Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Wrong Tool for the Job

I have in the past railed against the fact that the go-to "tool" in the world of photography for empowering women is to go take a hell of a lot of naked pictures of women. There's another thing, of which I can find at least two instances, which is to photograph women having orgasms as a way of empowering them.

Here's the latest incarnation to cross my field of vision, but we also have Hysterical Literature, a series of videos along more or less the same lines (although these are hilarious, because the women are attempting to read). A quick google search, with a vigorous sifting out of porn, shows that this has been going on for a while. Someone comes along and "shatters this taboo" pretty regularly, and usually does it in the name of empowerment or something.

Using an essentially exploitative medium like photography to empower someone is a little like trying to cure alcoholism with heavy drinking. When you take a picture of someone, you're taking something from them, not giving them anything. While the orgasm photos are not as egregious as the nudes, they're still essentially voyeuristic, prurient. Now, full disclosure, I kinda like them. They're titillating, funny, engaging, interesting. What they are not is empowering. Nobody is giving that woman's sexuality back to her. Arguably we're not taking it from her, either, but by God we're trying.

This isn't just about sex. If you want to give someone power, photographing them just isn't a good way to do it. Photographing homeless people to "empower" them or "help" them is widely recognized as a bankrupt philosophy, but somehow you can trot out the same line of garbage for your weak-sauce porn, and people will still gobble it up.

If you want to give someone power through photography, hand them the camera.


  1. I know it would have been difficult for the photographer to give up control over when the photos were taken, but I think the project you linked to would have been better served if the women been given a remote and allowed to take their photos themselves.

  2. Yep!

    Photography is about control, isn't it? Not that other art isn't, of course, and we can argue about the details, but in the end the photographer is usually In Charge.

    How can you empower someone by controlling them?

  3. I like to think that quite a lot of arty photography involving people is about collaboration, so that it becomes moot as to who, if anyone, is In Charge.

    1. I am SO confused:

      "...if you want to make portraits for an art context, there can be no collaboration when the portrait is made..."
      Jörg Colberg

    2. Well, Chris, I speak from my own experience. I don't know if Colberg has taken any portraits. And in any case, he is just plain wrong. I thought we had agreed on this last time!

    3. Hi there Ericke - sorry, I was being totally silly with that comment!
      My reaction to Colberg's statement, if I read/understand it correctly is that in fact, I am totally confused. By that I mean how can I take him seriously about anything he says about photography after that preposterous statement?