Ogling, objectifying and de-dignifying. The rights and wrongs of “looking” have been discussed heatedly, recently. And here is my
confession contribution: I am a voyeur. No, I really am. That is, what my profession is all about. I *look* for a living. And then I record my “look” on camera and sell it on as a picture to those who also like looking. That makes me sound like a pimp who exploits their victims, doesn’t it? And it begs the question – is photography a tool for objectification? Or asked a different way – if it weren’t for photography, would we ogle and subsequently objectify Richard as much as we are able to and do ??? And where does that place R___, his agents and the marketing people?
When I was gearing up for a post on the wider theme of “objectification”, my intention was to *ooof* an image of R___’s that shows plenty of skin (abs, biceps, six pack) combined with his under-brow smoulder, in a provocative pose. Purely as a challenge to the critics of objectification. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t find it that easy to find some RA images with gratuitous nudity! Bearing in mind that I generally do not *ooof* screen caps but only photographs taken by professionals with the express purpose of portraying Mr A___ as himself or in one of his roles, I was left with only a handful of images to choose from, and they all are from the early stages of A___ ‘s career. Devil’s advocate that I am, I eventually settled for an image that displays all the trappings of eye porn candy…
Alright, let me tell you one thing: No, I am not particularly fond of this shoot at all. It leaves me stone-cold, even though R___ must have been willingly complicit (well, as much as I can tell) in this titillating little set-up. Let’s have a closer look. (Yeah, it’s gonna be real hard, but it has to be done, girls…) On a very superficial level the sitter in this photo could be the male equivalent of the typical 1950s pin-up girls: Our model is posing on location. He has been placed in front of the bars of a window or gate. In the bottom left we even have a padlock just about visible. This background sets the tone for a rather raunchy interpretation of the location – bars evoke the association of prison cells, of captivity and of bondage. *wiiwoo* Helloooo, sexy!
Against this backdrop, our model has been placed with his right arm up, holding on to one of the bars, and his left arm hiding behind his back. Again, we have slight overtures of bondage emanating from this scene – because there is no need to hold on to these bars behind his back and above his shoulders, other than to be a fine sight… And what a fine sight it is as, on a more practical level, this means that the subject’s jacket is forced open by the raised arm (and possibly also a little bit by the arm that is pulled behind his back). How very convenient for oglers – as A___ has forgotten to button up his shirt, and so we are faced with his perfect body – a flat stomach, a muscly rib-cage, a clean shaven chest and the sexy little belly button. But the real pin-up pose comes from the way A___ is jutting out his right hip, with his left leg crossed in front of his right leg. (Google “pin-up” and you know what I mean!) The pose here says “Come and get it, girl! Touch me – I am all yours, I won’t bite. I am showing you my wares.”
This pose has been coupled with a very naughty smoulder from the sitter: Mr A is almost pouting here, his mouth closed, but his head is angled forward in order to then look up from under his brow, directly at the camera. We are all familiar with the “smoulder”, very effectively used by Mr A whenever he is portraying Alpha Male-characters (i.e. all of the time… Aside: funny, that he gets ‘mis-cast’ all the time… by his own admission he is less alpha and much more “nurture and nourish”). Combined with the body language here, the smoulder says “I am not ashamed of my wares, honey. I am looking you straight into the eye, I am actually daring you to come and touch me.” Despite the unsmiling gaze, the sitter is directly inviting the viewer to look and to appreciate what is there. He is literally exposing himself to the appreciation of the viewer. These are classic pin-up poses, laden with sexual promises and hidden titillation. The pose and the look are no coincidences. They have been chosen with one clear goal in mind: to get the viewer to look, to appreciate and to *want*! The basest of instincts are being played on here. Cos try as we might – humans are animals, and we still act on the remnants of the instinct that nature has given us in order to procreate the human race. As females, we are attracted by wide shoulders, strong chests, muscular stomachs and narrow hips, and by unwavering confidence and determination – all secondary sexual characteristics of a virile male with whom we ideally should mate in order to proliferate our race.
Images like these are not made for simply appreciating the beauty of the human form. They are made to evoke feelings. And in that respect, the images from this series may actually work quite successfully – a handsome, hunky male will indeed evoke desire in me and there will be stirrings in my loins ovaries. However, evolution has moved on from cave woman days. Apart from visual sexual markers, women nowadays get turned on (or off) by a lot of other signs, some of them abstract. And all of them highly individual. In my case, I simply cannot switch off the photographer’s brain. This shoot for me is marred by the terrible hues that leave Mr A___ ’s looking like a case study for untreated jaundice. The yellow-orangey skin tone is my personal turn-off, and I am shaking my head at the photographer who thought they could get away with it. Yes, it was probably caused by the fact that there is a mixture of daylight (strongly streaming in from the window against which the subject has been placed) and flashlight in the shot. But that should have been dealt with in post-production. Secondly, I am turned off by the styling of the shoot. I do not like shiny suits and crinkly shirts, and I do not like the type of slacks-trousers Armitage has been told to wear. And thirdly, I do not like the sledgehammer sexpot set-up with the bondage overtures. To me, it simply makes no sense at all to place a man in this location with his shirt wide open. What’s he doing with his shirt undone in a stable? Romancing a horse? It doesn’t bear thinking any further than that!!!
To get back to the questions posed at the beginning of this post. If it weren’t for photography, would we ogle and subsequently objectify Richard as much as we are able to and do ??? And where does that place R___, his agents and the marketing people? Ad 1) Yes, photography seduces and tempts us to ogle and subsequently objectify R___ A___ . But that is all it does – it tempts. By no means does the profligate availability of photographic material *force*us to look and drool. We can still say no, if we want, and we still do look away when we are not interested. The point of the matter is, that we are often and simply just following our instincts. We are working out the rank and desirability of the opposite sex – just like they do with us. And we do so with celebrities as much as the hunky builder in the Diet Coke ad or the cute guy who takes the same bus as ourselves on our way to work. That does not mean we merely see them as material for procreation. Most often than not we do not act upon our appraisals. Heck, we are not even *conscious* of our appraisals. The ogling simply goes on like an unspoken internal monologue, fleeting, inconsequential. Deal with it! And own up – there is nothing wrong with looking. It is in our nature.
As for 2) R___, his agents and his marketers are no more to blame than we are. They are acting on the premise that R___’s body is his capital. This may all sound very harsh and cynical, but the entertainment industry is one big meat market. If an actor wants to work, he has to offer himself as the product. And like the fruit seller offers you to squeeze a peach at the market stall before you buy it, his marketers show off R___’s peaches, figuratively speaking, to create demand. That is part and parcel of the job. The actors may not like that – and I sympathise with them for that, as it seems crude and rude – but their looks are half their capital. Judging by the relative dearth of raunchy images of RA, I conclude that Armitage has been successful in marketing himself without pimping out his body. Good on ya, I say.
Whatever. What counts is whether *you* get any enjoyment out of your object of adoration. As for myself – my reputation is soldily ruined, anyway. Off I go, ogling for the latest delicious shots.
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