Monday, June 16, 2008

Gay Male versus Straight Photographs of the Human Form: Another List

As part of the series of Journal entries about contemporary alternative gay male art versus traditional gay male art I explore the history and relationship of photography in general to gay male photography in particular.

I should disclose up front that I make no attempt to write from a politically correct perspective and / or distinguish between esoteric and exoteric terms denoting sexuality as these seem to change and proliferate almost daily. I will not use links beyond those already present because I would need so many as to be cumbersome.

I have already made two oppositions in my title to this short essay. First, gay v. straight, and second, female v. male. And, I have implied so many others. For instance, that there is a separation and opposition between gay v. straight photography. Well John, isn’t there? It is a given in Postmodern theory that a polar opposition contains its possible reversal and creates the likelihood that the opposition does not exist in the first place.*1

What a mess!

So, let’s compare and contrast to discover how similar and or different gay male photographs of nudes are as compared to straight photographs of female nudes. And, I realize this could be an extremely lengthy diatribe worthy of an esoteric doctoral dissertation in the Arts. Instead, I will try to briefly untangle the various threads jumbled together in knots because of the short paragraph above. Basically, my title is located within the subject of art theory and/or aesthetics.*2 At the same time, I am not contrasting male with female anatomy in this short essay. We are all capable of doing so on the most basic and crude levels, and many are able to do so from various more complex medical, sexual, psychological, and social positions.

Having stated what I’m not doing, let’s get on with the discussion at hand, one that involves comparison and contrasting gay male photographs of male nudes with heterosexual photographs of female nudes. A brief look at a couple of Websites dedicated to nude photography will disclose the state of contemporary nude female photography. It will be best to make a list of the various techniques of the photographs as I proceed, and that in turn will provide an approach for the comparison of the heterosexual versus homosexual eye in nude photography. I am not separating dark room manipulation from set-up and framing and manipulatin of the camera itself. As I write I am looking at a set of photographs posted on the Website “Art Nudes.”*3 There are photographs - listed in order from most recent to oldest - by Sanders McNew, Hannes Caspar, Michal Tokarckzuk, Karel Vojkovsky, Elisa Lazo de Valdez, Jorg Blanke, Francois Benveniste's, Christopher Voelker, Alina Lebedeva, Alessandro Bencini, Chris Triance-Martin, Joern Stubbe, Jean Turco, Julia Borovaya, Vincent O'Byrne, Tatiana Antonuk, Grace Oh, and Jerry Uelsmann to name but a few from this extremely inclusive and thorough Website. I am gathering the list of techniques as I view the photographs in no specific order and without naming each specific photograph and artist as I proceed.

The list of techniques

1. Strong lighting – left to right
2. Strong lighting – right to left
3. Strong lighting – behind subject
4. Strong lighting – in front of subject
5. Strong contrast
6. Multiple light sources
7. Low contrast
8. Extreme contrast
9. Thorough rendition of values and shades
10. Vertical composition
11. Horizontal composition
12. Oblique composition
13. Subject has been coated in liquid, sand, or other substance
14. Print is over exposed
15. Black and white film
16. Color film
17. Surreal / Dadaist approach – sometimes evocative of a particular fine artist painter
18. Unusual perspective / foreshortening / view into visual space
19. Manipulation of negative – physical / chemical
20. Manipulation of print – physical / chemical
21. Multiple exposure
22. Mixing 2 or more images from separate exposures.
23. Damaged camera

I stopped listing after viewing 20 nudes. If I looked further, I’m sure I would have found more techniques and / or manipulation of the photographs both in and out of the dark room. However, the list would become overly complex and with so many variables as to be unwieldy and impossible to use for comparison of gay male photographs to straight photographs of nudes. However, as I explore this subject further I may see fit to add several more observations to the list.


1 Poststructuralist and Postmodern theory as in Barthes, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, & Guattari, Jameson, Kristiva, Lacan, Laclau, Lyotard, and Mouffe, and so many others.

2 A field that is so complicated in its own right that an entire institutionalized structure exists that involves an esoteric body of knowledge, artists, art galleries, museums, educational institutions, and possibly every one of us as art critics in our own right.

3 “Art Nudes,” Last posted Sunday, June 15, 2008, Viewed 8:15 A.M. EDT, Monday June 16, 2008.

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