Source unknown – Title unknown (200X)

Make no mistake, from the standpoint of technique this image is inexcusably inept as far as execution goes–there’s neither rhyme nor reason to the composition (the slight leftward cant in combination with the proximity of the camera to the wall distracts from the action by emphasizing the visual clutter of the curtains, TV and radiator) and the focus is most likely set to infinity and as such the foreground goes a bit too soft.

For all its fumbling, the image does succeed–if I you can call it that–in several small but notable ways:

  1. It’s firmly grounded in an ephemeral moment, i.e. this couple in this room with a view of the winter landscape through the windows;
  2. Despite the idiocy of the composition, there is a sense of acknowledged and subsequently subverted voyeurism, i.e. it feels less like the couple is photographing themselves and more as if there a several other people in the room watching the events unfold and this image just happened to be snapped by the person closest to the action;
  3. The couple is clearly more interested in what’s happening between them than the fact that they have an audience, i.e. her focus on how the movements of her hand are affecting his arousal, the way he’s touching her shoulder in a manner that is both romantically possessive and simultaneously a plea not to stop what she’s doing to him. (Also, you gotta love the way his ass is clenched and the sloppy grins on both their faces.)

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.

Chip WillisKelsey Dylan (2014)

I’m having one of those aha moments where the incandescent bulb over my head flickers, falters and then begins to glow bright.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, if you participate in the Tumblr art nude/erotic image community, then you know who the fuck Chip Willis is. The list of model with whom he has collaborated might as well be the Tumblr model A-list.

Honestly though, I’ve always felt meh-ish at best about his work. I mean, don’t get me wrong: it’s quality; it just hasn’t ever really moved me.

This image connects somehow. And I think it has to do with the fact that it features Kelsey Dylan.

The first image I ever saw of hers was the incredible Polaroid diptych by rabbits. This is one of those times where my thoughts don’t align all that well with language. But the aforementioned photos resonate with an unnerving curation of representational identity–looking at them my body has this strange psuedo-synesthetic response where I physically itch in a way that is half mosquito bite, half throbbing erogenous arousal. It’s an experience that bypasses critical/conceptual academnification via an impossible, coup de grace killshot, the bullet lodging in the liminal space between the thinking mind and the feeling brain.

It’s not just the Polaroid diptych, the majority of Dylan’s work seems to have a similar effect on me.

Therein lays the bait. But by the time I’ve realized it, the hook is set–or more accurate Willis’ image becomes something of a labyrinth I must now learn to navigate because I have found myself unexpectedly at its center.

If you know you’re in a maze, you just pick either the wall to your left or right and you as long as you follow that wall without deviation, you will eventually find your way out.

This image provides two clues as to how it is to be interpreted–and looking back over Willis’ work, these seem to hold true throughout:

  1. The image maker is aware of the voyeuristic slant the content contributes to the image,
  2. The image represents an effort to sublimate tropes and tableaux customarily relegated to the realm of pornography by employing methods associated with Art practice.

I suspect Mr. Willis would probably object to the second point. He might contend that he’s interested in presenting a narrative. But as with every image maker who uses an image’s potential to convey a story, the truth is: indubitably narrative images tend to be the exception not the rule.

What possible narrative could this image entail? What reason is there for such a pose? Is Dylan being fucked by the light pouring in through the open window? Hardly.

The futon is positioned with more a mind to mise en scene than interior design and the framing of the doorway imposes a sense of voyeurism on the proceedings. That it is a wide shot–presenting a more or less complete context–shifts it away from its pornographic trappings and towards a mediation on representation of physical identity, sexuality and objectification.

This post is guest curated by azura09:

Although you can find a video of a pretty girl with a strap-on almost anywhere, it’s rarer to see an an exhibitionist/voyeur scene where all the participants are female. In spite of my issues with the beauty ideals on display here, I’m attracted to this .gif because I have a good idea where I would fit into this scenario. And it’s not always a place I’ve felt comfortable occupying. 

I remember not having better words than “I’d like to be be beaten up a little” to describe the need to come out of sex slightly worse for wear. Even at the time, I knew this was straightforward desire, not a confession that I wanted to be splayed out and at someone’s mercy on a regular basis.
 
But what I didn’t know was that declaring these desires was a step toward feeling comfortable shaping someone else’s. And this .gif appeals to me because, while I’m not much of an exhibitionist, I wouldn’t mind showing my partner off in a scene like this, pushing them down on a hard surface while acquaintances in party dresses watched from a distance I negotiated beforehand.

I am not just an analog purist when it comes to photography: take your Nook/Kindle/iPad and shove it up your ass sideways.

Give my hand the solid heft of a book, smooth texture of cover and spine against my skin as it spreads open, beckons my gaze, waits for fumbling fingers and claims my mind so completely for a time.

And the smell…

So, in summary:   

1. Books are hell of sexy as fuck.
2.This had me from lesbian foreplay in a bookstore.

Being a book loving nerd makes me no stranger to bookstores. But I have an affinity for them I don’t know how to explain except to admit that books very nearly jump off the shelves and latch onto me. (Also, I want to visit the Ryōan-ji Temple one day and when I imagine what it will be like it always feels the calm, timelessness that I almost always fee in bookstores.)

But there’s also Fowles’ The Magus and Franzen’s The Corrections framing the head of the young woman whose undergarments are being removed—both of which I have read and enjoyed to varying degrees. (Leave the Franzen. Take the Fowler.)

These tiny points of familiarity engage me with the tableau.

Right off, I notice the woman being undressed is not entirely comfortable with transgression of personal boundaries but remains nonetheless consenting.

This resonates deeply with me. See: I am borderline autistic and as a result have zero ability to negotiate expectations others have for/of me. As best as I can tell this is a result of my inability to understand inconsistencies in the personal boundaries of others.

A tact I have learned for managing this is to assume everyone I meet has the most highly restrictive personal boundaries I can imagine until I discover some evidence to the contrary.

This has the benefit of preventing many otherwise unnecessary misunderstandings with strangers and acquaintances. But it causes problems as I only know where I stand with them when they tell me. And in relationships such a prerequisite is not exactly desirable.

The only thing that works is the rare person who enjoys pushing personal boundaries and is completely unprepared for someone who almost completely lacks them.

All that is to say: I would give anything to trade places with the woman and have my friends who I trusted completely begin to undress me daring me to stop them. Knowing they would if I asked and knowing that I would not.