July 27, 2012

Genital Photography: Can It Ever Be Considered Art?

“Art-porn“, “erotic bodyscapes”, “edgy art nude”. There are so many names for it, but in general it amounts to the same thing: close-ups, usually labial, featuring “arty” strawberries, “sensual“ flowers, “fun” Skittles, or god-forbid, the “edgy” tiny lego-men. Ubiquitous on DeviantArt and usually prompting a disbelieving headshake at something that seems at best porn and at worst extremely uncomfortable to look at.

Except that by chance, I came across some images that broke the mould. While I think that with the exception of those horrendous doctors’ stock pictures, genital photography almost always has to be considered erotic, I wondered if it could ever be seen as artistic too.

It’s a standing joke that you can take any photograph of a naked woman, convert it to black and white and call it art-nude, but there is a bit of truth there; taking the colour out of an image often prevents it from being garish. (Though that could still be achieved with muting the tones or converting the picture to sepia). Keeping an eye on the colour is definitely a good idea- let’s face it, whether we’re porcelain, ebony or any of the many shades in between, our bodies have parts that can look a bit scary and red (and even blue, depending on where your veins are) close up!
Still, black and white is a matter of colour balance, not the kiss of life for a bad picture! In my opinion, to give genital photography a chance at being viewed as artistic, there must be another quality about the image that draws the eye, besides its subject matter.

While searching for images to illustrate this piece with, I have now seen far more photographs of genitals than one person ever needs to see (!) As a nude model, I am unfazed by nakedness, but I still found that being confronted with a large screen-filling technicolour penis before I’ve had a coffee is a bit jarring! Certainly in this woman’s opinion, if it is immediately obvious what the subject matter is, then the brain registers little other than the fact that the photograph is explicit. There are so many textures and lines in the "down below" areas that creating an image based around shape can be achieved in a multitude of ways- it just requires the photographer to use their imagination.

 Something else that I think can work well is juxtaposition (which is a great word that does not get used often enough!) Photographers and artists do it all the time- we’ve all seen the classic “woman’s body photographed from behind next to cello” picture, and I recently saw “woman’s hips next to pear”! Give the viewer another object to compare or contrast with (the first person to suggest a vegetable has to look through my photo research “reject pile”!) as it can not only add interest, but narrative as well.

Traditional artists have painted and drawn the genitals for a long time, and been called artists (look at certain Neolithic sculptures- and more recently, Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings)- but it’s a little easier to convince the public that the thing on the wall in front of them is indeed “art” when it‘s a historical artefact, or a depiction of some petals at first glance! With the medium of photography, it is far more of a challenge… but in my opinion, something that can be achieved providing  the challenge is accepted!


Image credits:
1) Turhi
2) Jemiro
3) Altering Reality
NB: The "images that broke the mould" are by Ekaterina Zakharova. As I have not received permission in writing to publish her images, I have linked to her profile above instead.