I wonder about what is holding me back.
Then I remember and wonder how long it takes to recover.
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.
She doesn’t know
She doesn’t know how
She doesn’t know how
to believe anymore.
It was apparent that she was
one of a kind, different
a set apart creation that
washed the eyes of
standers-by clean of color
So wonderfully proper
that you’d never forget her.
She used to play the organ
at her church and sweat out
hymns to the congregation
and at the sound of her voice
you could see her wings unfurl
like two great, feathered sails
catching the breath of the air
and the pipes of the organ
as she played.
She always made sure she
was pitch-perfect and
stroking the correct keys with her
the unspoken understanding from
this homemade choir
that took their places each Sunday morning’
was that perfection was expected
but if you couldn’t get there they’d
pretend to understand.
And so she’d practice hours on end
going through the hymnal page after
page like she was poring over
holy scripture and
she’d tell me that sometimes
she’d play so hard it felt
like her fingerbones might snap
and she’d never be able to play again.
And somedays she hoped they would.
I was just your normal stock of sinner,
believing that some day the Man who saved me
was gonna come down and make
everything new again, like when we were kids.
I spent no time inside this building
where they worship themselves
and their pride gives birth to every
step of their walk down a dangerously wide path
I could hear them every Sunday,
standing outside their house of praise
only to hear her play the organ
with the only grace in that sanctuary,
every note perfect and every
note sang not a cent out of place.
And I would pray for her every time,
as my words were lifted to heaven with
the smoke from the cigarette on my lips
praying to God from this sinner that this
bird be free from her cage and
that her wings spread wide and
break these walls so all could hear
the sound of this one songbird
amongst the carrion crows lift
her head to the sky without
worry of amazing disgrace,
so that the well of love within her soul
was no longer contained within
the pipes that accompanied her throat
and she’d fly free, y’all…
I had heard that words started to fly
like daggers secretly slipped into the back
of each and every one of us outside their circle.
They learned of my association with her
and my tendencies to forget myself and
fall short of Glory and that perfect was a word
I could barely spell sometimes, let alone be.
She told me they asked why a saint such as herself
would bother to fraternize with a sinner, a wretch
And rather than sell me out and forget me like
some cheap trinket she picked up on a whim,
in a fit of fancy,
she held on to me like I was the last hymnal
she’d ever read and she sang for them
a song of forgiveness and pointed to them
That love is not based on a balancing scale,
we are not meant to believe
we are the most holy in the land because
they were all just like me but didn’t have the eyes
to see their flaws;
their pride was far too great
that she could feel it fill the room
each Sunday as she played her organ
with open wings.
And one last time, she played and I listened outside
with prayers fervently uncoiling from my mouth
in smoke formations in front of my face
over and over, chainpraying for her strength.
But it was when I heard her miss a note on
what I found out later was a song called
“Whispering Hope” written long before
she and I ever knew.
I didn’t know the song but I caught a few
lines of the first verse:
Soft as the voice of an angel
breathing a lesson unheard
Hope with gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow–
And that’s as far as she got before I heard the
What sounded like a pack of wolves or jackals
tearing into the flesh of their noon-time meal
came from inside those brickandmortar walls.
In great panic I just stood there, waiting.
Because if this church was as perfect
as they claim, I did not want to anger God
by stepping across its doorstep.
I just keep breathing smoke and
praying that the worst-case scenarios
reeling through my head were only
projections and not the truth
and the truth would set me free from
such illusions. That my imagination
had only run away a short distance
to stretch and it was about this time
that I saw a sullen figure, blackened,
solemnly step through the glass front
doorway guarded by the awning.
It was my angel, my great-winged songbird
from whom I slowly learned the art of praise
and whose wings could span eternity while she sang.
As she walked away from there, a man
dressed sharp and nice in a suit and tie
poked his head out of the door and
told her she wasn’t perfect and she wasn’t
allowed back here no more.
She was soiling their perfect, see, and her wings
weren’t bright enough and
then he saw me.
His chest puffed out great and mighty
like he was God himself and told me
that I had ruined her now and she was no longer
allowed in this safe place he had built for
people who never sinned, never drank and
didn’t have any real problems and they liked it
just that way.
We had no place here and we needed to leave
the premises or risk bein’ chased out with force
because there were a lot of strong men in this
congregation because strong men are strong enough
not to sin.
It was then I noticed a feather on his shoulder,
and more were wafting out the space between him
and the doors.
I told her to turn around.
Her wings were gone, they’d been torn asunder by
the hands of men who had no concept of beauty
beyond their own reflection and of course their wives
if they weren’t too busy tending to the children.
Now, stripped of her glorious plumage she
I’ve asked her many times on the offchance that
maybe she’d squeak out a few notes for me
and some day her wings might grow back.
The seeming futility is not lost on me but I keep
coming back at it, I am the chorus
“beg” on repeat.
Always returning to the beginning of the verse and start over
But she won’t.
Sometimes I think she can’t.
She still dresses her finest on Sundays but
doesn’t go anywhere.
She just sits at the organ
used for practice every day of every week
for as long as she can remember.
No strength to even put her hands to the keys
to pound out a few notes, she just stares at
Her wings gone.
And I can tell she wants to believe.
She wants to believe
I tell her:
If, in the dusk of the twilight
dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness
Brighten the glimmering star?
Then the night is upon us,
Why should the heart sink away?
When the dark midnight is over,
Watch for the break of day
It is then that I notice tears run down from her eyes
and plummet to the hard-wood floor and pool.
I can’t see her eyes so I sit hunched like a
child on the sidewalk at the end of a parade,
hands empty, left in the aftermath.
I tell her to look me in the eyes and
tell me what’s running through her mind,
the freight train that just derailed betwixt her ears.
She slowly raises her head as if controlled by
tensile cables, pulleys and a motor and says to me
Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.
[Note from the writer: This piece was inspired by a photograph that I found whilst checking my DeviantArt account. You can see the picture here. The parts in italics are from the hymn “Whispering Hope” by Alice Hawthorne in 1868.]