Earlier this week I posted these images on Facebook. It was the result of a workshop. Over the course of the next few days it got some nice comments. There were, however, also a few responses from people who were disappointed or disturbed. They felt this image objectified women. One response led to another, which led to a third, and then another one – and so on. Some were in public, some in private. I tried to respond as well as I could, but there were accusations of pornography, and parallels to the current debate on Zwarte Piet here in Holland which were honestly quite hard to take… I decided a more systematic explanation was needed. I posted it on Facebook. But as I re-read it, I thought it should go on my blog as well. So, if your concern/question is about ’the objectification of women’ in my photography, read on!
I am really not sure how to respond to all these comments. Let me explain a couple of things. I’ll do this in english, because that saves me the trouble of having to say things twice.
Call this photo ordinary, or common, simple or one-dimensional if you must. But when you say it objectifies women, I’m afraid we are at odds.
I am a professional photographer. I work very hard at improving my skill and my repertoire. In short: I explore. You are going to find a variety of images on my website and on my timeline. Included among them will certainly be images of the human body. You may find some sensual or erotic. One of the commenters thought this photo was soft porn. I disagree, but if that’s how you see this image, then you may even find some images ‘soft porn’.
I would like for you to be my friend on this exploration. You’re going to like some images; others, not so much. On occasion there will be images that have a degree of nudity and or sensuality. If images such as these offend you or trouble you (for whatever reason), feel free to not look at them.
I believe sexuality and physicality are part of the human existence and as such to be enjoyed and admired. My images are going to reflect that. For a long time now I have been clear that I do not subscribe to the evangelical views on sexuality, which I find repressive and unhealthy. There is no use in appealing to me on those grounds. If I am inspired by an element of faith, it is this: God created us in the nude! And then he said it was GOOD!
With regard to this image: as stated with the original post, this picture is the result of a workshop. That’s all it is. I am not trying to make a statement about female sexuality, or set a standard for beauty. This is not a work of art, or a commentary on society.
Exploitation or Empowering?
I applaud any attempt to protect the weak and fragile. But please know the girl in the picture was well educated-and mature. She volunteered for the shoot and participated without any pressure. She was paid well and really enjoyed the experience. She was treated respectfully and on no occasion approached inappropriately. At no time did I think of her as an object during editing. I enjoyed getting to know her. I do not think she was scarred by the experience. It is my experience that as people age, they are happy they have photo’s that show their beauty. Hence I believe these pictures are empowering rather than exploitative.
Do they feel objectified?
While I understand there are 17-year old boys who have photo’s like this on their wall, and that in some cases there is a degree of ’treating the woman as an object’, I did not create this photo for that purpose. I have no intention of selling this photo to any kind of magazine or website.
I am uncomfortable at the ease and speed with which people condemn pictures (and video’s) not to their liking by slapping on the accusation of ‘objectification of women’. It’s odd to me that the accusation ‘objectification of women’ only ever comes from people who wouldn’t participate in pictures like this, while the people who do do, like my model, don’t feel objectified, but rather empowered. And round and round it goes….
Take a better look
I am aware there are many people who struggle with low self-esteem. In fact, I believe that as a photographer I am more aware of this than most other people: I run into it every day. But while it is easy to blame ’the media’ for this, the truth that I find every day in my work is that a low self-esteem is a problem of the human heart. It is not a problem caused by the images ‘out there’. It is simply putting the cart before the horse to blame photo’s of any kind for this.
In my studio I try to help people of all ages and genders and races appreciate their own beauty. In some images that may mean I bring out the sensuality or the physical beauty — as I did for this model. So please don’t tell me I tried to reduce her to an object; I tried to bring out her beauty and used the grungy context of a garage as contrast to do so even more. My pictures do not make her less then she is: they tell her, you and me, that she is beautiful, fun-loving, adventurous, and up for a good laugh. If you can’t see that, you haven’t looked hard enough!
In short: my conscience does not trouble me. I am, however, troubled by people telling me what I should and shouldn’t do.