Photo Essay

Photography is not safe

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 Champêtre, 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.

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48 responses

  • Simon Kossoff

    Simon Kossoff (Deleted) said (18 May 2010):

    My big vote! Really well said and brilliantly written. I must view hundereds of images every day here at and I haven't had any idea what particular images they were refering too, yet was, like you, annoyed by the complaints.

  • Paul Lavallee

    Paul Lavallee gave props (18 May 2010):

    100% agree with you!

  • Jim Hart

    Jim Hart said (18 May 2010):

    Your profile says you are a writer -- it should say you are an amazingly talented writer!

    Great piece! Thanks for saying this so eloquently.

  • Justin Case

    Justin Case   gave props (18 May 2010):

    Brilliant. Well written. On point. AMEN!

  • claudia luthi

    claudia luthi gave props (18 May 2010):

    another big vote, Marcus, I couldn't have said it better and I absolutely agree with what ever you say and bring up here!

  • Stu

    Stu said (18 May 2010):

    Well said, mein freund.

  • Toby Morrison (JPG Admin)

    Toby Morrison (JPG Admin)   gave props (18 May 2010):

    Thanks for the words of wisdom. Amazing!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (18 May 2010):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • Catherine Hadler

    Catherine Hadler gave props (18 May 2010):

    totally. well said

  • hannah holley

    hannah holley said (18 May 2010):

    love it

  • Hector Ortiz

    Hector Ortiz gave props (18 May 2010):

    bring it...youre the master of it.... seriously....well done...

  • Hector Ortiz

    Hector Ortiz said (18 May 2010):

    by the way...i just link this to my facebook profile page....thanks...

  • Howard Simpson

    Howard Simpson (Deleted) said (18 May 2010):

    Well said Marcus...Art is subjective and one must remember that one man's masterpiece is another man's trash. JPG has a content filter...turn it on. If you still don't like it, turn JPG off. It's that simple.

  • Karen Zimmerman

    Karen Zimmerman gave props (18 May 2010):

    Brilliantly expressed. I agree with you.

  • ina:botao

    ina:botao (Deleted) said (19 May 2010):

    Excellently verbalized!

  • ! Mario Scattoloni ¡

    ! Mario Scattoloni ¡ gave props (19 May 2010):

    Here here. Well said & thanks that you caring enough to be annoyed royally so.

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster gave props (19 May 2010):

    Marcus, I thank you for this eloquent, insightful essay. You have expressed my disjointed and free-floating feelings (triggered by the past week) in such an articulate and winning way. Bravo

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster said (19 May 2010):

    BIG VOTE (wish I could spotlight this)

  • peggy gardner

    peggy gardner gave props (19 May 2010):

    YOU are brave and new !

  • Marcus Hammerschmitt

    Marcus Hammerschmitt   said (19 May 2010):

    Thanks, Peggy!

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go gave props (19 May 2010):

    wisely written.

  • Chrisso Newton

    Chrisso Newton (Deleted) gave props (19 May 2010):

    Yeah. Hell, yeah.

  • Fox Harvard

    Fox Harvard (Deleted) said (19 May 2010):

    Brilliantly done. Hopefully mind-opening for some.


  • Heather Mellon

    Heather Mellon   said (20 May 2010):

    Thanks for referring me to your photo-essay. I found it very interesting. Now I am hardly ' bible belt' material and am not offended by nudity per se. But I am offended by having bare naked crotches shoved in my face.. anywhere, for any reason! Whether the creators of such shots do so for shock value or out of a personal belief that there is genuine artistic value in them, there are issues surrounding that aspect of photography that trouble me. One being that these shots are an intense invasion of personal privacy towards the model involved and I don't care if it was consentual or not. Often enough such models are young enough to be easily swayed into it. But there could come a time when they rue the day they co-operated in creating such material and find they have absolutely no control over the situation. On a more personal basis, I find it offensive to my sensibilities as a female! For me.. it's just that simple. .. I hope too, that a positive solution can be achieved on this issue. So, thanks again for referring me over to your article. Chao

  • Marcus Hammerschmitt

    Marcus Hammerschmitt   said (20 May 2010):

    1) To me, the key sentence in your comment is this one: "One being that these shots are an intense invasion of personal privacy towards the model involved and I don't care if it was consentual or not." A pretty strong statement which means nothing less than your willingness to neglect the right of adults to exert their free will and their constitutional rights.

    2) I think the bible belt is not to be measured in square miles.

    3) As I see it, you have two options to handle this situation in grace: either you can turn on the safe for work filter and report people who try to trick it. Or you can leave.

  • J. Harris Blacklist

    J. Harris Blacklist said (20 May 2010):

    Yes, I agree 100%! It's time to weed out the judge-mentalist neoconservative anti artist mentality. They cannot nor will they truly ever understand or appreciate different forms of the diverse artform.

  • Heather Mellon

    Heather Mellon   said (20 May 2010):

    Well... not every person who objects to certain pictures is a bible-thumping fanatic. Even people who choose to think independently of religion, politics and other mind-benders have issues with graphic scenes displayed under the guise of 'artful' expression, for a variety of reasons. There's more to it than meets the eye and we need to be considerate of that.

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (20 May 2010):

    marcus - thank you - well said, well written - my vote!

  • ♥ Cairenn ♥

    ♥ Cairenn ♥ said (22 May 2010):

    You are RAD Marcus - and so is this story : )

  • Pilar Coll i Gatells

    Pilar Coll i Gatells said (22 May 2010):

    D'acord. . . Salut i llum.

  • Alexis - Now on Flickr

    Alexis - Now on Flickr gave props (24 May 2010):

    Applause Markus. Your eloquence is equalled only by your right-on-the-money-ness.

  • Anne Worner

    Anne Worner (Deleted) gave props (25 May 2010):

    Gut geschrieben! Bravo. Meine Stimme.

  • Marcus Hammerschmitt

    Marcus Hammerschmitt   said (25 May 2010):

    Danke, Anne!

  • Carlos Aviles

    Carlos Aviles (Deleted) gave props (31 May 2010):

    Great story

  • Karen K Smith

    Karen K Smith said (16 Jun 2010):

    WOW, I sure missed a lively discussion while I was taking a break. I took a look at Fox Howards' photos today. His work certainly doesn't do anything for me, but by the favs I'm guessing it does for many others. I will have to give him the stirring the pot award of the year! I turned my safe filter back off because now I must start paying attention and I am more curious than the cat to see what JPG allows to stay under the safe filter. I suppose JPG has their reasons to change in this direction (I'm sure it has to do with staying up - no pun intended) and after reading you, Susan and John's stories today, I've decided, now that I understand what has been happening to stay and see what direction this site ends up. Marcus your writing is brilliant and I applaud you for this story.

  • dp *

    dp * gave props (10 Jul 2010):

    direct hit, bullseye and RAD !!!

  • conchita. del. mundo.

    conchita. del. mundo. gave props (23 Jul 2010):

    marcus, very well expressed. some people just do not get it... they honestly believe their own opinions are the opinions of the masses. jan, if you don't want crotches splashed in your face, turn on the safe filter and you won't have to worry about it. it's kinda like why tvs come with remote controls.

  • Jamie Alexander

    Jamie Alexander (Deleted) gave props (26 Oct 2010):

    Great story, but I'd like to be a bit of a fly in the ointment here. I know you are referring to bold photography and that's a brilliant point. I'd actually go a step further and include shitty photos of naked women in the category filler-kitsch. I have absolutely no problem with nudity; in fact I’m quite a fan. But just as a fluffy cat is not intrinsically artistic, neither is a topless woman. Please, go for bold and brave stuff; anything that makes us think - that’s what art is for surely. I’ve just been looking at Fox Harvard's work and the debate he's sparked. If that's not artistic, I have no idea what would be. But the trouble is, now that every third 'spotlight' photo is a poorly composed female nude with little photographic value, even that gets as dull as a US flag flapping in the breeze. So if anyone manages to read this far down: please don’t use this story as a reason to post a generic photo of you’re wife’s tits on JPG. It’s not breaking any social taboos anywhere outside ‘bible belt’ America and the ‘extremist’ Middle East. At the very least put some effort into the composition (photos are only ‘edgy’ if you actually meant that at the time; underexposing and showing a bit of muff does necessarily not count as edgy, even if the point of view is weird). So JPGers, rather than post another standard lady-bum, go out and be brave. Try naked men kissing while it’s still a taboo. While you do that, I’m going to carry on taking pretty pictures of sunsets and flowers.

  • Marcus Hammerschmitt

    Marcus Hammerschmitt   said (27 Oct 2010):

    Jamie, you're right.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (12 Nov 2010):

    I completely agree with boldness, but not ugliness and a big hit on my eyes with stupid masculine view on open legs or distorted faces, thats my problem, and no one can say that I do not love nudes, thats what I am about. About debate, hmmm, art is not in a debate at all, especially on this site behind a screen!

    Well said Marcus, voted too!

  • Mike Melnotte

    Mike Melnotte gave props (15 Dec 2010):

    Great conversation, Marcus. Well done.

  • Craig Anthony Perkins

    Craig Anthony Perkins gave props (18 Jan 2011):

    As others have stated, brilliant article! Well written, great points, needs to be published. Yes vote from me!

  • Irvin Kelly

    Irvin Kelly (Deleted) gave props (12 Mar 2011):

    I love this essay. My art is sometimes ignored ont this site, because people are afraid to look. Photography is not safe, it's honest at times.

  • Bruce Miller

    Bruce Miller (Deleted) said (4 Mar 2012):

    Marcus! I couldn't agree more. Art is about the human experience in all ways. What could be more human than sexuality and the human body. I also appreciate the words of Jamie. A great deal of the nude shots I see on JPGmag are pure crap. Not because they are nudes but because they are dull - certainly not offensive. It`s just flesh and we`ve all seen these parts before. How can nudity truely be offensive? I read your essay from the link you left on ``so you want blood`` (I may have the title wrong) I thought it was clever, a statement on the female condition. I like it compositionally. It`s a comment on fetility and the natural process of menstration in a modern context. Again a perfectly natural, human experience worthy of expession. Thanks so much for this. I hope it gets published

  • Marcus Hammerschmitt

    Marcus Hammerschmitt   said (4 Mar 2012):

    Thanks, Bruce.

  • Fred S.

    Fred S. gave props (17 Mar 2012):

    Very nice piece of writing, Marcus.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (16 Nov 2012):

    I think the bottom line here is that we are all looking for validation.... some indication 'we' got it right. When anything flies in the face of 'our' right we bust out the guns. There is a coping mechanism called reaction formation. It states that those who preach too loudly against something are likely the worst offenders. Example: Jimmy Swaggart. Oh to be a fly on these naysayers walls. Your images would likely pale in comparison. People... get a life. Oh... and, loved the essay, the photos, and the attitude.

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