Pornography and Photography

by bjmuirhead

When I was 15 years old and a very junior clerk in the Queensland government, I saw my first pornography. I admit that it put me off pornography for years, and disgusted me. It was something about the horses, and the slings…

Clearly, bestiality is not the best pornography to see for the first time. It rather put me off women and sex for a few years, so I remained a virgin until 17. (You have to laugh at that.)

Of course I have seen more since then, of a much more pedestrian nature, and have enjoyed it or not enjoyed it as I felt at the time. What I don’t understand, however, is the general community reaction to photography of the nude, and how even the most innocent photos can be labelled pornography. Here’s a photo I took back in the 1980s (I think) which was labelled pornography by quite a few ‘friends’ at the time.

Untitled nude

I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why this was labelled pornography. Only a fundamentalist, anti-everything erotic imagination can see this as pornography. The model (who remained in knickers and panty-hose the entire session) and her boyfriend certainly didn’t think it was pornographic.

Of course in the 80s the feminist furore of Andrea Dworkin and MacKinnon and the left-overs of other ‘theorists’ such as Susan Griffiths held that any male looking at any woman was automatically negative, evil, pornographic, a prelude to rape and suppression of the worst variety. By definition, these women believed (or at least pretended to believe) that the only looking was male looking. Of course, lesbian feminism made it (theoretically) acceptable for women to look, but not men. The fact that women look at men in much the same way that men look at women was theoretically unacceptable because it weakened the extremist feminist viewpoint—a viewpoint which some continue to argue for.

But if we step away from this type of theory, we have to ask ourselves: what is the real issue? Furthermore: is it really ‘immoral’ or ‘evil’ for a man (or a woman) to look at a woman and find her (or him) attractive and desirable? (mutatis mutandis for homosexually or bisexually inclined people.)

Clearly I believe that it is not immoral or evil. But more importantly:

When I photograph a naked woman (or man) I am not thinking of sex, nor am I thinking sexually, nor am I desiring sex, nor am I…

Others, if they wish, may think of all of these things when they look at my photographs, but that isn’t what lies behind the urge to take the shots. In fact, I am not sure I really can describe just what it is that I am attempting to achieve. Whatever it is, it certainly is not the type of thing that other photographers aim for. Yes, of course there are some who aim to produce sexy photographs of women and men, and although I find most of these shallow and not worthy of a great deal of attention, I don’t believe they should be stopped or ridiculed or moralised against.

In fact, I admit that I would like to take a series of people engaged in sex. I have had, for years now, the sneaky belief that you could take some beautiful shots of the sex act. Maybe they would be pornography, maybe they would just be art. Whatever, I am sure they would invite condemnation.

Somewhere, there is a person who condemns photographs of flowers, I am sure…

The human ability to engage in intellectual and emotional perversity knows no bounds…