What does this photo say to you?

Photo of Alyssa for Book of Blue, used in Friday's article on self-esteem. Photo by Eric Francis.
Photo of Alyssa for Book of Blue, used in Friday's article on self-esteem. This version of the image shows the full frame, and I have brought up the shadows a little so you can see how her dress is constructed. I used the photo as it originally appeared, with the only editing being cropping it to a vertical image so that it worked better in the Planet Waves Astrology News format. Photo by Eric Francis.

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.

Eric Francis


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, we’re talking about an image, about art, which is inherently ambiguous. Her interpretation is certainly valid for her, and it’s a bit like responding to a Rorschach card. Ideally, individuals can stand by their perceptions, and hold open that it’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 didn’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: “It 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 naïve formulation.”


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 doesn’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 don’t know E, I thought it was pretty cool. It’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 one’s self being tied up…and it’s certainly connected to self-esteem. Perfect for today’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.  And, people have been trying to answer the question, “what is art?” 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 wouldn’t send her a link to www.chokedchicks.com under any circumstance.

As with all things, I believe it comes down to the �intent’.  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!!!!


55 thoughts on “What does this photo say to you?”

  1. Her head disappeared. The face was the place for me. It suggested a need to throw up. I guess that would go with release. It’s all about release lately with me.

    What is the “dark side”? What does that mean? I ask this question in earnest. I mean like do all individuals have this thing? I recently heard the term again, and am contemplating it. Is it like the manifestation of our fears? Or what?

    Any input?

  2. By email from Mike Marsh, husband of Book of Blue Collaborator Christine Marsh

    First let me introduce myself. I’m Christine’s (Boyer) husband
    Mike. I browse Planet Waves, and the Book of Blue occasionally and find
    many of your incites thought provoking. I’m often left pondering your
    entries and how the perspective you offer relates not only to how I see
    the world, but also how Chris and I interact. You often leave going
    What struck me recently was the reaction you got to posting the
    image of the young lady with the ties to her dress knotted near her
    neck. I admit that I am not your typical “male” when it comes to various
    popular cultural ideals of gender relations, but I honestly did not see
    an image of a woman being strangled, or abused in some way. The image,
    taken entirely out of the context of related images from the same shoot
    could be interpreted in many ways, by different people. The same is true
    of any image, or work of art, seen as a “snapshot”, not in its entirety.
    Hell, humans are notoriously good at pattern recognition. Its a primate
    thing. We will misinterpret something our mind wants to understand. Its
    how we work through the process of comprehension.
    When I first saw the image I saw a moment that could have been
    anything. To my male eyes, the ties were being pulled away from her
    body, as if to loosen the dress, and allow it to slide down away from
    her. The effect of the softened lighting highlighted this perception. I
    also thought it might have been taken after she had put the dress back
    on, twisting the ties to tighten the cloth to her frame. I had not
    considered it was a nervous fiddling. But I can see that in the image
    now that I know the truth.
    Going back to the pattern recognition concept for a second, one of
    the aspects of how this trait works is that when we are shy on
    information about an object, or an image, or some other data we’re
    trying to comprehend, our subconscious falls back on the paradigm in
    which we dwell. In other words, it relies on what we/ expec/t to know
    about the data based on previous experience. Or, more simply, our own
    bias interprets the thing for us. For me, I see either a possibility of
    nudity, or the removal of nudity. Some one else sees fiddling. Another
    sees abuse impending. Is this not the point of art?
    No artist can constrain the way an audience will react. Instead all
    he or she can do is create something that will garner as many seeds of
    reaction as possible.
    I believe the interpretation of the audience says more about their own
    paradigm then it does about the art itself. Certainly how one gender
    sees another and how each one reacts to various iconography in our
    culture will always spark debate. This is part of the dichotomy of a
    two gender species. What gets lost in all the debate, however is the
    biology behind the different perceptions/interpretations.
    I am male. Testosterone will dilute my view. A male primate
    instinct to copulate as often as possible with as many mates as possible
    will struggle against a cultural meme or memes that require 1) monogamy
    over sperm spreading 2) enlightened appreciation of the female gender as
    more then sexual objects 3) polite acceptable behavior within a society
    structured along particular moral ideals. This will and does cause me to
    see women in complex and varying ways: not always enlightened, sometimes
    crude, often confused.
    By the same token, a female primate instinct to mate with the best
    adapted, most likely to survive, genetically sound mates as often as
    possible to ensure a strong offspring will cloud the female perception
    and struggle against similar memes. Humans may be intellectual, self
    aware sentients, capable of using culture to carry us beyond our
    biology, but until we fully come to grips with what millions of years of
    evolution has wired into us, we will never resolve the whole “gender”
    debate. One cannot achieve true enlightenment without first satisfying
    the needs of the body. .
    Our body and minds are entwined. This is the dichotomy being
    sentient. Combined with the dichotomy of two genders, being human is
    really fucked and hard.
    Is it any wonder we confuse violence and sex, hate and love, desire and
    lust, hunger and pain…so one and so forth…

    My apologies for rambling. As I said, your entries sometimes kick start
    the rusty cogs and yank away the cobwebs, forcing me to actually think:)
    take care…have fun.
    Mike Marsh

  3. Stonetotem – beautifully put. I am encouraged by those who have not reacted to this persons reaction. I am there with you and others, in your concern for her welfare as a result of this discussion. I do hope she is okay.

    And Eric, I know it’s on another post, but thanks for sharing the whole damn thing, up date and all. Big and brave of you – much appreciated. And a great education all round. Hazel.

  4. I have gone back and forth over the past couple of days trying to decide about commenting –

    So now that I’m here, I want to first say as others have said, we all bring our unique and jumbled experiences to the table, some conscious, many not. Context is one of my absolute favorite things to unravel – one of the filters through which we experience and understand our world. Art is the perfect forum to amplify and demonstrate this process – and I write this within my own context as artist and former art therapist. I’m grateful for this forum and for the chance to explore this edge through sharing, and I thank you for your patience as you read these words.

    I feel for this woman, who wrote privately but has had her words exposed here, albeit anonymously. I can’t possibly know whether she is aware of this discussion consciously, but I am sure (in my belief system) that she is experiencing it on an energetic level. It may be (and again, in my belief system, is), exactly what she needs. But it doesn’t hurt to send a little love and compassion along with whatever else we send. And love and compassion to you, Eric, too, whose intentions and integrity were attacked, and who bravely offered this all up for our careful scrutiny.

    So the question was, “What does this photo say to you?” I have to say that when I first saw the photo in its original format and context, I was confused by it. I looked at it again and something about it bothered me, so I left off and opted for reading the article. When I looked at the full image the next day, this time focusing my artist eye, I found it to be truly, breathtakingly beautiful. And the more I looked at it, the more I saw and understood different things about myself in this photo – some even contradictory. That certainly attests to the strength of this image and the richness of its content.

    So as an artist I’m loving this photo, but as a being I’m not really. In my context as an abuse survivor at a very young age, I frequently get confused between sex and violence. I just do. So I have to move it out of the emotional and make mental adjustments – reality check. I have worked and worked on this issue and healed much, but it’s still there after almost 45 years. What bothered me as I studied the image (and please, I am merely relaying my experience) was not so much the idea of strangulation, but that she doesn’t have a head – she is cut off at the neck. I can’t see her and can’t know who she is – she doesn’t have a mouth to scream and get help. And not that SHE needs it – it’s pure projection and I know that. Nonetheless, that’s what’s there for me, and I feel panic in my body. I don’t feel good about it and do feel a certain amount of shame revealing this about myself, and even worry about the consequences of making all this public, but – I wanted to share it because I don’t know if people who haven’t been victimized in this most intimate way can understand the depth and scope of damage that is possible: how unconscious, pervasive and insidious it can be, triggered by the most surprising things. I am not saying that this has anything whatsoever to do with the female reader in the UK – I speak here for myself, because the question was asked. And I take responsibility for all that’s mine.

    We need art for more than just beauty – for communication, for connection, for waking up. How cool is that?!

  5. Dear Eric,

    hope this email reaches you.

    My first reaction when I saw the photo was wow freedom! I sensed a knot releasing rather than tightening which probably says a lot about where I am right now. For me the bright glow in the heart area that is revealed looks like the spark fire of life and love flaming out and chasing darkness and shadows away. Viewing images is always subjective we all see and experience different things and speaking for myself I know my responses are often multilayered. Also in play is my sense of trust in you as an artist and writer that has developed over the years that I have been reading PW, many of your images raise challenging questions for me but they are mine to consider and share with whom I choose, I have never found your photos or writings to be ‘sick’ as your complainant says. One of the reasons that I read PW is to be surprised out of my comfort zone which happens on a regular basis with you guys. So thankyou!!

    Judith. Writer in UK

  6. jlo

    I get so HAPPY when friends laugh with me at the absurdity of ……..(fill in the blank).

    Glad you enjoyed; icing and all.


  7. This photo says to “me”:

    “I’m open and I’m closed”, “I’m easy and I’m complicated”, “I’m light and I’m dark”, “I’m free and I’m trapped”,

    “Why did they have to put this tie on this blue dress?”, “What am I supposed to do with this tie?”, “This tie does not really have a purpose except make me look fidgety and bored.”, “Maybe whomever designed this dress may have been fidgety and bored”, “This dress makes me blue”, ” I think I will cut off the tie and donate the dress.”

    Clothes have a funny way of being annoying sometimes, but yet we’ve got to have them, because of the “elements”! I think the worst ones are really itchy wool sweaters.

  8. awordedgewise, that’s absolutely laughs!!! Coolest shit I’ve heard in a while. (None of us are here to suffer the underpinnings.) Is equanimity a fucking joke? Or is it where we exist?

    The icing is yummy!

  9. I’m a 46 y/o F, and I didn’t pick up on any misogyny or stragulation in the pic at all. While certainly bad things and dangers exist, the world (to me) is a basically friendly place full of interesting people and things. Like the way that amazing light made the blue of her (blouse? dress?) seem so intense. And are those sparkles in the fabric?! Wow. :-} I also thought that blue color looked amazing with her beautiful gold/bronze skin. The interplay of light and shadow is also quite arresting there.

    In considering the assumptions I brought to the picture. I found that I assumed the subject was female, and in full control over whatever was going on there. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t seem alarming or “off,” to me. That baseline of… optimism, maybe you’d call it… left me free to draw other interpretations from what was presented.

  10. And now – to ice the cake — I’ve apparently experienced “Male Gaze”!! Or rather, according to others and Wikipedia, my artist’s perceptions of the world is actually bound within a box called MALE Gazing, regardless of my standing as WOMAN who likes to Look (at EVERYTHING – especially all that is sensual – which is ALL.)

    Ask anyone who knows me, male female or otherwise, “I am No Man.”

    Wow and ROFL!! This discussion is enlightening in more ways than one!

  11. ‘It’s not just how we feel about ourselves that is suffering, but rather how we feel about very nearly everything’…Eric wrote. How beautiful that picture pointed that out! That’s what I thought. A sensual symbol of free choice to live the life as I do or don’t.
    And most of the comments, so not all, are proving the ‘about very nearly everything’.

  12. While I’m definitely a staunch feminist, I didn’t react to the cropped photo with a response to an image of a woman. While the colors are very rich, and there was obviously a human model involved, what struck me was the force of the lines- slashes, I’d call them, with a big X as the predominant image. From the same perspective, the uncropped image seems more like a web, as the larger shadow shows off and repeats the curves. More of a visceral response than an intellectual one, but I was put off by the original (cropped) photo. And- I just realized- I haven’t read the article yet, for that reason!

  13. The message is a cluster you-know-what of innuendo. It suggests and looks like an out-of-date-for-the-times, waist tie in which case having it near the neck is both fashionably and otherwise disturbing. The potential danger would render it unfashionable as safety is a factor in any good fashion design. A thin tie such as that would never be attached at the neckline of any garment. The photo is provocative as it appears as the ends being held tightly by someone. Ooooo. Who could it be? The wearer or a “friend”. I stopped by the site on a whim. Didn’t care for this cheap thrill low level of consciousness offering at all.

  14. people who dont like this for the stated reasons are looking at it from the negative side of the coin. it’s as simple as that. everything in life has a positive and negative side, depending on the mind that is interpreting it. some things are much more blatantly negative or positive than others. this one i see & feel is positive. i saw only the beauty of the color, shadows, and skin. i didnt feel anything negative from it, even after reading the negative comments. honestly, from a comment as outrageous as that subscriber from the UK, i’d say she has some deep psychological issues and is an unhappy person deep down to be so offended by this. she obviously analyzes the hell out of everything and those types of minds will always find the negative in any situation. i’m sure she’s sent comments like that before to people and is easily offended. you could take an innocent picture of children playing and smiling and say that the photographer is a pedophile really just having sexual fantasies about the children, even though that isnt the case and is just the opinion of the viewer.

  15. I’m still fascinated by this photo and this discussion, so here are some more of my thoughts this morning.

    I look at the knot and at the bands being pulled and see a tension in the pull; a force, an energy. This knot could become tighter if the bands were to continue being pulled apart and could become problematic; it could lead to choking. On the other hand this knot could also be pulled apart and loosened, leading to an opening, a freeing, an undoing.

    To undo the knot seems to invite a more conscious decision and more of an effort to manoeuvre the undoing – a more active participation. To just continue pulling on the bands and invite possible danger and possible wounding, seems a more passive act where the wearer of the knot appears unwilling or incapable of taking charge and making a choice. The wearer might be paralysed by what the potential of the situation holds for them.

    These choices and what might be their consequences can be influenced by one’s level of self esteem. A low level of self esteem and self love can cause a person to abdicate their personal power and choice and feel like they are tied up in knots that can’t be undone. A healthier self esteem creates a space for a freer existence and looser experiences. It can imbue a person with the energy and confidence to undo knots, face fears and be free.

  16. It was my first reaction to the photo — women tie ourselves up in knots to be someone that others might find enticing. The shadowy skin at center suggested the sensual aspect, the “bow” is a common girly attachment, zero function but to adorn. The girl is tying the thing, thought I, and thus I see a representation of something we women do to ourselves.


  17. It took me a day to find words for what this picture is all about for me.
    So, at first, there is my visual eye that is really pleased with especially the composition but also the colors of the photo.

    And then there is this layer of what i feel.
    My story is about sadness and maybe some kind of desparation. Sadness about all the times in my life when my knowing of what i want wouldn’t make it through to a conscious level. And the – maybe also unconscious – believe at the same time, that i can get what i want only if i will play some of these games.
    It is also about loneliness. This is when i finally consciously find what i want but then also find that it seems like i would be much more attractive to the people around me if i would just continue with playing these games.
    And it is about jealousy. So there is this boy that i’m really attracted to. But now as i state clear, he really don’t want to be with me. Instead he wants to be with this other girl that is playing all these games with him and promising him just all these good feelings.

    So in the end it is once again a story about doubts about me as a divine being and doubts about my creative power.

    Thank you for the picture and the thread.

  18. I would have seen the photo as a seduction if not given the information that the girl was fidgeting. I don’t see violence. Bow ties are coming back into some of the women’s fashions. In the 80s, the bow ties were viewed as prudish and uptight. When Cher played an attorney in a movie during the 80s, she said she would only accept the role if she didn’t have to wear the blouses with bow ties.

    Women began wearing pantsuits to work in the 70s, and even wore men’s ties in an effort to fit in with the big boys. Later they said, fuck it, we are women and we are going to dress like women and the clothing styles improved quite a bit. Some of the older female executives still have to act like men. I’ve seen some of these old women cussing out men in meetings – I don’t know what they think it proves. Off topic, sort of, but also a consideration. The fidgeting girl is wearing a blouse that ties – was she prudish and shy, and was she trying to overcome a problem by posing in the book of blue, pulling on her string tie?

  19. Eric, excellent time to discuss………. and the choice of how self esteem may dictate how we see and think.

    If the big bang theory had a chart it would be something like we are seeing now. 🙂

    Oft times nothing profits more than self-esteem, grounded on just and right – Well manag’d.
    – John Milton, Paradise Lost; 1667 O so crucial “well managed” grounded on ??? “just and right”

    SELF esteem. How else would you know how “I” feel except I tell you here?

    I know you will respect her deep personal feelings and her personal judgment and remove her from your email list.

    I also know you wanted your comments from female readers. Sorry, maybe I should email instead – no disrespect intended. It really makes me think that we do define ourselves (in the minds of others) by, with and through the judgments we make.

    I have visited you here for over 4 years now Eric, so when I see an email from you (planet waves inc) what should I expect? Of course you have a sensual context in your art. Should I expect anything else?

    When I saw that photo it took me straight to thoughts of a previous relationship…….. and we were both submissive to each other………. It reminded me of how she would throw her towel around my neck and say “come, follow me” nothing sinister, just some really nice thoughts that aroused me slightly…………. And I guess, I miss that. 🙁

    You are very clever Eric 🙂 Thanx

  20. Might I recommend the remake of the film Pride and Prejudice for modern day visuals and study on a classic text by Jane Austen regarding period feminism?

    Director Joe West and cast did an excellent job of demonstrating subtle and overt versions of – misogyny, misandry, true freedom, love, decency, stupidity, fear and respect.

    Misogyny can be as subtle as indicating one arranges ‘delicate compliments’ to as overt love as saying ‘precisely’ what needs to be said no matter the reaction or what is on offer.

    *If anything suggests violence in the photograph, it’s the shadows and darker tone of the blue.

  21. Male Gaze from Feminist Theory – from Wikipedia.

    In the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of The Male Gaze as a feature of power asymmetry. Theoretically, the male gaze has much influenced feminist film theory and communications media studies.

    In film, the male gaze[1] occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. A scene may linger on the curves of a woman’s body, for instance. Feminists would argue that such instances are presented in the context closest relating to that of a male, hence its referral to being the Male Gaze.[2]

    The theory suggests that male gaze denies women human agency [citation needed], relegating them to the status of objects, hence, the woman reader and the woman viewer must experience the text’s narrative secondarily, by identifying with a man’s perspective.

    “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” expands on the theory, saying that sexism exist not only in the content of a text, but may also exist in how the text is presented; through its implications about its expected audience. Theorists note the degree to which people gaze at women in advertisements that “sexualizes” a woman’s body even when the woman’s body is unrelated to the advertised product [citation needed].

  22. Fluidity, right on track, “i would argue that many people in our homogenized mass culture have internalized much of the same schemas, and mostly probably unnoticed. if we live in a mysoginistic culture, and have internalized it’s schemas, it may be hard to recognize implied violence against women as such even when it is right under our noses.

    i wouldn’t be too quick to discount something simply because there aren’t a whole lot of people perceiving it”.

    And Chrys, “As we can not see the hands on either side- how do we make judgment , unless the photograph touches our own fears, and is that not what are is supposed to do
    to make us question!” Yes, I understand that.

    I’m a bit squeamish about writing here, for the “femmes” and all, but fuck it, I’ve got no comments on the photo (I’ve read Eric way too long), it says what YOU perceive it to say. (And seriously, Eric means you all well). That’s all cool! If, through conversation, we manage to find common ground, cool, if not, speak your mind ’til you’re satisfied! Keep it flowing, ask. We’re not perfect ’til we get there. And these are the cats that actually Want to help, in evolving ways and means!

    Forgive the interruption please, continue on, I just saw some kick-ass comments that needed to be redoubled…. Plus, I had a little extra.

    Again, La-dee-da…….

  23. I always play with my necklaces, bows, and yes my malas… I don’t think of them
    as harmful. There are no hands in the photo, so who is doing what

    A good art work provokes questions , and projections allowing us to examine our fears and also our attachments.

  24. I can not count the times that I have played with my necklaces, bows and malas
    adorning my neck.

    Does this mean I want to strangle myself, I think not, more a result of a nervous anxiety

    As we can not see the hands on either side- how do we make judgment , unless the photograph touches our own fears, and is that not what are is supposed to do
    to make us question!

  25. Well, a pix is worth a trillion words. That much we can say.

    First response upon opening my email with this pix embedded in the article — was that is was a lovely photo, sensual, Pisces blue fabric that’s clearly knit, not woven; meaning soft…..I wondered what body part was exposed because it was not immediately clear in that size pic that it was the neckline of a dress…..and so found myself floating around in the sensuality of it, wondering about what it was that was literally “twisting” the model around, not negatively but perhaps she was nervous? And that beautiful sea blue……the knot anchored me, in fact – without it there would have been no focal point in the composition…….

    Just a lovely, sensual Piscean photograph – and one that fit the nature of the article perectly.


  26. “It should, in theory, be obvious to a reasonably intelligent person, if it’s there. If there is violence inherent in the image, it would be evoked on some level in some significant portion of viewers, other than one or two; otherwise, where is it? On what plane of reality does the violence exist?”

    be careful eric!

    sometimes (perhaps often?) people have various schemas that shape how they perceive. the schemas allow for certain things to seen, and others to be hidden.

    i would argue that many people in our homogenized mass culture have internalized much of the same schemas, and mostly probably unnoticed. if we live in a mysoginistic culture, and have internalized it’s schemas, it may be hard to recognize implied violence against women as such even when it is right under our noses.

    i wouldn’t be too quick to discount something simply because there aren’t a whole lot of people perceiving it

    ERIC WRITES: I’m going to reply here for clarity. This is why I’m asking for a feminist deconstruction of this image. I’m dialoging with Kelly, who is quoted below, and I’m attempting an analysis from the Male Gaze theory. However, if we are going to construe something as a communication vector then we have to look at everything: the intent, “unconscious intent,” the application and the context, and the results or the response.

  27. The comment about disembodied parts got me thinking… One of the chief ambiguities about this photo is that you can’t see the dress-wearer’s hands. Very much the Rorschach inkblot. The set of her shoulders suggested (to my eye) that she was not the one holding the scarf ends. I was able to duplicate the pose in the mirror, shoulders back, arms way out, but it was very awkward, not a natural pose.

  28. Honestly, I see where she is coming from and she has a right to feel that way. We women are bombarded with this type of imagery–a cacophony of fetishistic, deconstructed body parts–repeatedly, so we are sensitive and critical of it, as well we should be.

    I also think that it depends on your age. For those above a certain age, sex is seen primarily in the context of guarding against rape, sexual predators and mainly sex carries negative connotations. I am not sure what her age is, nor am I purposefully trying to be offensive, but there might very well be something to this.

    For me, despite the copious amounts of coursework in my Women/Gender studies, I have to say that my perception was entirely different. When I saw this woman, I saw her coming from a place of power. She is disrobing but in a provocative and tantalizing way and not only to illicit a positive response from her lover, whomever that may be, but because she is the one calling the shots and setting the pace and tone of events. If the knot were loose, I would think her lacking in confidence. But, because it is taut, she is doing it by design. At least that’s how I see it!

    Maybe personality and temperament also play a role. Maybe because it is part of my personality to claim my territory and let it be known that I am sovereign and rule my own show, that is why I perceive of it in this way. I really can’t say.

    But, is she wrong for feeling that way? No! She is entitled to feel that way as we all do to feel the way we do.

    I will say, however, that perhaps the time has arrived to switch from fear and silence of sex and sexuality to embracing the more positive aspects of it. Maybe we will then stop cultivating sex as weapon and move closer to sex as bliss. Just a thought! I like everyone’s take on it. There are many really solid opinions that I can relate to and whose merits I see. 😉

  29. My own thoughts after thinking about this for a couple of days…

    I’m still trying to see the violence in the image; from a feminist analysis. I understand that art is ambiguous, or it can be. I’m looking for a feminist analysis that demonstrates, within its own reasoning system, within its own set of cultural references, that there is actual violence implied, not merely a woman playing with the neck wrap on her dress.

    It should, in theory, be obvious to a reasonably intelligent person, if it’s there. If there is violence inherent in the image, it would be evoked on some level in some significant portion of viewers, other than one or two; otherwise, where is it? On what plane of reality does the violence exist?

    In working with natural magic, one must know the difference between a pigeon running past you and a visitation from a totem animal. There are people who start on a mystical path and everything is a “sign.” And of course, if that is true…then nothing means anything. Or anything means anything. So in attempting to sort out symbols, unless the impression is entirely intuitive (which is not the argument here; the case for violence implied in this image is supposedly an analytical one — feminism is an intellectual theory), one would need to be able to explain and interpret the symbol with reference points that anchor it.

    For example, if you surround a woman in flames, that’s potentially a reference to the burning of witches.

    If this were a tarot card, I would want a second confirmation of the violent intent, in the card, or in the cards in context. I would want some suggestion that anything other than tying that blue cloth into a bow were imminent. That could be a some sign of pain; of fear; evidence of violence; some color symbol evocative of rage (a blood red dress); it could be in the text near the image, such as the title of a horror movie about being choked.

    Did the dress maker intend to insinuate violence in the neck wrap?

    This being said, I am someone who doesn’t wear anything that chokes my neck, except for a loose scarf and a necktie about twice a year. I don’t like to have things around my neck. I have spent a lot of time wondering what it’s like to be hanged, particularly in the Saddam Hussein era. Even the card The Hanged Man (atu XII) is read as a reference to imminent growth pending a delay; a test; the sense of being suspended or helpless, as a temporary state.

    In any analysis, I also think we need to account for perception/projection itself. Many in this thread have done so.

    I was once at the Northwest Herbal Faire in Bellingham, WA, talking to an herbalist. I lowered my sunglasses so that I could make eye contact with her; so I was looking over the glasses. She told me this was “patriarchal” and asked me not to do it. I don’t know if it was or was not patriarchal, but if it was, someone should be able to explain exactly how it was patriarchal, as plenty of grannies and divas and rock stars also look over top of their glasses. Personally, I think it’s arrogant to talk to someone wearing sunglasses blocking my eyes. It’s obvious why.

    Planet Waves on the hanging of Saddam Hussein

  30. Comment via email…

    Hi Eric
    Regarding the ‘strangulation photo’ affair – here’s my honest thoughts…
    I guess it depends on a person’s perspective – the reader who reacted so ‘left field’ is, like you say, probably too connected to the actual symbol – I was sexually attacked at the age of 16 and still find male voices (in films etc) speaking in threatening whispers to be pretty unsettling (more than 20 years later) but can’t blame others for that discomfort! and I guess IВ feel for her for having such a strong and ‘attacking’ reaction to that particular picture.В  As one of your friends said, opening a dialogue would have been better but I suppose she must have been feeling fear at some level so…
    As for me – I scanned the article as I always do on a Friday, saving the actual reading with proper attention and thought until Sunday so my ‘gut’ reaction to the photo was (the same as another one of your friends) to feel powerful -В andВ sexy :-)В  But that’s from MY perspective which is from one who enjoys the odd bit of hypoxia – so IВ found the photograph more ‘…mmmm…a cheeky taste of what’s to come’.
    I may well re-think it once I’ve read the article and look at it in context though!В  Also,В (and I have looked at both again) the cropped photo ‘does it’ but the original doesn’t – must be the shadows (another ‘cheeky hint’ methinks!)
    I hope this hasn’t got you doubting yourself – I love your photos – keep snapping!
    Best wishes

  31. Comment by Email

    Hello, Eric…

    I read the comments on your photo of the lady in blue. I think the woman that took issue did so because of her history. I have a friend that yells misogyny at anything and everything; that’s her perspective. And Goddess knows we all have our “perspectives”.

    What if, the lady had just finished having the most amazing tantric sex and was feeling so vital and alive that she tied her neck wrap feeling great self esteem and love to return to the office for the ball buster meeting with the group of men she has to work with each day? I don’t know, seems like perspective to me.

    I’m hope every woman that sees the image and feels misogyny heals the wounds that create that knee jerk reaction.

    Blessings to you,

  32. I see this image of a desire to release, but it’s blocked. With as tight as the knot is, it feels like fear. It’s a moment of choice: Do I release the knot and reveal myself or do I tie it back up? Something like that.

  33. Lovely discussion; lovely photo – lighting, color, half-knot.

    I hope the individual who wrote in feels okay regarding the public discussion.

    The throat chakra often clears last for women, and, if you follow the leap in energetic humanity, the heart chakra is the new root chakra, which makes the throat chakra the new sacral chakra – voice as sex/death. A woman is not truly tested, imho, regarding her “voice” until she hits middle age or astrologically speaking experiences Pluto sq Pluto, Nep sq Nep and Uranus opp Uranus. I feel this is because she has her physical attributes to lean upon until then, but after which realizes her mind and ego state must take over if she is to continue to garner same power.

    Voice and words contain power.

    Clearly her words prompted Eric to toss this out to the public, and his ‘art’ prompted her to comment. Some would say this is great art because an emotion was evoked.

    I find the half-knot a wonderful image for not being fully tied up, there being a path to freedom, but one must reach up to untie that knot themselves.

  34. I see the pulling of the “neck wrap” as suggestive, flirtatious, seen against the flesh of an open neck and chest, both hinting at more. I imagine that the wrap has just been in a bow and is now being pulled, teased undone as a come on.

    This was my initial reaction yesterday and again today but when Eric invited futher discusion I did shift gears somewhat to a more cerebral analysis which caused some conflict and I admit I could see it from the other person’s point of view and of how it might appear disturbing.

    That said however, the overall take on it for me is that is still a sexy, potent and alluring pose.

  35. i’d say my first thought was. “god, what a gorgeous image!” i love the quality of the light, its interplay with the shadows, the shade of blue and its sparkles, the repeated angles of the ties and their shadows and the neckline of the dress. i think i had a hint of arousal, there is something vaguely bd/sm there for me, but not violent; the suggestion of action, of dressing or undressing. i assumed the ties were in the model’s hands, that she had control. and on second look, the knot’s distance from the body is, i think, a big factor in my interpretation.

    that said, i am glad you put this out there as a check on yourself and i am glad the woman who made the original comment had the guts to do so. i am a huge believer in looking at contexts: our own, other peoples’, historical, cultural, artistic, etc. any time we can get a peek at someone else’s context in relation to a shared experience sheds light on our own. better to run the risk of having one’s perspective challenged than to run around with blinders on.

  36. when i saw this photo i thought it was beautiful. the color, the fabric, the tension of the knot. i felt it was seductive and the energy was light. i perceived it as a moment that seemed acute, as if to ask me to pay attention. i thought it was one of the best i had seen of ef’s photo’s in terms of an erotic moment that asked for consciousness.

  37. I didn’t give the photo too much thought when I first saw it, and after reading all the comments it would have never occurred to me to see it in the way many others see it, and especially the woman whose viewpoint prompted this discussion. It’s very interesting.

    Since I’m attracted sexually to women, it’s more along those lines for me… something suggestive… I’m drawn to the skin and the shadows that play there. My eyes go beyond that knot that’s so in focus now that I have looked at the photo more thoughtfully. And the strands of fabric and that knot has tension on it… like it’s being tightened, or held right there as it is, not loosened.

    The more I look the less I like the photo as now I see that knot prominently whereas before it wasn’t the main focus for me. It seems to relate a subtle boundary or barrier, like an overlaid “X”.

  38. Hmm, didn’t get the strangulation image at all. When I saw the cropped version, I thought it might’ve been the back of her neck in fact, and thought it rather sensuous. Didn’t intellectually try to connect the knot with it. The picture just evoked a sensation, that’s all.

  39. Eric, I LOVE this photo; it hooked me the first time I saw it and I find it an incredibly powerful image, quite possibly the strongest I have seen on PW. I’d quite like to have it on my wall. I love the colour, the choice of taking this partial shot, the shadows. Interestingly, it did not come across to me whatsoever as misogynistic or being about strangulation, though I can see the latter could be a literal translation of it. The blue is a real statement colour: ‘look at me, I’m a woman who knows myself’; the not quite taut knot feels erotic and yet playful – is she dressing or undressing? If anything, the hidden charge for me is whether this is against her will or not, but only ever in the sense of being totally in charge of her sexuality and in the context of a free spirited connection with the other; ultimately, it’s all at her behest. Thinking more deeply, I enjoy the sense of grappling with knots with another: each knot is different in its degree of tightness or complexity. I relish unravelling, playing, pulling, tying myself up again. I’m actually talking psychologically 😉 Danielle states that ‘we feel very much that she will soon be dead’ but heck, I don’t! This woman is all woman and very much alive! This, to me, is one seriously horny photography…

    I suppose all our reactions are mere projections; I can only talk about myself (another English woman). It’s interesting to learn our different perspectives and I am grateful for the open approach to sexuality on PW, all the more so because I am aware that there is a movement of people in the States who are anti-sexuality and who have tried to shut down young people’s expression of it. This isn’t healthy and PW is a great antidote. Thanks for your work, Eric and thank you for opening this discussion out.

  40. Interesting. When I first saw this photo I loved the blue, and the texture of the fabric. I thought about the knot briefly and thought, ‘what is being protected with the knot?’.

  41. Good morning all-
    it is a very snowy morning here, which slows everything down. I look again at the photo and remember my first response yesterday– appreciating the hint of cleavage or perhaps my imagining it there. I love the fabric and its sparkling blueness. I don’t see an actual knot (which is tight and harder to undo) but instead a loose crossing of the ties. Is she about to make a bow? Is she untying it? Strangulation is not part of my experience and the image does not resonate with such violence for me. It’s true we view the world from our experiences– and what else do we have?


  42. Great discussion. It occurs to me that what is happening here is Psychology at its best: A logos of Soul. PW creates a space for the soul to speak- to tell us something about those dimensions of life that are often revealed through a bodily and intuitive way of knowing and catured through art and metaphor.

    These soulful dimensions of life are often muddy alongside their clarity. As the comments show, this image captures something about the woman in it, her history, the photographer who took it, his history, the light of that day, the historical context within which this moment took place, the space of the studio, constructs such as “feminism” and the large worlds that such constructs hold, as well as the worlds of the seers (those taking-in the photo) and much more– all muddied together alongside a certain illumination. There is more here than we will ever be able to fully “know,” and yet we can still feel it all and speak from a perspective, and share these perspectives, in a way that opens up more for all whom we’re sharing with. So, thanks to the reader who objected to the photo and got this discussion going. It’s great to see good psych-ology in action! This is stuff of life, I think.

  43. E – ‘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.’

    She could not relax, could not be herself, express herself.

    Are you able to ask Alyssa what emotions she recalls from that day?… Did she have any comment about your photo?


    ERIC REPLIES — I will track her down, I don’t see her a lot. I know a lot more about her than I can say; and we were working within certain limits (i.e., she had to be dressed but it seemed like she wanted to do nudes, and many of the subsequent images are extremely provocative, the more so for being dressed). I’ve known her for about a year on and off and she’s always extremely nervous. This was the second time I had photographed her; she was right in character, high strung, friendly and playful.

  44. I’ve been working with my fifth chakra, and as noted by another poster, I immediately thought of self-esteem being “tied up” with ability to express your true self. Gazing at the photo, I kept vacillating between the feeling of fluidity, and the feeling of constriction. Because of the angle of the ties, it looks like the model has control over whether or not the loop will be relatively open, or too tight.

  45. This is from Deborah, my client and an acupuncturist in San Francisco – via email


    i guess we see what we project which ends up being В all our fears and experiences wrapped up together. i saw sexy playful teasing fun power when i began reading the article yesterday. women are so lucky that they get to dress in so many ways. we are like colorful peacocks having costumes for every occasion. yes there is a provocativeness but it is a harmless teasing. there is nothing revealing or rude or unpleasant. В we are all so afraid of our own shadow potentials and powerful provocativeness. that is what gives a drive in the male-female polarity. how can men love that playful teasing and then turn it around into some dirty part of their own shame? somehow seeing it as misogynist statement sounds like those judgements that are made after a women is abused or raped – maybe she was dressed inappropriately and asked for it!!???


  46. I looked at the image before I read the article and immediately thought, “light bdsm” the type many couples play with, using what they have, scarves, ties, etc. and how that can be a great way to explore self-esteem issues happening within the relationship–the need to control, the need to be controlled. I also assumed the woman was tying the knot, a representation of her relationship to her own power.

  47. The thought that it was either strangulation or misogynistic never occurred to me when I first saw the picture. In fact, my gut reaction was that it was a very erotic image, and one where the woman herself was in control of tightening the knot. Empowering rather than disempowering, owning her sexuality.

    But your UK reader’s comment has definitely given it a new slant for me; and though I disagree, it’s no less valid.

    If all the world is a projection, then what we see is entirely personal, imo.

    — S

  48. Currently, I am observing the common response of ignoring girls as “selves” and especially ignoring what she says, maybe even ESPECIALLY if you think she is sexy enough to do and maybe even ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY if she is your sister or daughter and she is sexy enough to do… so the image strikes me as a cross keeping her from her truly expressing herself through her throat chakra. As for the reader’s original response, it is extreme and bringing up her “stuff” to awareness.. GOOD. Perhaps she should take a vacation from Planetwaves or Planetwaves should adapt and hire a psychologist, start fundraising for women’s empowerment issues, etc, etc. The creative possibilities are endless. I am glad to be here.

  49. I would also like to add, that the persons reaction is the persons reaction – it won’t be the first time it’s happened on here! – and she should be allowed to have it, however I would hope that she may read these comments and find another way to look at the photograph and what lay behind it.

    I’m reading this – because I believe you have been open and published this fairly harsh criticism – in the spirit of you checking out your actions and intent, and not looking for ‘oh how wonderful you are and how dare anyone criticise you’ because there is a danger that can happen…!!! Especially when we talk about self-esteem (and I’m not referring to yours here).

    Good for you.

  50. I think she’s seeking approval from you, since you were the one doing the photography. Blue is the color of friendship – maybe she was hoping to find a true blue friend. It’s an esteem gesture. Girls fidget when they are unsure of themselves. On the other hand, if she knew ahead that the photo session was for the book of blue series, maybe it doesn’t mean a damn thing and she’s just nervous. Maybe blue helps her with self-confidence. Most girls wear clothing that they feel will make them most appealing, especially on a date.

  51. I can see how the UK reader got “strangulation” out of this image. My own first impression of the image was of the the shadow under the knot; the sense was of being suspended above the ground in a web. Not a soothing sense of being cradled but of being trapped. My “ego” recognized immediately that this was one of those dresses with the self-tie at the neck and noted that the sparkly fibers probably made for a scratchy garment. All in all, not an image of “comfort.” But that seems appropriate for the article.

  52. ** when I say we, I really mean I. I’ll not speak for the entire world about what they may or may not say, do, believe, feel etc as a generality. 🙂

  53. Strangulation never occurred to me. The knot is nowhere near stranglehold.

    The blueness is striking. To me, the image suggests an erotic toying with tying and untying the fastening of the garment.


  54. It’s funny. When I first saw this photo, I did ‘notice’ it – more so than say others, which I might have just pondered over, and admired. When I look back at it – it is the knot and the shadows that stand out for me. Gives me a feeling of the ‘hangman’s noose’. I always thought it was the model making the knot, can’t say why, I just took it as read. I saw it as fitting for the article, and still do. I think of the knots we tie ourselves up in to please others, anything than be ourselves (the very person we have most struggle loving).

    Reading the comments, I thought all were fascinating, particularly Bettys which, to me, reads almost as judgmental and reactionary as the one sent in that started the debate. Interesting….!!!

  55. I think that because of the type of exploration your doing in your work you are going to receive some negative critique.
    Not a bad thing. A strong reaction is a strong reaction.
    Your intention for the work is where you stand, but a reaction like this also allows you to view your work with a different criticality. This is always good for an artist.

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