Melonie Foster HennessyThe Creation of Eve (2016)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the letter of the law vs the spirit in which it was given.

For example: this is clearly a v. clever end run around The ‘Gram’s policy regarding what is acceptable to post in terms of nudity or sexually explicit imagery.

There’s the school of thought that artists who address issues relating to bodies or sexuality, should know the rules governing acceptable content inside and out–whether to steer clear of them entirely or use them as cover for challenging their existence.

It’s less the fault of this dichotomy than the rules themselves but it needs to be made more apparent that that such rules really do encourage the conflation of naked bodies and sexuality under the rubric that both are pornographic. (Which is rhetorically a means of extract the age old argument of where pornography–distasteful, but protected on the grounds of free speech vs obscenity and then reapplying the same animated principle to questions of what an image can or can’t show before being relegated to the same category as pornography.)

Now: one of my most prevailing personal preoccupations is the intersections of art and pornography. And I think images like the above manage to interrogate interesting notions. For example, the photographer her is a woman. So while I am generally one of those blogs that really doesn’t especially care for images where the image maker presents themselves as touching the model. (Grammatically, this isn’t so strong suggested here due to the hand entering from frame left as opposed to the lower frame–which relates instinctively with the notion of the fourth wall.)

But it’s also interesting that this is a woman who is choosing to present this vantage. (In combination with the title, there’s a lot to unpack–and I encourage you to spend some time with those thoughts, but I have a different agenda…)

In a way, I think this is actually more sexually suggestive by implication than something that embraces obscenity as a means of decrying the rules of what is and what is not acceptable. Or, the better way to put it might be to say: knowing the rules well enough to break them is an act of transgression–an act of transgression which bestows on the work a transgressive punctum. Whereas work that embraces a level of obscenity never considers the rules as such as an sort of genesis point and instead makes the work in an image of unmediated vision.

I think both can have credible art-ness but I think it likely unnecessarily complicates things in more cases than not.

Jana Brikefirst love on the edge of a deep dark forest from Anatomy of Innoncence series (2015)

This is not Brike’s best painting but it resonates with me more intensely than the rest.

In overview, Brike’s is a painter. Her work features pubescent characters with oversized heads–presumably to draw even more attention to her grasp for conveying uncanny nuance of expression.

The duality of innocence and curiosity is her conceptual prima materia. Her scenes often play out in or near bodies of water–i.e. Two Wound Angels on the Beach and Goldilock’s Holiday.

She trades in a number of thinly veiled tropes–masturbation (Gardener and the Centre of the Universe), sensuality (goodbye, Eden, Snow White and when I kissed the teacher), lesbian experimentation (anatomy lesson) and tangentially the girl-girl solidarity that is at once not sisterly, platonic or romantic but is simultaneously each of those things all at once (holiday at grandma’s place).

It’s also worth noting that while she’s always preoccupied with the first flush of physical lust, the occasionally presents it in very concrete ways. There’s an honesty to the diptych little miss sweetheart/gardener’s son that is the most concrete and unassuming depictions of nascent paraphilia this side of the girl with chapped lips from Tarkovsky’s Mirror.

A lot of her work appeals to me for these reasons. But the image I’ve chosen to post here does two things better than I think all the rest of her work combined. Too often, female sexuality potential is painted as an incitement for male sexual arousal. It’s a very heteropatriarchial framework.

This portrays something that is different. A wanting that is both a giving and a taking. The blush on her face and the demure way she is leaning in slightly while waiting for it to happen conveys a desire for what is happening to transpire but also presenting it as a choice that is completely lost on the shy but eager boy. There’s a sense of knowing there will be a debt entered into the ledger that will come due in time.

I don’t think it’s just my gender stuff; I think the audience is supposed to empathize with the young woman here. (My gender stuff just makes it more resonant for me because I have a thing where I want my lovers to see me completely, unhidden, naked and vulnerable while they are still safe and clothed.

I don’t know if it’s that I want them to have a chance to know what they’re getting into so that they can walk away if they want. So much that I know any dalliances with me are things I’ve been taught over time to accept cost far more than anyone really deems worth it.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

When an image is founded upon a solid idea, it’ll with stand a great deal in the way of poor execution without losing efficacy.

This is total #skinnyframebullshit and the production design was clearly meant to be Botticelli-esque but ends up looking half-assed. Further, even though equipment limitations probably resulted in both boys being decapitated by the frame and I’m guessing preserving anonymity was important, lopping off their heads is just ugly.

What I like is the intimacy of it even though it is very much in public. But what really flows like an electrical current through this image is the way they are both almost grasping each other. :::shivers:::

Lux Aeterna Girl – Untitled (2014)

(I’m not 100% on the source for this. The original post appears to be a now defunct Tumblr named luxaeternagirl; thus I have credited it as such. If that’s incorrect, please let me know and I will edit the attribution.)

This isn’t a good image–not even close. The camera is off-center a foot and panned right about 15 degrees to attempt to compensate. I understand that after cars, bathrooms are some of the most difficult places to shoot due to them almost always being small and cramped but the two shadows in the upper left and right alone with the angle of the tub edge in the lower right corner is really effing distracting.

What I will say is that given what is probably a single incandescent overhead fixture, the skin tone here is very much on point. It has that natural peach tonality that you get from remembering the rule of thumb w/r/t skin tone: Red > Blue > Green.

The rendering of the skin is super important here–by getting it right, it makes the fact that both participants skin is flushed red more discernible. The edge of the left partner is obvious along the outside of the ears; while the partner on the right has reddening ears, faces and neck. It might almost be sunburn but with the pale complexion in tandem with body language, it seems more likely that she’s just extremely aroused.

And that is what distinguishes these images: chemistry. There is no questioning the primacy of their physical desire for one another. The partner on the right in the top image is doing the hesitant if-I-so-much-as-feel-your-skin-I-will-lose-any-trace-of-self-control; the way the partner on the left is leaning in, in an effort to draw the other out. The response in the second image doesn’t give in so much as beg for defenses to be laid to waste, to earn the victory by no other means except total surrender.

To me–chemistry like this is what is missing from 95% of erotic work. And it’s a shame, really… because were effort expended on facilitating it–less artful work (much like this) would shine in spite of it’s technical shortcomings because it would present a record of physical desire it would also simultaneously illustrate something true about the psychology of physical desire.

Paula AparicioUntitled (2014)

If there is a single, salient aspect to Aparicio’s work it’s likely the way her photos exude a feeling of post-coital tension between “the waning of ecstatic satiation and the waxing hunger of wanting more.

This tendency is well suited to her style; but, it’s especially noticeable in the way she photographs women.

I’ve lobbed a couple of shots over the bow of the Good Ship Female Gaze previously–namely with regard to Masha Demianova’s claim her work cultivates an equal and opposite response to Berger’s seminal male gaze as presented in Ways of Seeing.

And although I am doubtful, Aparicio would ever invoke the term female gaze to explain her own work, it would almost certainly be more functional applied to her work than anywhere else I’ve witnesses its deployment.

Upon what grounds to a base such an assertion? I am (unfortunately and much to my eternal chagrin) male bodied; therefore what the fuck can I possibly know about a female gaze?

Well, if there is such a thing as the female gaze–unlike the historical male gaze–it’s almost certainly the opposite of monolithic.

I know that growing up seen by others as ostensibly masculine, my experience of attraction, gender identity and sexual desire almost never lined up with my peers.

And I do realize it’s a dangerous assumption to take the braggadocio of hormonal male children as fact based, but I do know that while far ahead of puberty I shared an almost clinical fascination with sexual intercourse and that this fascination was age appropriate within my peer group, it remained a complete abstraction.

Let me try to unpack that a bit more–I feel a very profound need to articulate this correctly. We’d talked about sex, spent hours imagining the mechanics of it and my friends all tended to extend that imagining by connecting it to their sexual response. There was no separation in the expression of attraction and their sexual desire.

What I thought was attraction was actually a need to be understood. The people who listened to me, supported me and shared glimpses of their inner lives were always the people to whom I found myself drawn.

I remember the first time I ever experienced an attraction that linked up with my sexual desire. It was ninth grade. Her name was Michelle. She was my best friend and she’d had a growth spurt over the summer between junior high and high school. She didn’t really notice and I think her family was struggling to make ends meet with private school tuition, so she kept wearing the same clothes she had the previous year. Her favorite pair of pants were these white khakis. They’d been a bit on the tight side the previous year but now they might as well have been skin tight.

I remember walking behind her to class and noticing the visible lines caused by her underwear. I looked away, immediately. Partly because, I felt like I was violating her privacy but also because I found myself stunningly aroused. But my thoughts didn’t proceed from there to a litany of sexual things I’d like to enact with her. Instead, it orbited the notion of wandering if she felt toward me the way I felt towards her in that moment. The thought that there might be a possibility she did was the fantasy I brought myself to orgasm with again and again throughout high school. (Spoiler alert: she didn’t.)

I am hardly so daft as to suggest that what makes me think the notion of a female gaze applies to Aparicio’s work is because I experienced attraction in an unusual fashion. It’s more that the memory of the feeling resonates very strongly with something in her images.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I really, really wish I knew where this is from because it is quite possibly perfect.

Let’s start with the color: the walls are an eggshell that go white in the daylight key lighting, peachy in the spill splashed behind his left hand and hazes towards blue gray as it nears the edges of the frame. His pants and her skirt (?) are black; her top is white and his top is grey. These muted colors punch up the skin tone rendering a spectacular range in both parties skin tone.

That alone would be enough to make me swoon but there’s more: the way his shoulders are cantilevered against the wall as she pulls his center towards her is almost certainly a visual rhyme with one of the most exquisite studies of figuration motion in the western art historical canon–Bernini’s Daphne and Apollo.

Source: Unknown

This is not an objectively ‘good’ image. Overexposure leaches color from an already truncated palate; while the framing–presumably orchestrated to preserve anonymity is painfully awkward. (Scooting the camera back as little as two inches and squaring the level would have done wonders.)

Still to my eye there is something magical here–although I am not entirely sure how to explain my meaning.

It seems–in my head, at least–more of a still from an amateur sex tape than a discrete image; I keep imagining how things will proceed from here.

Not knowing the source, it seems inappropriate to project my own sexual predilections onto an image that has fuck all to do with me, instead of reading and interpreting things at face value.

Here’s somethings things that grab my attention:

  • Both are smiling in playfully curious/knowingly smirking way,
  • He is laid out, open and on display while she is more curled into herself,
  • His pubic hair is carefully trimmed,
  • Her red lacquered nails draw attention to the slightest bit of motion blur, suggesting teasing strokes,
  • Her hair is a mess, having what could be a either bed head or post-coital, shower wet hair that has dried unevenly over the course or further lovemaking sessions,
  • And, she’s wearing what may well be a wedding ring.

All of it taken together suggests to me the crucial distinction between the taking of pleasure and the receipt of it. One is a central tenet, the prerogative of patriarchy; the other: demands a willingness to surrender, to become vulnerable, to let go and in letting go, letting another.