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TAKING HARDER PHOTOGRAPHS

by Association Member China Hamilton

Let’s get something very clear; the word ‘harder’ does not mean and should not mean gratuitous. It should also never mean work that is non-consensual. That means working with a subject that, due to their age, cannot consent. When you work with another to produce erotic work all parties should, above all, be very comfortable with what is planned. There is never any shortcut to considerable discussion and exchange of views and ideas. Never be afraid to be direct and blunt about directions of planned work. Once the camera is pointed and the lights are on some people can feel pressured by the moment to go into directions that they are, with hindsight, not happy to travel. Once you cross that line of a union of minds, in the work that is being explored, you may irrevocably damage your relationship with that person. Some photographer’s, who buy services by the hour, can forget that before them is a real person; one with both a mind and with feelings. They are not just a piece of hired meat.

My discourse here is about erotic photographs that go beyond the soft and gentle, in the view of prudish society, are ‘respectable’, in one way or another. Eric Kroll, in the Taschen book, “The New Erotic Photography” kindly said of me, “China has an extraordinary ability to show a woman directly, openly, without it being gynaecological.” That is a good starting point. Sexual eroticism is just that, sexual. It draws upon the many and varied personal desires and fantasies of so many. It matters not if we use paint, a pencil or a camera, what we choose to generate in our erotic picture can be so many things and stimulate so many private proclivities. The camera is the most dangerous of mediums, as correctly or incorrectly, people see a photograph as an actual, real moment. It is a stupid and ill considered evaluation as the cinema so often shows us; no, good and fearful viewer, he didn’t really get crushed by that chariot nor is all that blood running from that severed arm actually real. True, the subjects posing in our photographs are very real and a very vital part of our art but perhaps what they are doing, or seem to be doing, or seem to be experiencing is not as real as the picture sets out to convey?

The starting point of consideration is to ask the question ‘why’ I believe that one should never set out to just shock or to disturb. The fundamental of any piece of work should be to produce a picture that is above all beautiful. Beauty is though a very moveable feast and exists in as many and varied forms as do all the values of such work. I will take one, often difficult subject, as an example. Of late, we have seen the arrival of images of ‘actual penetration’, as they call it. If that is what you, and in this case your two subjects, wish to convey then the challenge surely is to do it in a way that rises above the mere pornographic. It is not for me to try and tell anyone how to overcome that tricky problem. The starting point though is to understand, as I have said above, why it is that you wish to make that picture. It could be that the couple, what ever gender or genders, wishes to share a record of something that matters deeply to them, to convey such things as love, passion or tenderness, or all three? If however, such a scene was photographed to illustrate a non-consensual scene then, as a photograph it would be on very difficult ground. It could all be quite fictitious make believe, as in the cinema but as a still image, but without the context of a story, as in film, it could be very difficult to justify.

Returning to Eric’s comment about my work. Showing the most normally, private places of our bodies to a camera can for some people be too much. I like to work with female subjects who are comfortable with all of their bodies. I think to exclude or to limit the extent of the exposure of any part, is to immediately constrain the freedom of the work with a constructed form of censorship. Equally, to show, as a deliberate action, a place so intimate and personal, male or female, is to also immediately give the sexual organs an importance that is a distortion of a truly natural comfort with and love of all parts of our wonderful bodies. It is to impose a deliberate form of ‘anti-censorship’ which is as questionable a motive as censorship. To me it is just as important to avoid, as say cropping off the head or any body part, unless there is a very good, creative reason for doing so. Eroticism is as much about a nose as it is about an erect penis. Nudity is either the purity of the human body or it is nudity with the message of its sexuality.

‘Hard’ pictures can also mean pictures that venture into a darker place. For many, the experience of dominance or submission is a very powerful, personal fantasy. To see it illustrated, hopefully, with sensitivity in pictorial form is also often sought to stimulate such fantasies. As this world, with all its many variations, is such a common interest for so many of us, it is natural that photography has always tried to capture such moments. Many people, male or female, wish to be photographed in situations that are part of their private, darker sexuality. A desire to share such desires or to be seen experiencing them by others is a strong emotional place. Again, as with so much to do with erotic art, less can so often be more. It is also a serious and empowering fantasy for those that seek to share their private worlds with us. It so often matters deeply and should never be a frivolous thing - except if that is how you subject wishes to display it.

Sensitivity and intuition must both play a major part in any such work. Again the guiding rule, of imparting some form of real, sensitive beauty to the finished picture, is essential. The more explicit and demanding the scenario, the more care must be applied to instil a real, creative force to what is finally produced. We must always remember we are trying to make art, not just a record of an event. We are also trying, in what ever we do to, to capture the emotion and the intimate sexuality of our subject.

In conclusion, I would suggest one simple rule. Never leave your own or your subject’s comfort zone in any work you attempt. When delving into new areas of creative experience, take such a journey in gentle and considered steps. That way you learn balance and your work will benefit greatly and I hope be enjoyed and taken seriously by others.

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