There is a continual controversy on Twitter and on other social media sites that purport to deal with naturism, that argue about images that are tagged as naturist where and when the genitals are seen. I know I waver back and forth between allowing full frontal images of myself and “safe” photos where body positioning or judicious cropping takes care of the possibility of offending. But when I do this, I become the problem. At that moment, I stop being authentic and hope that somehow I can be in the collective, well at least a small corner of the collective.
Many of the images are blatantly not about naturism, but rather about individuals desperately posting images of themselves with the focus fully on their genitals – “see me, I have a penis … am I not amazing!” Yes, the vast majority of these genital images are posted by men.
And there are images of women that scream, “fuck me.” In any of these images, you will not get a glimpse of a real human being vulnerable because of their nudity. There is no intention to present an authentic image of themselves. There is no reaching out to the world to invite you into their world through their images. These genital images are all about clichés, about distracting and hiding the truth of those whose images are being presented.
Both the man and the woman above are hiding their authentic self from the world by projecting another layer of camouflage. Yes, they are naked, but the intention of the images tell us that their nakedness is about their genitals, not about them, confirming our collective belief in clichés. We look, we leer, we are aghast, we respond to the clichés individually and collectively. And in turn, we reinforce the notion that nudity in which the genitals are present, is really all about porn and perversion, that our own naked bodies are somehow to be hidden or else we become lewd, sexual deviants.
I read an article by Melissa Laflamme who had something to say about clichés:
“I ask myself what would happen if the culturally-prescribed and unconscious roles we can fall into suddenly were shattered, replaced by the need to genuinely connect — to not only love each other without packaging and pretence, free and unpossessed — but rather, to survive and to rebuild not only a life, but an authentic way of loving?”
She had spoken those words in relation to this image which appeared in the January 10th issue of the New Yorker earlier this year. The author of the article, Chris Wiley, tells us:
One of the most beautiful photographs I know of is an image of a woman standing in the doorway of a barn, backlit in a sheer nightgown, peeing on the floorboards beneath her. It was taken in Danville, Virginia, in 1971, by the photographer Emmet Gowin, and the woman in question is his wife, Edith. The picture is so piercingly intimate that I find it difficult even to look at it. This is not because I feel as if I am intruding, or being shown something that I was not meant to see, but simply because it seems to hover too close to the vital force of human connection. It is too poignant, too alive. Rather than merely avoiding clichés—about love and intimacy, artist and muse, public and private—the picture seems to repel them, as an amulet repels evil spirits. Clichés are prophylactics against the complexity and intensity of direct experience, tools used to distance ourselves from reality, but this photograph brings love near enough that we can feel its hot breath.
The image, for all of its “shock” is far from being pornographic. Why? It comes down to intentions of the photographer and his wife. There is no, “Look at me I have a vagina,” no “Fuck me” message. I won’t claim to know the intentions of either the photographer or his wife, but I know what isn’t the message.
In this image, my penis is present. But the message isn’t the same as in the first “penis” image above. Here the message is simply about being vulnerably honest. I’m not Adonis, I am just some ordinary guy doing some ordinary stuff. And, I just happen to be doing it while nude. There is no intent to lure some unsuspecting woman or man or child into some sort of sexual activity. The intent is to finish the task of tilling.
We need images such as this to reclaim our bodies from the clichés that we have somehow adopted as truths about our human condition.