Dear Friend and Reader:
Yesterday after distributing Planet Waves, I received a comment from a reader in the UK who felt that the photo of the woman in a blue dress, holding the neck-wrap of that dress, was “a classic example of misogyny disguised as art or ‘erotica’.”
I put the question to some of my friends and colleagues, to get their feedback. I only asked for the opinions of women. As you read, remember that art or images can be critiqued from a common sense perspective, and also from a historically grounded one. There are many theoretical lenses through which an image can be viewed, and as many have noted, we cannot always critique accurately the things we see in the world around us because we are too close to the symbol to understand it or see it objectively.
Here is the original comment, followed by the responses I received. I would love to hear your comments. Here is the photo in its original context. The caption above explains a little more of how I selected and used the image. In rereading the original comment, I would note that it is not a closeup of her throat; her throat is not even depicted, the subject is the knot; and her throat is not even depicted; her sternum is, in the background.
Dear Planet Waves:
I’ve just received a communication form you which included an image from ‘Book of Blue’. It is a close up of woman’s throat wearing a scarf with a knot in it. The scarf is positioned at an angle which is suggestive of imminent strangulation.
This is a classic example of misogyny disguised as art or ‘erotica’.
Please don’t send me any more sick images.
(– Female reader in the UK)
Danielle Voirin, longtime photographer and editor for Planet Waves
well, she’s right, it does suggest “imminent strangulation” and i would ask you what your intention was when you took it. is she a victim of fashion? what does that blue fabric represent?В we feel very much that she will soon be dead.В the light adds to this, we think she is in a dark room with some light coming through a small window. what does that knot mean to you?
Later comment: “hmm, now that i know she was holding the fabric i can’t look as objectively, but i think with the content it would be viewed as self-inflictedВ strangulation.”
Dani asked my intention taking the photo, and I replied:
“She was playing with the neck wrap on her dress; which is attached to her dress. She’s jittery and fidgety and could not sit still or take instructions or breathe. So I was just photographing her whatever she was doing. More intent went into selecting the photo, which suggested a juggernaut/knot of lacking self esteem that is choking us. I liked the image because the knot seemed loose. Like you could get out of it.”
Neisha Hirsch, Book of Blue collaborator, Planet Waves marketing assistant, empath
I think this photo is more a statement on frustration than strangulation…I wonder why this touched such a chord in this woman…
Christine Farber, clinical psychologist
Of course context matters. In the human world, context always matters, I think.
Plus, weвЂ™re talking about an image, about art, which is inherently ambiguous. Her interpretation is certainly valid for her, and itвЂ™s a bit like responding to a Rorschach card. Ideally, individuals can stand by their perceptions, and hold open that itвЂ™s one of many. Her comment reflects something about her context. A less reactive and more responsive comment may have been to engage you in conversation about this.I loved the image as soon as I saw it — I didnвЂ™t go to the place of what does this mean, but rather, what do I feel? It made me feel powerful.
Out of curiosity, what were you thinking when you choose to use this one where you did?
From James Hillman on Henry Corbin, in reference to the archetypal or imaginal world: вЂњIt is a distinct field of imaginal realities requiring methods and perceptual faculties different from the spiritual world beyond it or the empirical world of usual sense perception and naГЇve formulation.вЂќ
Kelly Cowan, artist, photographer
Ok Eric, here is where you need to be receptive to stepping out of your context and your comfort zone,В Given the context she is working from, she has a point.В Her approach I am not crazy about.В В Remember, my series was an attempt to reclaim the language of the female image for exactly this reason. Images that shouldn’t be so charged are emotional charged because of their social content and their historical weight.
And in a second email:
The framework existed before I was born.В It was created by men for all kinds of reasons, but mostly it feed their desires.В The best analogy, I can come up with to shed some understanding on this is to think about the actions of the Catholic church.В They co-opted so many pagan rituals and images for their own purposes.В Suddenly images that had one meaning, now had another.В It doesn’t matter if you or I identify with the original image and meaning, we are forced to deal with the intentions and the new meanings as the church has power.В The images have power and they know it.В We can reject it but that doesnвЂ™t change it.
I would caution you to be careful regarding the intentions of models.В Often they are the very ones who have unconsciously internalize the codes and values of the mainstream as they are rewarded for just that.
Chelsea Bottinelli, Planet Waves business manager, feminist, mom
I donвЂ™t know E, I thought it was pretty cool. ItвЂ™s blue, the same color as your throat chakra, and that chakra is about communication and self-expression…with the knot right there, it could be about that part of oneвЂ™s self being tied up…and itвЂ™s certainly connected to self-esteem. Perfect for todayвЂ™s essay in my opinion.
Mia Feroleto, photography curator
I liked it. You are the strongest photographer on PW. I have been sent some wonderful work lately. I still think PW should have an art gallery.
Kristen Bentz, Book of Blue collaborator, editor of cumout.org
Misogyny takes many forms, and erotica takes many forms.В And, people have been trying to answer the question, вЂњwhat is art?вЂќ for a very long time to no further clarity.
Clearly, this individual had a strong reaction to the image, and that should be honored. I wouldnвЂ™t send her a link to www.chokedchicks.com under any circumstance.
As with all things, I believe it comes down to the вЂ?intentвЂ™.В Hypoxia does indeed heighten orgasm, any honest woman who holds her breath as she tries to push out an orgasm must admit this, eventually.
Dr. Betty Dodson, author, artist, feminist pioneer
If a scarf’s angle around a woman’s neck represent misogyny, I’d say this woman has an unhealthy fixation/fascination of being strangled. Her vivid imagination would be better placed into some creative endeavor instead of complaining about the photos you take. Really!!!!