and an objectively bad image is one thing. Much in the same vein that we teach children to choose between right and wrong only for the child to grow up and realize that decision making in the real world rarely affords such simplicity. Frequently, you’re left with work that isn’t exactly bad but isn’t actually good either. (This is actually something I’m struggling with in my own work: the hard wired urge to include the objectively good over the technically muddled but luminously singular work.)

I’m not controverting @reverendbobbyanger‘s recent Sunday Post reminding that: good enough is not. I’m merely saying that photography and to a lesser extent image making–due to the rapidly advancing technology available for digital intervention/manipulation–WYSIWYG… it’s not like a painting where you can shift things around to suit your purposes after you’re well and truly off down the road.

But I’ve danced around enough the reason I’m getting into all of this is because I think the above image is a stellar example of reclaiming an image that was objectively muddled.

The image itself does not work. Yes, the compression of color is interesting–the cabinets, tile and dishwasher create a palate accentuating the skin tone in such a way that it sort of permeates the scene–much the way the smell of sweat and sexual effluvia swirls around the entwined bodies of spent lovers. There’s also something to the staging that seems exaggerated and awkward but at the same time conveys something of the experience of saying to a new love, I’m not sure I can get off again but maybe let’s try anyway.

Note how the camera is askew in alignment with the back wall–i.e. the right side of the camera is angled back and away from the wall, as opposed to being on a rigorously parallel plane to it. Further, the vertical frame edge is not squared with the seams of the cabinets/tiles in the backsplash; the slight uptilt only serves to exaggerate these flaws. (Emotionally, this was the right choice and it opens up the frame, providing more context; conversely, the dishwasher and the area in the top, right hand corner really screws with the visual flow as the eye scans the image.)

In other words, there are interesting things about the image. But it doesn’t exactly work. How do you solve a problem like that?

Well, Acebedo, broadens the context but presenting the image as if it were pinned to a page in an old album with yellowing scotch tape. It renders the image more inherently visceral. (Also, mysterious.)

But the thing I like most is how it preserves the anonymity of the participants. I cannot even begin to articulate how adamantly opposed I am to decapitating anyone in an image to preserve anonymity. There is always a way to include the head in the frame and then to–if need be–creatively obscure it. This is a great example.

Finally, I love that this adopts the fine art photographic tendency of naming a picture in such a fashion where the title merely describes the image. (A great way of underscoring that the image speaks for itself.) Here, you don’t have to have taken a day of Spanish to be able to perfectly translate the title: They fuck like rabbits.

Also, you really should check out Acebedo. There is something profoundly lonely about her work but it replaces sadness and longing with the feral possibility inherently in being alive and breathing.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (2009) 

Any halfway decent Philosophy 101 course is going to touch on the notion of an ontological argument.

The premise goes like this: God must exist because a God is perfect and that which exists is more perfect than that which does not exist.

I feel as if a lot of modern images suffer from an ontological raison d’etre–namely, the image you capture is better than the image you don’t because the former exists and the latter does not.

All sorts of justifications are employed to shore up this rationale: if I don’t take a photo I won’t remember or it seemed to suggest something that would make a pretty picture.

I call bullshit on both. On the one hand the notion that folks need to Instagram every prettily plated meal and a trendy eatery cheapens the notion of persistence of memory. I’m sure it was good and all but are the huevos rancheros you had a brunch really something you want to remember ten years from now? (It’s like they teach you early on in film making–there’s no need to shoot coverage of a scene with closeup inserts that show the protagonists movements. He grabs something off the counter and picks up something else on vanity in the vestibule. It’s unnecessary to show a close-up of his wallet and his keys, respectively; unless either figure prominently later in the plot.*)

But the second impetus–it seemed like it would make a pretty picture–is, at least, more fundamentally honest in that it assumes that someone else seeing the image will through seeing it gain something.

The proliferation of ready-at-hand imaging devices has not materially improved image making. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of the impetus to create images is grounded in the capitalist act of conspicuous consumption. It’s not enough that I eat and remember what I ate, it’s necessary to show that one is eating here there or having this or that unmediated experience.

It gets even worse with porn. Consumers of erotic content are spoon fed a stylized and highly unrealistic version of sexuality. What I always find so completely bonkers about that is that–by and large–when folks set out to produce DIY porn, instead of asking themselves how do I convey what my experience of sex is like (or perhaps better: inquiring as to why they have the urge to produce such content and then exploring how to place what they want to show in line with what they create), porn provides an easily replicable template for making you the porn star or starlet of your own triple X scene.)

The above is–to my eye–quite different. It’s clear that the audience is seeing something pornographic in nature but the focus is on the expression of an intense, in-the-moment experience of physical pleasure. Yeah, it’s goes way too dark in areas and the shadow cast by the tripod in the upper left corner is detrimental to the immersive effect the image seems to be seeking; but, the way she’s looking back over her shoulder isn’t something that could be easily staged.

letmedothis:

saw a crappy screenshotted version of this photo I originally uploaded.
Don’t understand why someone would do it that way.

A wide-oh mouth spreading vents vocalizations to stem rising tide as if moans lessen the straining pressure. The protruding angle of wedged elbow hinge and the shift of wrist raise strange and secret maritime Braille poems between yawing thighs. Another arm stretches to press a finger into parted lips up to the second joint.

The first pornography I saw was a gift for my fourteenth birthday from Charlie.

A year younger than me, Charlie was really Kyle’s friend. Despite our parents efforts to ensure their kids maintained our own non-redundant age-appropriate friends, Charlie and I were thick as thieves.

So when I demanded a miniature golf/slumber party birthday celebration, Charlie and I finagled getting him invited over the same night to keep Kyle from feeling neglected.

Charlie had discovered his father’s stash of girlie magazines and he had cut out an assortment of images from the few he had managed to steal.

Except for being fourteen instead of ten or eleven, it was entirely prosaic.

That’s why I claim my second experience with pornography as my true first.

….

Every summer my parents invariably got sick of us not being in school and would hand off Kyle and I to whomever would take us. And despite Charlie being the kid who all the parents considered to be deeply troubled, his folks were always willing to host a rowdy bunch of teenagers.

Also, it didn’t hurt that Charlie’s older sister Caitlyn was just a few year’s older than me. Granted she was boy crazy cheerleader who wanted to be a vet and made a point of volunteering at an animal hospital four days a week. But even though we had nothing in common, I never disabused my mom of the notion that we were friendly.

After all getting scuttled at Charlie’s was generally held to be the best thing ever. And with Caitlyn giving me a wide berth, Charlie’s folks being so permissive and the fact that I could have as much privacy as I wanted or be one of the boys depending on my mood was thrilling.

On the second to last day of our stay, Charlie convinced Kyle and I to accompany him to a place he called The Fort. We got all the necessary gear together: Charlie grabbed a box of shells and his dad’s shotgun. I was assigned the Daisy BB pistol which consumed CO2 cartridges at roughly the same rate we consumed Mountain Dew.

Kyle wasn’t happy I got the pistol. And he actually had a point. I was hand’s down the best shot with it—able to hit a grape at thirty feet; but I had constructed a shockingly functional shoulder holster from some RJ-11 wire we’d found discarded.

Kyle, against bitter and vociferous objections ended up stuck with the rifle.

We set out across the back yard toward the woods lining the property.

The trek itself was mild to moderately pastoral with some Appalachian grace notes thrown in for good measure. We climbed fences, crawled along a fallen tree over a lazy creek.

We only stopped once.

We’d been angling through a rolling meadow when I spotted to Jersey cows staring at us from behind a barbed wire fence maybe sixty feet from us. Charlie saw them too and handed me the shotgun, motioning for holstered pistol.

I handed it over and watching him draw a bead down the barrel on the rightmost cow, fired—a whiz-click sound; missing high and right. He reloaded before firing again: a palpable hit. The cow didn’t seem to mind.

Charlie handed the pistol back wordlessly communicating: your turn. He reclaimed the heavy shotgun. I raised the pistol, aimed, breathed in deeply, halfway out and squeezed the trigger. The cow snorted and shook her brown head so I fired again.

I passed the pistol to Kyle who for all his pissing before now wanted nothing to do with it. Charlie was adamant he take a shot. Knowing Charlie we wouldn’t have gone a step further until Kyle at the very least shot in the direction of the cows if the darkening of the sky along the horizon didn’t so thoroughly telegraph the approach of a gathering storm.

The Fort, as it turned out, was less northing more and nothing less than a northeastern style farmstead, its wood panel exterior warped and waterlogged. It been white at one point; however, the paint had long since fallen away, revealing the ugly wasp daub grey siding. Scorch marks spread char-black up and out from the second-story windows.

Inside, there was only enough drywall left to imply the boundaries between rooms. Charlie headed upstairs, my brother trailing after him.

I moved room to room. But with the exception of dead leaves piled in corners, discarded beer cans and a grime-matted mauve hoodie ground into the floor beside a mangy, dust-encrusted mattress there was nothing to see.

The stairs sighed under my weight. And I heard a faint hissing, like rain against the side of the house as I climbed.

The stairs opened onto a picture window which Charlie stood centered in facing out. I realized the sound wasn’t rain; he was pissing out the window.

The second floor was completely open end-to-end: charred floor, rafters and dead light drifting dustily in through a handful of dormer windows.

Charlie’s stream of urine ebbed then stopped.

He turned away from the window; I looked away down the length of the open room where a dozen plus knee high stacks littered the floor.

I approached the nearest stack. A bespectacled young girl—too young?—smiled up at me; her glasses and face were lined with thick, white fluid. A second before what I was looking at dawned on me, I realized this girl bore a startling resemblance to a classmate on who I had an outsize crush. This girl had the same glasses, same playfully innocent smile and nearly flat chest.

The other stacks revealed comparable material, a hodge-podge of hardcore mainstays (Hustler, Stag, Swank) as well as more off-beat fare with highly questionable legality (i.e.70’s vintage Color Climax).

I was in a daze and it Charlie a minute to take a green object from him.

The object consisted of a thin, green scarf carefully wrapped around something square-ish. I unfolded the top two flaps, followed by the two beneath it to reveal a stack of Polaroids.

The first two were only clear enough to offer a general impression of what was depicted: high school kids having sex on the ratty mattress downstairs.

However, the focus in the third image was stunningly crisp: a girl, maybe fourteen, naked except for an open, button front shirt, cradled by a second girl—naked except for panties—who crouched beside her. The second girl’s left nipple was pinched tightly between the first’s bone-white teeth. The cradled girl’s right elbow was clasped behind her knee. The fingers on the second girl’s right hand where laced together with the first girl as she helped her hold her knees wide for the naked boy between them. The cradled girl’s right held the boy’s cock, covering the head; a forked trail led from a small pearlescent pool on her abdomen—the longest branch stretching across her flat chest to just below her supersternal notch.

With the angle of view the second girl and boy’s body formed an ellipsis framing the first girl.

I was too overwhelmed by what I saw to discern whether or not I liked it. Not knowing how I felt about what I had seen made me profoundly uncomfortable.

I flipped through all the Polaroids once before wrapping them up and handing them back to Charlie. His expression asked what I thought. The roar in my ears was deafening, I couldn’t think so I ran down the stairs and out of the house.

Outside, I circled the building aimlessly. I picked up a black spray pain can. Stood it on a white rock Grabbed the pistol, shot, reloaded, shot again until the can spewing the rabid black foam.

The boys were inside for a while. But before we headed home, Charlie took the pistol from me and gave it to Kyle. Who in turn offered me the rifle but clutching the shotgun, Charlie advised him that it was better if he held onto both.

With each step, my wire holster swung awkward and empty against my body.

In my life, maybe half-dozen things have caused such overwhelming sexual arousal as that third. It wasn’t just that I felt an affinity for the content and or the execution hauntingly beautiful; what got me was the openness.

Keep in mind that at my Xtian high school admitting to suffering any sort of sexual appetite let along a non-standard deviant one was forbidden. Anyone who even intimated as much was castigated.

And while I have no way of knowing how matters turned out for the people in that Polaroid, I believe with all my heart, mind and soul that sharing that kind of intimacy with others is the only truly sacred thing in this world.

It’s like asking: is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night? But instead of telling about it, you take the questioner by the hand and show them your answer.