When does photography become pornography?
I was talking to someone today who does some modeling work from time to time. She’s recently had a rush of photographers asking her to do photo shoots which is something she loves to do. So, I’m glad for her. So, up front this is not me slamming anyone but you’ll likely know how I feel by the time I’m done. Anyway, our brief conversation got me thinking on the philosophical and biblical end of things and, eventually, I started coming up with ideas and maybe answers. And some of it comes from my friend and her experience.
Photography is a means by which we capture still images. They tend to encapsulate memories that we don’t want to forget and they are often used to capture some form of beauty, God’s grandeur and creation. I have a lot of friends who either do photography as a hobby or a career and I have a lot of respect for them. Despite what the camera companies may tell you nowadays how anyone can be a photographer, it takes a good eye and I think a connection of the soul to truly capture a beautiful, still-frame moment in time with a digital device and, even more so, using film.
We once had a discussion in one of my theology class about the concept of Aesthetics and what beauty truly was. It used to be that we used paint on canvas to maintain people and moments as they are now so we can keep them for a long time, sometimes we would carve them out of stone. What my professor was trying to get across was that nudity in art was not a display of beauty. I never really knew what to say or how to take such a statement. On the one hand, I do find there is a certain amount of beauty in the preciseness of marble carved into the likeness of a human being. I guess I never really thought about the nude portion of it and I still don’t. But is it beautiful in the sense that it was created to capture the highest form of beauty for its medium? I don’t know. I never really thought about that either.
These are the same questions I can apply to photography though. Without getting legalistic or making up some sort of systematic theology about the whole thing, I think it comes down to a few things. First of all, you have to ask yourself if the picture elicits some sort of lustful or sexual desire within you. Jesus says that if we lust after a woman with our eyes we have already committed adultery in our hearts. There are a lot of magazines and publications out there that basically make their money off of this. Stuff, Maxim, Cosmopolitan are all big names in this sort of subtle soft porn sales pitch where the models may be clothed but the goal seems to be to make you wish they weren’t.
Second, is to fully evaluate the content of the photo. I’ve seen pictures of women without their shirts on both tastefully and some not so much. There some that are designed, fashioned and posed to be artistic. One in particular of a friend of mine exposes her from her shoulders to the small of her back but you don’t see anything but the contours of her back in a classic black and white. Some may call this kind of photography racy or inappropriate but, in my mind, the picture is not designed to evoke lust or even make you think about the fact that there are very few clothes involved. It’s meant to make you appreciate the form and lighting, the overall picture and not just the subject of it.
Lastly, we’ll touch on pornography. This is a product made to addict you to itself, psychologically. Photography becomes pornography for me when the poses, clothing or anything else contained within is being used purposefully to evoke a sexual response in the viewer. It is the poison of this generation, in my opinion and it has the ability to ruin lives. I know because I’ve seen the aftermath several times and even experienced it myself. It basically bastardizes an art form for profit instead of beauty. Some will say that the women who star in these movies are beautiful but they’ve become legal prostitutes and use sex in a way that is so disgusting I can’t see beauty in that.
Beauty, to me, is something that evokes something from the depths of your soul. It’s a hand around your heart, squeezing until it’s empty of blood and letting go so you can feel life stop for a moment and then feeling it flow again. It reaches down and rattles your guts. You feel all this because you know it’s true and it’s real, not necessarily because of how your eyes see it, but the whole you interprets it. It’s when you know God created this or created it through someone so, for all its glory, you can’t feel anything else but awe. It’s a genuine smile or a person caught in the moment without noticing it. It’s when everything fits, then falls away.