Ever since this post when I consume porn, I remind myself to pay attention to how the staging of a scene in relationship to the camera makes me feel about what I’m viewing.
Interestingly, scenes like this where the proceedings are cheated toward the camera to provide a clear and unobstructed view for the audience appeal to me more than scenes created by either a montage of various heterosexual erogenous signifiers or scenes that pretend to take a fly on the wall approach to capturing the scene–by staging the action for a stationary camera that only faces in one direction, moves on one axis and switches between reframings of close-ups and medium shots. (And POV shots are usually a huge turn off.)
I think there’s something about the sense that this scene has been blocked in a theatrical fashion contributes something to both the notion that both participants want to be seen in flagrante delicito. That self-consciousness makes me feel as if–as a spectator–my participation is expected if not the point of the undertaking.
(FYI, I do think this same idea can be applied negatively given the surfeit of tales where the consent of femme performers on porn sets is not protected or respected.)
Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)
I’m usually super creeped out by hetero porn where the camera assumes the man’s POV but I actually dig this.
I think the reason why is because the leaves entering the frame in the upper right half of the frame draw attention to her face–which at least draws attention to her agency in so far as the proceedings are pleasurable for her. (And again, there’s the additional filter of displays of women’s pleasure in pornography being part of the product sold to consumers.)
But I think there’s a kind of bliss in the maybe three frames where you can see her right eye slide out from behind the leaf and look into the camera.
Also, as the sort of girl who strives to always have her manicure game on fleek, the color of her nail polish is absolutely perfect for that outfit.
I don’t like that this is vertical. (Any moving image–be it a .gif or video clip–should always be landscape oriented.)
I do quite like quite everything else: she appears to be chasing her own pleasure’s flow-state so single mindedly, he seems just as intensely in his own body (it’s also interesting that his movement from left to right serves as an almost mechanical counterpoint to her thrust); the position (would you call that ‘side saddle amazon’?) is something I’ve never seen before–although it’s reminiscent of a position I have seen before which would involve the dude here pulling his right knee up and then her pulling her right thigh over his body so that she can hug his leg to her body and grind against his thigh while thrusting. (Granted that shift in position would erase another thing I like about this: that with the exception of the base of his cock and the edge of her left nipple, they are both clearly nude but the typical markers of nudity that social media discourages are otherwise absent.)
I don’t like the white duvet, white walls look but unlike most porn shoots that just pour watts and watts of dead white light onto a scene, this at least features more naturalistic lighting. The white light entering the frame from left to right and primarily illuminating her shoulders and arms vs the tungsten light coming from almost the same angle only traveling right to left suggests an overhead light in another room–perhaps from the open door or a hotel bathroom or something of the sort.
[↑] Hardcored – Title unknown (201X); [↓] All Fine Girls – Title unknown feat. Amia Miley (201X)
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.
[↑] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↖] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [+] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↗] Helix Studios – Title unknown (201X); [-] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↙] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↘] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)
The way these figures are rendered is very similar to another artist; unfortunately–for the life of me, I can’t recall whom.
Thus, I am going to describe this as what you’d get if you told an intern from the art department of a Tim Burton movie to draw Maleficent fucking Capt. Jack Sparrow except draw them in the style of Aeon Flux.
The backdrop is what you’d get if Mark Rothko challenged the Bauhaus painters to a jousting competition.
There’s even a touch of that thing they do in hentai where they show sexual penetration as if they camera were inside whatever orifice is being penetrated.
Each distinct element is–in and of itself–unappearling; yet, combined… they form something a good deal more than the sum of the parts.
In fact, this painting stands out from the rest of her work: it’s more accessible but less resolved. (Honestly, to me here style is particularly well suited to the way I visual things when I read Camus, Moravia or Ferrante.
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.
When I think of Mark, I don’t think color; I think of her B&W photos and the way the seamlessly
blurred the line between street photography and social documentary all maximizing the impact of Kodak’s legendary Tri-X emulsion.
Amanda and her cousin Amy, Valdese, North Carolina (1990)
Unlike Arbus, Mark was less interested in playing up
her subjects station as outliers and instead emphatically orchestrated
her work to underscore the deep humanity of her subjects.
Or so I thought until I dug into her work—with more attention than my usual, casual I-need-to-know-who-this-person-is-so-I-can-talk-knowledgeably-about-her-work-in-a-very-general-survey-101-fashion but I-also-don’t-100%-vibe-with-the-work-on-a-personal-level-so-let’s-keep-it-superficial.
Honestly, there are some pretty significant issues that either I’ve gotten too sensitive to or folks have just been to willing to overlook.
Consider the photo of Laurie in Ward 81 Tub—it’s modern and wouldn’t be out of place posted on social media as if it was made yesterday.
At the time Ward 81 was the only locked women’s mental health institution in Oregon.
Here are a couple of other photos from that project:
On the one hand: as with all of Mark’s work, the quality and cultural
relevance are unassailable. Conceptually. however, I cannot help but
inquire regarding the informed consent of the women in these
photographs. Were they given a choice in whether they were photographed
or not? And given that they were institutionalized to what degree where
they considered to have some agency over their photographic
That’s baseline. Then there’s the nudity in the
two images and it makes me uncomfortable—and not in a way that is
in-line with the way the project is conceptually framed.
Falkland Road is problematic in the same fashion, except those problematics are significantly exacerbated.
start with the photo alone. It’s obviously show on slide film with a
flash. In and of itself, that is a small technical wonder. Add to that
the simultaneously sumptuous and grungy colors—I have little doubt that
Nan Goldin was hugely influenced by this project.
Backing out a
bit further consider the photo in the context of the attributional
information: a white, cisgender, heterosexual American woman documenting
sex workers in Mumbai in the late 70s. (For me, this sets off a good
number of alarms. Not enough to dismiss it outright—the exceptionally
high quality of the work does counter these alarms reasonably well,
The story of how this project came to be is worth considering.Mark
travelled to India for the first time in 1968. (The same year as The
Beatles—my suspicion is that this isn’t coincidental and should probably
be examined with a similar lens w/r/t cultural appropriation.)
about Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red light district, she toured the area and
found herself increasingly curious about the lives of sex workers along
Falkland Road—a low-rent lane with rock bottom rates.
not immediately accepted. In fact, she was initially run off by the sex
workers. However, she kept returning on that trip and on subsequent trips.
After a decade, she and her camera were finally allowed access to
several brothels on Falkland Road.
More alarm bells: a woman from
a colonizing country visiting a former colony to create a project
documenting the lives of indigent sex workers? What could possibly go
wrong… (The path of FOSTA/SESTA from ill-conceived do-good notion to
misguided legislation to free speech chilling modesty fiat provides a
great example of why issue surrounding sex work insist upon a lot of
nuanced, thankless labor to not eff up.)
By now I’m less straddling the fence and more deeply concerned about this project. Let’s take a look at the artist’s statement…
wait? Most of the young women in this project are between the ages of
11 and 15?!?!!! (And just to preempt any shitty neckbeard protestations:
the age of consent in India was 15 from 1949 to 1982—in other words,
most of the women in this project were likely unable to consent to sex.)
already seriously WTF? territory but it gets worse—Mark describes
seeing the young woman beaten by house madams, pimps and boyfriends. She
points out that the situation tottered over into outright slavery
Alarm bells have transformed into barrage cacophonously complicated
ethical chorus of protestation. On the one hand there’s the dictum that a
photojournalist ceases to be objective when she transitions from
observer to participant. At what point do ethics demand the sacrifice of
objectivity? And if she had interfered what would she have done? I mean
it’s not like she could single handedly rescue all these girls… (I
don’t have an answer to this query, actually; the best I can do is to
suggest that the rash of stories several years back about the stigma
surrounding menstruation on the Indian subcontinent and western NGOs
trying to address and educate Indian women and the subsequent backlash
about the heavy handed approaches that reeked of cultural superiority,
reiterating the same dynamics of colonial power structures; and then the
subsequent response to the backlash that stated the goal shouldn’t be
forcing pads or tampons or western menstruation products on Indian women
so much as working to empower them to address these issues in their own
preferred way within their own cultural reality.)
you really can’t dodge the argument for long that this project is
extremely effective at using the photographer’s rendering of the
incisive humanity of her subjects almost certainly brought awareness to
the plight of low caste sex workers in India.
The flip-side of that is that this raised awareness was paid for in straight up voyeurism.
Kamathipura became a red light district under British colonial
occupation. And it’s a bit fucked up that the restraint of objectivity
indirectly supports the racist ass notion that this is just how things
are on the Indian subcontinent, contrary to the fact that this wasn’t a
thing until British rule. The British created it and then blamed the
creation–from which they benefited–on the victims.)
also the fact that Mark included photos of trans women living and
working on Falkland Road. She refers to them using the term transv——
(not a word cis people should ever utter and a word that I—a trans
girl—refuse to use).
And here again I find evidence of an ingrained
attitude of cultural supremacy. To the best of my knowledge, the term hijra was in
broad use in India during the time Mark was there. (Unfortunately, like most folks who received their
primary and secondary education in the 80s and 90s, I’m not super well
versed in Indian culture/history; the way it was explained to me was
that hijra indicates a broader category of gender
questioning/non-conformity that includes trans women but should not be
understood as exclusive to trans women.
If I’m wrong about that
then it would be just as easy to update the titles to read ‘trans
woman’, or, to preempt those who want to argue that this masks the true
face of history: why not render the titles so they ‘transv—— ‘and
then add ‘trans woman’ in brackets?
All this to say: despite the
quality and deep humanity of the work, I do think there are some very
serious ethical shortcomings. I don’t think those shortcomings
necessarily do the project any favors. From the perspective that one of
the bastions of capital-A Art is that it de-emphasizes the wrong
questions and contemplatively shepherds the viewer away from
unproductive questions and instead toward better, more fruitful queries, Falkland Road is a goddamn train wreck.
I mean I’ve spewed text
for 4 pages and feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface.
Although it is interesting that a lot of the conceptual missteps of this
project are still very much active in a lot of the present political
Lastly, it’s fascinating that Arbus, Mark and Goldin
all suffer in one way, shape or form from an intrinsic chauvinism. And
all three are saved to the exact extent that they evince a human
solidarity with their subjects—something I think should serve as a
prescient reminder that artist’s are not necessarily bad people but that
artist’s are more likely to make short work of dismissing substantive
ethical quandaries due to viewing them less an end in and of themselves
and more more an obstacle to both the means and the end. (This is
probably the most verbiage anyone has ever used to convey the need to–as the saying goes: check your self [privilege] before you wreck yourself.)
Originally, I had some profound notion I wanted to share re: this but whatever connection I made has gotten scrambled by the worst sinus infection I’ve had in probably a decade. (I’m miserable–feel free to send coconut seltzer, bulk cannabis or one of those fancy original hitachi wands.)
The only thing I can think to say about this now that this post is a Damocles sword swaying over my head: I like the way her vulva/labia are the exact same color as his foreskin. There’s some extra magenta in that same area but mostly the rest of her skin is more orange and yellow while his skin is more orange and red.
Also, something I’ve noticed from the overlap between still photography and cinematography is that the way things are arranged in an image suggests something about a relationship with time. If a character walks from left to right across a frame, this usually relates to a passage of time from the present into the future. (With some exceptions in Japanese film–and they are less exceptions than complications) The tendency is movement from right to left in a frame suggests either a movement back in time or a restatement, clarification or some sort of nostalgia.
The balance of suggested motion in this–regardless of what is transpiring (probably a creampie, knowing porn)–is right to left; which contributes a contemplative cast to the image. At least to me–in my current state of nanobots raised by weasels sloshing around in my sinuses.