Saturday, September 27, 2014

Object Lesson

There's a photographer who posts on DeviantArt by the name of Marcus J. Ranum. His work is often simply amazing. Back in 2010, he took a stab at exploring the concept of obscenity. Specifically, what makes something obscene and when does it cross the line from "non-obscene." This was the result.

Do-It-Yourself Deviation. Marcus J. Ranum, 2010. URL:
Part of the question that Mr. Ranum expects that viewers would have asked themselves is: "A pretty girl... a meat slicer? Bananas, rope, and medical implements? How do they possibly go together?" And he points out that there's nothing inherently... anything about this photograph. Whatever it is to a viewer, banal, artistic or even obscene, it's all in what they bring to it.

I was looking at this the other day, and a thought occurred to me. It's entirely possible to decide that not all of the items in this photograph actually do go together. A least not all at once. After all, it would be fairly difficult for the model to wear all three pairs of shoes, or both uniforms, at once. So perhaps your Do-it-Yourself Deviation would remove one or more of those things. Of course, if you did that, you could just as easily remove the model herself. At which point I realized that this doesn't have to be a photograph of "a pretty girl and a pile of stuff" it could, really, instead be a photograph of a black beret and a pile of stuff.

And if it is, in addition to illustrating something about how we see obscenity, we can also use this to illustrate how we see objectification, as the model becomes simply another thing in this picture - no more or less important than any other thing. The main point that Mr. Ranum was making, that obscenity is all in your mind (or, if you prefer, your polka-dot undies) would be just as valid, not only with any other model in this picture, but without any model at all. The very interchangeability that is central to anything we encounter being "just an object."

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