Source unknown – Title unknown (19XX)

This reminds me of Nan Goldin’s work although I am reasonably certain it isn’t hers.

To the best of my knowledge, Goldin used color slide film exclusively. (I vaguely remember that she now uses digital–which makes sense given the gritty immediacy she trades in.)

That it’s B&W would be a huge departure for her.

Also, the orientation of the couple to the space they’re inhabiting is a bit over-stylized–the way her body enters the frame at a slant gives a sense of dynamic left-to-right leaning in, which in turn contributes to a physical sense of forward motion into the cocksucking motion–despite the fact that she’s pretty clearly moving her mouth up the length of the boy’s erection not down it. (That tension between bending in and pulling away, makes it feel a bit like a gif despite the fact that it’s a single frame.)

Again, though: there’s a way in which this image doesn’t seem to be for or about the viewer–it’s merely something the viewer has been deemed lucky enough to witness second hand. (And in that way, it’s also very much like Goldin’s work.)

Author unknown – Michele ist gut für zwei (1980)

I stumbled onto @musorka‘s retro pornography motherlode for the first time roughly a month ago.

As best as I can tell he mines scans from another site and posts them to Tumblr. The volume is astounding, the quality frequently dubious. But there are some real gems if you’re willing to put in some time.

For example: if you can ignore the obnoxiously coded depiction of cunnilingus, the above is actually compellingly staged. The action is cheated towards the camera but in a fashion that sans the aforementioned awkward protruding tongue, would be something that would be easy to overlook. (In fact, I would freaking LOVE to recreate this as a fine art image.)

However, there’s actually an even more overriding reason I’m posting this on the first day of the New Year. I’m the sort of sap who makes scads of resolutions each and every year. For the last 5 years, I’ve made goals with the form of shoot X number rolls of film each month; add Y number of new photos to my portfolio by EOY.

2016 was a garbage year but excluding my goal of reading 45 books (on which I failed miserably), I did better than I ever have in any previous year–successfully completing a little more than half my resolutions.

Yet, I think my focus on completing my resolutions actually ended up causing me to post work that I don’t–in hindsight–believe to be as good as it should’ve been.

This year, I’m trying to leaven my urge to hold myself accountable for doing instead of sitting around and thinking about doing or worse trying to do. I keep thinking about Helen Levitt’s statement that photographers can talk about what they want to do or equivocating about the conceptual or whatever but unless you’re running film through the camera, you are not doing fuck all.

There’s also this story of a reporter interviewing Levitt in her apartment:

When I was in her apartment, I saw boxes of prints
stacked up. One was labeled simply nothing good. Another one was
marked here and there.

“That’s the beginning of another book,” she said about the box.

“Can I take a peek?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said. “‘Cause I’m unsure about it. If I was sure that they were worth anything, I’d show it to you. But I can’t.”

Well, she must have decided they were worth something. That book, Here and There, came out a few years later.

One of my biggest gripes about digital imaging–despite everything about the way it looks–is that it allows you to proceed uncritically. You aren’t limited by how many exposures you have. You’re limited by battery life and the size of your memory card, nothing more. What tends to follow–almost as a matter of course–is this spray and pray approach or worse a we’ll just fix it in post mentality.

Looking through musorka’s Tumblr, it strikes me that there is an argument for volume. Not in the making of good images, necessarily but in learning to use the work that went into failed images to channel into making images that succeed.

There are so many awkward expression in European porn from the late 70s and early 80s. And I’m not for a second suggesting any of these images reach the heights of lower case a art, but given that it’s porn and so much of it is godawful, the good stands out even more obviously. Let me show you.

This works for many of the same reasons this does but mostly due to simplicity.

There’s something meditated and in the moment about this one.

I have a paraphilia for braids but I also like the lower image here because of the way it’s explicit without being at all graphic. ❤

The expression in the top panel and the lighting in the lower panel on this one are both unfeigned and luminous.

This is entirely awkward except for the way his expression in the context of the way she’s guiding him creates what could perhaps be termed a ‘feminist’ porn image.

The expression of the woman with the bangs at the right is effing priceless.

No qualifications needed–these three images are all excellent.

And lastly–another example of cheating towards the camera without being obvious about it.

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.