Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Disgusting, {warning: nude photos in this post}

I believe, is in the eye of the beholder.

I remember recently reading someone’s* profile on Flickr and seeing an explicit warning stating that they wished not to see or be associated with porn or erotic photos. This person went on to say that such things are not art, that they are sick and disgusting. While I have no qualms about someone stating their preferences in this way, I find that I am struck by this apparent hard line about nudity and sexuality being disgusting, regardless of context. (*I don’t wish to call this person out, which is why I chose not to identify them, but to only explore my own reactions to their statements.)

I agree that much of the porn that exists is quite disturbing and degrading to the people who’s images are used. Not only is it disturbing, it can possibly be destructive in a very real way, as speech (in the form of images) can be so closely associated with action as to think of them as one in the same. {The Problem of Pornography: Regulation and the Right to Free Speech by Susan M. Easton} .

But I would contend that Nudes   Porn. The question as to whether a particular image should be deemed porn/disgusting or art is either a very personal one or, for the sake of public policy, one that is best left up to those social philosophers more steeped in the issue than I.

Reality Man 2

  On the Trail by Andrew Kaiser © 2009 All rights reserved

As for my personal opinion (really the only thing I’m qualified to express), the human body is quite an interesting topic for visual arts, particularly photography.  The languid transition between peaks and valleys; textured flesh upon mounds of muscle and fat; the harmonious rhythms of circulation, decomposition, creation; the evocation of the senses, of the emotions recorded literally in the cells of our flesh; the social, political, cultural, gender, issues that are challenged or explored .. all of this is deeply fascinating to me.

In the right hands I believe the human form can be displayed as art. Usually that art is heavily laden with eroticism and sexuality and still a valid form of artistic expression, as sexuality is such a large part of human existence (for functional as well as recreational reasons). But, I have often wondered if I would ever see a representation of the nude adult human form that did not contain some subtle reference to sex. It seemed to me there was always some tension there, some hint of desire, or shame, or vulnerability, or seduction. Perhaps, I reasoned, sex is in the eye of the beholder too. Maybe it is me that is infusing the sexuality, even in the most subtle forms, into the photos I see.

    Reality Man 1

 Leaf by Andrew Kaiser, © 2008 All rights reserved

If it’s not just me, maybe it is because by the time we are adults we are so far away from our natural selves, so molded by social norms, religious edicts, context, even fear. In contrast, as children, we exude freedom and comfort in the nude. Is that a social construct, because as children we don’t yet know of the physical world of adult love? Or, is it  a physiological absence of the hormones that begins at puberty and bring us closer to understanding our bodies’ pleasurable potentials?

Poking around flickr, for quite a while,  I was amazed to finally find some nude photos that seemed to be devoid of sexuality (see the two photos above). Instead they seem to be photographs, of people, immersed in the natural world, in their most natural form (sans clothes). I have to say that I was quite amazed and just dazzled to find them. It cannot be easy, for model or photographer, to pull this off.

M. Richard Kirstel

Pas de Deux by M.Richard Kirstel © 2009 All rights reserved

And, of course, I did find those nude photos that oozed sexuality. In the right hands, I’m finding that these photos too can be so beautiful. For so long the visual representation of physical love has been tainted as lurid and sick. The work I have been finding on flickr, depicting sexuality and blatant sexual intercourse, have stunned me with their beauty, with their graceful treatment of the subject matter, with their humanizing of sensuality. I am simply in awe of both the artistic minds behind these photos and the brave souls willing to bare all for their achievement.

I don’t know how to define what is porn and what is art, what is artistically and anthropologically motivated photography and what is exploitation. But I think I have to draw the line just before saying that nudity is disgusting, before even saying all eroticism or porn, or any type of visual around (consenting adult) sexuality is offensive. It makes no sense to me to shun, to demonize, the most natural human experience as it is expressed, experienced, explored in visual mediums.

What do you think?

*** None of the photos in this post are mine. Each one was taken by the artist indicated below the photo and both artists were contacted prior to writing and publishing this post. Both men were very accommodating and I thank them for that.***

Other photographers found on Flickr who shoot beautiful nudes (or near nudes):

mauro brancorsini | welcome, ghosts

bubs1223 | enigmajanitor

Andsnemesis | revolver360

Ger Ger | 0strakizm

bizcarlito | Mao Lens

tanguero | Margo Ovcharenko

Serendipity came across | sandersnyc 

Ethereal by Maximilian | Pascal Renoux


amanda said...

As an artist, I truly appreciate your post on this issue! And great selection of photos!

kendalee said...

Thought-provoking post Rachel (as your posts often are). Like you, I have no problem with people stating their preferences, and there's no doubt that there are certain things I find quite disturbing (even disgusting, although this is an extremely strong term for me) but I think that believing any nudity and sexuality in visual form = porn is like saying plants = poisonous. It's so scary to me that people can be this narrow-minded. Often the same people (in my own experience) who have no problem with violence graphically depicted (in a movie, for example) but will freak out at a hint of flesh or sexuality being shown. Nudity, sex and sexuality can be beautifully portrayed, or not, just as some plants are poisonous, although most are not.

I find the examples you've chosen here and many over on flickr very beautiful.