[↑] Hardcored – Title unknown (201X); [↓] All Fine Girls – Title unknown feat. Amia Miley (201X)

This was originally supposed to be a juxtaposition as commentary post.

That, however, shifted when I discovered that the version of the top image posted by @partialboner (who blocked me, for some reason, apparently–which sucks since he runs a damn fine art porn blog) was a crop of the original.

My initial reading of the crop version of the top image was: this is aggro but fucks with notions of public vs private in a way that this is more edgy than uncomfortable–even the extra color saturation enhances the feeling that what we’re seeing has been carefully negotiated.

The uncropped original skeeves me out because of the production company whose water mark it bears. (I’m fine with BDSM–I’m a switch–but BDSM demands a baseline minimum of respect for boundaries and hinges upon complicated questions of verbal and non-verbal consent. (More on this in a bit…)

The lower image is more visual complex-yes, it’s still very porn cliché-y but it’s at least less flat than the top image.

Initially, I wanted to feature this as a juxtaposition as commentary post in order to underscore varying degrees of visual legibility, as well as how the top scene is ostensibly public and the lower one is obviously transpiring in the privacy of a boudoir.

Also, I wanted to create a comparison/contrast between the way panties (an object) are employed in a manner for which they were not designed–a gag and a penetrative object, respectively.

The post would get close to going up and I’d kick it down to the bottom of my queue because I knew it belongs here but the framing of juxtaposition as commentary seemed too toothless a means of engaging with it.

Part my initial reluctance to post this was a direct result of allegations made by Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon… and, well: nothing about the scenes they are speaking out about are acceptable things to not have explicitly negotiated boundaries/consent in advance.

I think the problem I have with these runs much deeper and has everything to do with objectification. You wouldn’t be out of line to respond: methinks the lady doth protest too much–after all she does run a sex blog that frequently showcases graphic and/or explicit depictions of sexuality.

In for a penny, in for a pound, you’d think; except…

Porn deals in fantasy. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that a person who sees a pornographic video and goes out and treats the video like a how-to guide is a full psychopath. I mean how often has the pizza deliver guy shown up holding a pizza with his schlong just hanging out and the scantily dressed woman who answers to door just pulls him in and starts using his member to probe her tonsils. The world doesn’t work like that and you’d expect that most folks would realize that’s not how things work IRL; except…

Increasingly folks do not have access to fact based, reliable, comprehensive and honest sex education. So in some ways the argument that it’s all fantasy and everyone knows that and only a real fuck-up would think the world operates like that doesn’t follow here because part of porn being a fantasy involves the suspension of disbelief.

Beyond the absurdity of some of the scenarios porn features, what is someone who lacks strong sex education to believe and disbelieve? It’s dangerous to assume and not assuming makes things very thorny.

Generally, I think you can argue that in most porn you can presuppose that the participants have consented. However, I think it’s EXTREMELY dangerous to extend that presupposition to more BDSM elements–since those sorts of scenarios demand additional verbal consent as a result of the escalation.

And I realize I’m applying my impression of the one studio to all of their work; except…

I don’t know it’s hard to read either of these images as if the women are anything more than objects for sexual gratification. And honestly that’s where my primary beef sits: I think there is an onus on porn producers whose bread and butter involves scenes of women being manhandled and acknowledge as little more than warm, more or less moist orifices to penetrate really do have a responsibility to convey something with regard to an awareness of and respect for consent.

It’s definitely easier to do that in a video–I’m not sure how you do it in a single, static frame (it would likely be difficult to impossible and would dramatically slow down production).

But I do think we really have to do better about being mindful of consent when producing this kind of content, fwiw.

I Feel Myself – literotic featuring Georgiana (20XX)

I am reasonably certain this hails from I Feel Myself–the lighting and overhead cam setup are all in keeping with their studio stuff. (If so then the gif has been desaturated and cropped into some #skinnyframebullshit, explaining why neither Google image search or Tin Eye can source it.)

And I’ll have you know that I really did try to practice due diligence by browsing through the first couple of pages of the studio section, but I am impoverished at present and the urge to just break down and subscribe to the site was so strong that I had to X out of the tab before I got myself into trouble by spending money I don’t have.

EDIT: A thousand thanks to wyyoh for sourcing both original and the progenitor of this particular gif.

Perhaps I’ve said it before but given an endless supply of energy and time, I’d run a blog separate from this one focusing solely on the politics of depicting masturbation. There’s a billion reasons I’m so interested in the topic–both related to my own photographic practice as well as my personal experience of sexuality. But if I had to put it in a simple and direct way, I’d probably spout something like: if the purpose of porn is to motivate masturbation, then imagery featuring masturbation is really one of the few things that actually functions in my case the way porn should.

But this image–despite being cropped and desaturated (two things I go out of my way to eliminate from my curation–really effing resonates with me. Yeah, it’s partly that I’m a nerd and a bookworm. So I can totally relate to laying there reading and removing undergarments in nearly an identical fashion to this. But I love how although this is unequivocally performative, it’s unselfconscious. The book and not the voyeur are the motivation.

It’s that last bit that I relate to with such a fierceness. Also, in keeping with the understanding that gender identity and sexual orientation are not necessarily concomitant, the feeling of this pretty much nails how I would foolishly hope people interpret my sexuality and gender identity in a vacuum. (As far as how I’d hope to be seen by a lover, it would be pretty much exactly like the lady on the bottom in this image.)

No wonder I’m terminally single…

Source unknown – Title Unknown (20XX)

Most folks would instinctively term this ‘porn’.

Given the content and the manner in which depth of field is deployed to focus on her genitalia while blurring her face, it’s hard to argue that the purpose of this image isn’t primarily as a masturbatory aide.

To my reading, there’s more to it. Yes, the framing is problematic as it amputates limbs–not to mention offering a textbook example of #skinnyframebullshit; but the sense of immediate intimacy it presents is unusual.

I’m really super aroused by it; also overwhelmingly concerned about it’s genesis given the rare vulnerability it depicts and this the era of leaking nudes and revenge porn, I worry whether this individual has consented to these images being published. (Google Image search and TinEye both return zero results–doing nothing to alleviate my concern.)

And my worries aren’t necessarily tamped down as a result of noticing the texture of the couch and the pillow seem anachronistic enough to suggest the sort of set dressing favored by authors of Internet smut–if that’s the case I’d have to retreat momentarily to amend my knee-jerk finger wagging w/r/t the depth of field to a vociferous objection.

Ultimately, the reason I’m posting this is although it’s hardly a good image as is, its various elements are valuable and I’m convinced that benefiting from more logical composition, increased depth of field and a more nuanced approach to lighting design it could be mistaken for fine art.

Tom SpiantiEve, Night Light Triptych (2008)

The above leaves me a thousand times more turned on than something like this.

It’s less to do with the going commando. (That’s certainly hot, though.)
It’s more the way it risks transgressing the boundaries between public
and private.

For example: if a woman is naked under her dress,
when I knows it, the knowing is usually limited to myself and her.
Whereas, in the situation depicted here, although it is highly likely
the situation will remain a secret shared between only two individuals,
there’s still the possibility that it’s not: that a third party
witnessed the transgression.

A conspiracy of two where it’s
impossible to know with certainty whether it was limited to two or open
to three is something that will always reduce me to a flustered,
twitterpatedly aroused mess.

(And just to be clear, a good bit of
Spianti’s triptych work is similarly fixated and both intriguing and
sterling as far as craft is concerned.)

Cesar SantosFirst Tattoo (201X)

This is an ingenious riff on Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas–the guy in the background and the seeking finger of the girlfriend are pretty much directly quoted.

Then you’ve got what I’m pretty sure is supposed to be Rembrandt looking all unimpressed face emojicon.

The sum is a rather acerbic comment on the watering down of art–Caravaggio’s gloom as the foundation for the Rembrandt’s tenebrism as a foundation for the ever present and aching sexual longing of modernity on towards the diminution of craft and concept implied by the glaringly absent titular tattoo.

It’s not all bleak, though. There’s an undisguised wonder in the pointing friend running counter to the bored too-cool-for-school, world-weariness and resignation of the tattoo bearer.

(The Hello Kitty underpants are likely supposed to be far more cynical than I’m reading them. But I have to admit a particular bias, I find the way late teens and early twenty somethings try to reclaim some of the audacity that defined their first efforts at self-determination–to be unspeakably sexy.)

Source unknown – Title unknown (XXXX)

In general, I’m not especially forgiving of tacky composition in erotic imagery.

At first glance–with the young woman’s left index finger and genitals positioned dead center–my gut reaction is to scream BULLSHIT.

That I’m not only willing to give it a pass but to actively engage it has less to do with my profound preoccupation with the politics of depicting masturbation and more to do with the fact that unlike the claims by Gregory Crewdson about his own work– the above is a narrative image (albeit a crude one).

Note: the active workspace, school uniform and skin pricked with sweat. I think we all can remember a time when the heat makes focusing on work impossible and high on hormones, the ache of lust is more than one can endure; so in assumed privacy, one pushes aside various clothing blocking unfettered sensual touch–oh but what that twist in her knickers inside her left ankle doesn’t make me shiver– and sets off in search of release (however temporary).

Things run a little deeper than that though. The room in which this occurs is–in the Japanese style–open to a courtyard which not only contributes a lush and verdant green to the proceedings it also insinuates questions of public vs. private that perhaps not completely but at least tangentially implies a cast aside explanation of the ridiculous framing: someone of whom the young woman is unaware is watching her. (This does raise questions w/r/t consent–invariably experiences in life where we can watch others unbeknownst to them occur and how one responds speaks to personal integrity; however, this is too posed, the lighting orchestrated for me to believe the young woman is entirely unaware of her audience.

What the image does exceedingly well is presenting a carefully manicured fiction that invites suspension of disbelief. Two things I notice is that their is a picture of what appears to be a pop star pinned over her desk. You can’t see enough to determine who that pop star might be. In my mind–always hungry to fill in the blanks–it’s a female pop star on whom she has a crush.

Also, the picture in her hand is tilted at an angle that reduces the glare for the camera but not for the young woman. I’d like to think it’s a picture of her and a girlfriend and that the angle is explained by the fact that she’s already orgasmed–the beaded sweat on her legs (which almost certainly is water from a spray mister)–and is exploring the mostly sated, hyper-sensitive perhaps a little horny again already ecstatic afterglow body high that comes with being young, alive and tragically longing for life, as it were, to begin.

The thing this does best is to show that using the frame edges to decapitate a body for the sake for the sake of preserving anonymity is the worst thing you can do. There is almost always a way to preserve anonymity in such a fashion so as not to disembody the subject.

Mike BrodieUntitled Frame from A Period of Juvenile Prosperity (200X)

Brodie was born in Arizona circa 1985.

Next we hear from him, it’s 2002. He’s 17 and now lives in Pensacola, FL.

He gets it in his head to visit a friend in Mobile and hops a train–as luck would have it–headed in the opposite direction. He ends up in Jacksonville, FL.

After bumming around for a few days, he catches the same train home.

“[The experience] sparked something and Brodie began to wander across the U.S. by any means that were free – walking, hitchhiking and train hopping.”

In 2004, Brodie found a Polaroid camera stuffed behind a car seat. Sans any formal training, Brodie criss-crossed the States using the camera to document his travels. .

In an effort to stay in contact the transient communities he came into with, Brodie shared his images on various websites; becoming known as The Polaroid Kidd.

When Polaroid discontinued the stock his camera used, he switched to a sturdy camera of 1980’s vintage.

On the subject of his process, he’s said:

Sometimes I take a train the wrong way or… whatever happens a photo will come out of it, so it doesn’t really matter where I end up.

Unwilling to be chewed up by the pressures and expectations of the art market, in 2008 Brodie ceased making photographs.

He graduated from the Nashville Auto Diesel College (NADC) in 2012 and now works out of his silver ‘93 Dodge Ram.as a mobile diesel mechanic.

A Period of Juvenile Prosperity was published in early 2013 by Twin Palms.

(Note: there are two biographies for Brodie–his publisher’s version and his personal website’s. Both feature a wealth of information but are bogged down by choppy, artless prose; the versions are riddled with contradictions. The preceding text is not original; All I did was to reconcile the information contained in both versions in order to present it with as few changes to the original language as possible. I repeat: the preceding text is not original.)

Jenny BootSauvage! for Kalblut Magazine (2013)

I won’t even pretend I understand the lighting design here. A key light aimed at the background slightly to the right of the model’s shoulder? No fill light? Her body blocks roughly a third of the light and there is almost no gradation between mid-tone detail and a complete absence of shadow detail.

It doesn’t look great but it’s not objectively terrible either. Yes: shifting the light back two feet would smooth the transition from midtone to shadow while also emphasizing her expectant stare and bringing out the green in her eyes.

I’m far more interested in the model–who is she?–than anything with fuck all to do with the photographer. Her pose, posture and the ambiguous position–somewhere exactly halfway violence and restraint–of her left hand.

Together it’s almost enough to make me overlook the seeming technical ineptitude and flagrant #skinnyframebullshit.

Almost…

Erica ShiresUntitled (200X)

Sally Mann is perhaps the contemporary artist most associated with collodion wet plates processes.

There’s a scene in the wonderful HBO documentary What Remains; while preparing a plate, Mann mentions that collodion was originally used as a means of closing up wounds.

It’s an unsettling caveat from a woman who spent the majority of her most ambitious work photographing the specters of death.

There is always too much reverence with Mann’s work to tolerate even the slightest waste.

(Will Graham would say: this is my design.)

There’s no doubt Erica Shires is good. The question is: how good is she?

Her colors pop without ever supersaturating. Her compositions are at once rigorously formal and effortless. She presents her subjects with a studied yet unassuming intimacy.

If there were a list of the best 40 photographers under 40, the viability of the list could be judged based on whether or not Shires’ appears in the top 5. (Any list where she doesn’t would be utter bollocks and for whatever my opinion is worth, the top spot belongs to her.)