Photography is not safe
18 May 2010
The debate sucks like Hoover, as they used to say. It's boring, I don't wanna have no part in it. But see, I care enough to be annoyed. Royally so. A surefire sign I should at least speak my heart.
According to a small, but vociferous minority on JPGmag this site is threatened to drown in a tsunami of "smut". I beg to differ. While I've seen the odd photo here that disturbs me, I've been long enough on JPGmag to know the situation is well under control and the idea of porn contagion spreading through the community like an epidemic has all the evidence of Nessie or Bigfoot to it. The "spotlight" concept was bound to raise concern, it did, and the legit concerns have been addressed. I can't see an abyss of moral corruption here. What I do see though is an influx of people with a very special and narrow concept about what JPGmag should and shouldn't be. Far from acting as envoys of a "movement" these people still share enough of an ideology to put a circle around them: it's predominantly white, middle aged, fairly well educated people full to the brim with anger and fear. Suspicious of anything "different" they think hate is a family value and want to shape their playgrounds according to their neurosis. Their mind is a gated community populated by certain brands of bigoted patriotism, "morality" and conservatism. Not being the majority here, having a hard time bullying the management into censorship they throw tantrum after tantrum, just like spoilt children who don't get their fifth ice cream in a row. If it's not "smut" they so terribly care about than it's something else. Starting about a year ago, graffiti pictures of mine were questioned for their alleged lack of morality. My politics have been attacked. Some brilliant person thought I wanted to denigrate NATO with this picture, and withdrew his comment to that effect when I pointed out this is not NATO's logo at all. Another expert was angered enough by a birdhouse to pester me under various names with comments on my "skewed ideas about heroism". I know net communities where you feel like walking between kennels full of rabid dogs, and though JPGmag is far from this state of affairs even a faint whiff of dog droppings makes me nervous.
One of the funniest aspects of this is the moralizers' constant raving about how JPGmag should stay a "family friendly" site. JPGmag was founded as a forum for "brave new photography", and while I fully see the irony in the allusion to Huxley's book, boldness used to be an asset around here. And no, cutesy photos of blurred flowers, sleeping cats, newborns, US-flags in the wind and other snapshots are not indicators of boldness. In my view they are totally expendable filler-kitsch of no artistic value whatsoever. So should they be filtered? Of course not. You need all kinds of esthetics to make JPGmag go 'round, so even the filler-kitsch has its role.
But then there is this curious concept of taking offense anytime somebody differs from you. Just like radical muslims some of the aforementioned love to feel insulted. If this mindset gets jurisdiction over everything it deems insulting, it's over. What should buddhists keep from feeling insulted by Mother's Little Helpers? Why shouldn't fans of Che Guevara take offense over The Mighty Mouse? And what gives me the right to publish a picture like Him Again when people come here who have suffered under Castro? German police officers might not like my Bal ChampÃªtre, their Swiss colleagues might object to Molten Lead, catholics might be not amused by The Catholic Tricycle and so on and so forth. See what I mean?
I've got something to say to the easily offended: if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. You've got every right to your emotions, but they should have no say in what people can or can't publish here, in what is art and what's not. This is an international site. JPGmag is not and should not be confined to what's acceptable in the bible belt. And here's just one thought on porn vs. art. There was a time when Ulysses by James Joycewas considered pornography. Nowadays it's long been recognized as one oft best novels ever. I truly recommend it.
Then we have another strange inconsistency here. I couldn't help noticing some (not all) of the accused "pornographers" are way better artists than their critics. When the esthetically challenged accuse the pros of "smut" I smell more than a faint trace of envy in the air. This disease can be cured however. Creativity, they say, has got a lot to do with the ability to abandon certainties. Anybody can pick up a stunningly capable camera today for three hundred bucks, but this doesn't mean photography is without risk. On the contrary - photography, as I see it, is about taking chances, and one of the more persistent risks is to shoot things others don't want to see and seeing shots of them which annoy you. This risk increases exponentially with taking part in JPGmag. In a way, this is what JPGmag is about. I promise your pictures will improve if you can get your head around this inherent unsafety of it all. Shooting graffiti, by the way, is an excellent starting point. Oh, and if you want a really intense crash course on the risks of photography, check out Blowup, a 1966 movie by Michelangelo Antonioni. 111 min., about 15 bucks at any DVD outlet of your choice and worth every cent ten times over.
So please don't feel all too easily offended by what others do here. Your time is better spent shooting, publishing and discussing photography with others who want to do likewise.