Harley WeirKlara Kristin for Calvin Klein (2016)

Unless you reside under a rock, you’ve heard of the furor surrounding this image.

I’m normally the last person to defend haute couture edgy ad excess but in this case, I’m more than a little befuddled by the mass concern fapping fit this is causing.

While I’m not exactly a Harley Weir fan, per se, I have warmed to her work over the last few years and I know unequivocally that she’s no slouch when it comes to conceptual acumen.

There’s always going to be an ultra fine line between ‘edgy’ and ‘exploitative’. As a form, the so-called upskirt image is enormously problematic as it usually involves a complete lack of respect for consent.

There are those who will argue that this image makes a mockery of all the efforts and activism to shine a light on the problems women face because of persistent and pervasive street harassment. Honestly, I think that response is actually thoroughly lazy and intellectually disingenuous.

Yes, this resembles any of thousands of upskirt images. But there are some notable differences. The association with upskirt is implict–the viewer will make that leap independent of the image. But consider all the ways this image is different than standard upskirt fare.

Let’s ignore the text for the time being. The subject in this frame is standing with her legs apart, leaning forward slightly and making eye contact with the camera. Unlike surreptitious upskirt shots, the subject is aware, consenting to and participating in the production of the image–I mean there’s no way during an ordinary day that she’d stand like this, the reason she’s standing like this here is to straddle the image maker and her camera.

In case there was any doubt, there’s added text to make sure no one gets the wrong idea–I flash in #mycalvins. Note: that the implicit assumption inherent in the form is that this is an upskirt image; thus the subject is passive and unaware. That’s not the case here. But to obliterate any sort of ambiguity, the assumption is turned on its head by making the subject active in the exchange–it’s not upskirt, it’s flashing.

Next, the objection that the subject’s haircut is intended to make her look pubescent is countered by text identifying the model as Klara Kristin–who is 23, a grown ass women by any known metric. Further, she appeared in my sworn mortal enemy Gaspar Noé‘s latest ‘cinematic’ shit show Love (where Kristin engages in explicitly graphic unsimulated sexual intercourse on screen).

Lastly, the objections that it unnecessarily sexualizes her is actually aggressively countered by the actual grammar of the picture. Yes, we can see up Kristin’s skirt but she’s also aware of and there’s reason to believe that she’s consented to this sort of picture being taken even without the text. But the most stunning oversight of all is that yes, while her underwear is ostensibly the focus of the image, note that the point of sharpest focus is actually her face–and that runs counter, from the standpoint of visual grammar, to any of the knee-jerk objections that get tossed towards this work.

However, what’s most telling for me is Weir’s response.

So I think it’s stupid and slut-shame-y and dumb to argue that men are going to see this and it’s going to fuel more aggressive harassment. It’s like arguing that it’s not rape culture which fuels sexual assault, it’s clearly got to be porn that inspires men to rape. And sorry, but I’m done with that bullshit, specious, critically weak tea noise.

Verbose – Upskirt on Road (2013)

Upskirt as a motif in porn makes me wary. There are so many scumbags with zero concern for basic consent who surreptitiously film women: submariners, Bostonian and this guy in Kobe, Japan.

At the same time, the women I’ve dated have although categorically being only loosely pro-porn, they have all been super into material featuring upskirt shots as a ‘plot’ point. (I’ll never forget the day my ex I and I watched a video with a women hiding under an open stairway in a shitty desert motel to try to peek up women’s skirts while she masturbated. (Of course, this led to another woman catching her.

I won’t argue that it wasn’t a hot clip. I was very into it–if only the actresses seemed really into each other.

Yet, I do think that ETHICAL upskirt is probably a sorely under explored vein of erotic photography.

For example this picture isn’t bad–it’s not compositionally excellent but it’s roughly balanced. Her not looking at the camera and instead futzing about with her shoe–distract from the contrivance of the framing. She isn’t positioned so the view up her skirt is dead center in the frame, either. There’s some subtlety operating. (Although given the composition, a wider frame would’ve be preferable to this narrow frame. I’m only not calling it #skinnyframebullshit because I have a strong sense that it was shot horizontally and subsequently cropped.)

Lina Scheyniusmariacarla (2008)

Remember how from the point you started to learn long division onward, your teachers were always admonishing you to show your work!?

Up to that point the right answer has been more than enough but increasingly how you arrived at the answer becomes just as if not more important.

Lina Scheynius–more than any other photographer I can think of–shows her work.

To illustrate what I mean let me draw your attention to this heart-warming story about Peyton Thomas and what happened when her mother took her to skateboard at a local skate park.

The eye which lights on the figures and compositions that Scheynius chooses demonstrates a curiosity–nervous and often fumbling but completely engaged. When she captures an image, Scheynius is surprisingly like the girl in this story–she wants to skate but the circumstances surrounding it and her lack of confidence are all obstacles.

As such her work often shows a almost careless whimsy with regards to composition. For example: the above image doesn’t logically break down into any sort of sensible geometric proof. It’s literally about the diagonal (top right to bottom left angle of the light, interplay between the pattern/color of the dress against the carpet. Like most of her work–the colors are muted and muddy in an effort to render light the central focus.

Further, to me it feels as if the instinct of the image maker is to present Mariacarla in context. Due to this instinct, the curtain fringe and whatever the dark object pushes in along the top, slightly right of center frame edge.

In the end, it’s these two likely circumstantial elements that unify the image. And here is where the eye that edits the resulting images is comparable to Ryan Carney in the story about the little girl and her skateboard. Lina as editor acknowledges the wonderment but applies a critical eye. The accidental embellishments serve as a means of rendering the wonder impetus the sparked the shutter triggering legible to a viewer.

There are scads of photographers whose work functions as a primer in how to read images. But Scheynius, in the way she reflexive makes photos inextricably tied up in her process, is trying to show us how to better see wonder in the world around us.

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.)

danish-principle:

foxphotoart

Fox Photo-ArtGlass Olive [from the Voyeurism Series] (2013)

Initially, I see the stone wall and sapling filtered, dappled light. All of it pulls up a step or two short of full blown flashback to strolling around Fort Tryon Park on a summer afternoon.

This feeling motivated me to look into Fox Photo-Art.

Le sigh. What is it with image makers bearing vulpine monikers and their privileged insistence upon producing self-important, creatively stunted dreck and deeming it ‘art’?

Usually, this attitude causes me to dismiss the work in totality; however, it somehow increases my appreciation of the above image even if there’s nothing especially inspired about it.

Yeah, the composition is solid: the angle of the ledge leads the eye to Glass Olive; her body is situated parallel to the focal plane so her legs can remain open toward the camera.

Unlike the more natural, obviously comfortable positioning of her legs, her upper body is rigidly posed in order to facilitate reflection of light from the bright white pages of Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion onto her face.

To my eye there’s a startlingly nuanced yet fraught conceptualization at work here: using Ms. Olive’s face to establish a counterpoint to the focus on her pubic area.

Glossing over the implications with regard to matters of heteronormative gaze and sexualization/objectification of female bodies, this strategy somewhat succeeds. Although, it should be pointed out this counterpoint unbalances the image; and only works due to the dimensionality contributed by the angle of Ms. Olive’s legs balanced against the essentially decorative negative space occupying the left third of the frame.

I am almost always appreciative of clever framing. But what fascinates me here is the degree to which the subject remains completely indifferent to being seen in spite of all the visual cues pointing to the precision with which the scene has been staged. The most obvious being that no matter how much you fidget, wiggle or kick, even given the audacity of sitting in such a way in a dress sans undergarments, dresses only fall like this as a result of being carefully arranged.

It’s like the Fox Photo-Art can’t decide whether he’s dealing in conventions of public nudity or upskirt shots.

Speaking of the latter: recently, I’ve seen some commendable efforts (like this) to recast an otherwise exploitative genre in a more consent-driven, body positive/sex positive manner.