Today, debates over censorship, reproductive rights, AIDS, and domestic violence are growing more and more heated. A powerful effort is underway to define and control expressions of sex and sexuality, and to reinstate the traditional family and institutionalized religious practice as ideals.
Denizens of the shadows people Christer Strömholm's photographs, echoing that last instinct of the natural world, predating consciousness, which is the vulnerability of desire. Plato named it long ago, in the Symposium, when he wrote, "Ancient is the need for one being for another, implanted in us ... so that by mutual embraces the race might continue. . . . But the intense yearning each [man] has for another is not the desire of lover's intercourse, but of something else, which the soul needs and cannot tell, and of which he has only a dark and a doubtful presentiment."
When I was about eleven years old I figured out that people who dressed a little funny or walked too hard or too soft got it from the other kids, and that I was one of those. Objectionable girls were "tomboys" or "dogs," and boys—before anyone really knew about homosexuality—were "fags."
When did this nightmare begin? It's Christmas, and we've just opened our presents. I got a porcelain doll. Danny gives me one every year, it saves him having to think of something else. But he gave Sherry a gold bracelet, and what that cost I can't begin to guess—a girl of twelve! Oh, she was thrilled, she hugged and kissed him and I couldn’t look at that so I came in the kitchen to get the dinner started.
I grew up to the stories of my Aunt Mandy in public it was cancer of the uterus in private Aunt Mandy died because she was butchered She died from an abortion, a hatchet job She lay dying in the basement. They found rats eating her insides out. In fact all of her blood drained out of her— All of the women bowed their heads at the story of Aunt Mandy
The story, reproduced endlessly on television, in newspapers, and in magazines, has become painfully familiar. Perhaps the fable inflicted its moral punchline upon you during youthful religious training; like most of culture's stories, this one is delivered to us from history and adapted for contemporary use: the parable of the Prodigal Son.
In New York City it is illegal to be a prostitute. Sex work is a twenty-four hour business and sex workers have no legal protection. Although the law clearly states that someone must be actively soliciting in order to be arrested, this is frequently reinterpreted by police to mean that anyone in revealing clothing or anyone previously arrested on a prostitution charge is up for grabs.
I did not originally set out to photograph domestic violence. Ten years ago while I was on an assignment doing a story on a family that epitomized the American success story—he a self-made millionaire with a glamorous wife, five perfect children and a Danish au pair girl—I saw something in their mansion I was not meant to see.
Nobody likes child molesters, except newspaper editors; everybody likes kids, most people enjoy naked kids too. Unfortunately, since Reagan's presidency, enjoying naked kids has become a legal question, one that affects parents and photographers alike.
One year before Robert Mapplethorpe became a household name, a related incident occurred in Alexandria, Virginia. On July 14, 1988, six men, including armed police and inspectors from the U.S. Postal Service, surrounded the home of Alice Sims, a local artist.
A peculiar hostility has arisen in the United States during the past two decades regarding the image of the nude child and the idea of sexuality in children. "The kiddy-porn" laws that have been pushed through Congress and most state legislatures did not prevent Louis Malle from casting, directing, and presenting the young Brooke Shields nude, with the consent of her mother, in his film Pretty Baby, or keep American photographers from making and exhibiting their studies of nude children; but they were not too late to bring about the nationwide withdrawal from sale of St. Martin's Press' popular "Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents," called Show Me!, containing Will McBride's photography, nor to cause nudist publications to "tone down" their representations of healthy, happy, outdoor-loving family groups, in which genitals could be seen.
The art world was taken by surprise by the furor over the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding of exhibitions containing photographs by Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe, which began in the summer of 1989, and, more recently, by the indictment of Dennis Barrie, director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio and the CAC itself in conjunction with the opening of "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment" last April.
In any culture, the way people understand their bodies and their sexuality has far-reaching implications which extend to their perception of social structures, power relations, and even spirituality. In a culture such as ours where sexuality is often surrounded by fear, violence, guilt, and domination, the exploration of the body and its relationship to the self and history can have a liberating power—a power to completely transform a repression-based society.
There's a scene in John Huston's movie of the Carson McCullers novel Reflections in a Golden Eye in which Marlon Brando retreats into his study for a moment of privacy. It's been established that Brando (an army officer attached to a military base in the Deep South) is having serious marital problems.
"I'm often accused of being an intellectual exhibitionist," acknowledges Peter Greenaway. In a series of remarkable films made over the past twenty years— including A Walk Through H, 1978, The Draughtsman's Contract, 1982, and A Zed and Two Noughts, 1985—Greenaway has engaged in visual and narrative games that derive from his background in painting and structuralist film.
Obscure Objects Of Desire: The Films Of Pedro Almodovar
Substitute "director" for "individual," and "cinema" for "life," and you have an ideal credo for the films of Pedro Almodóvar. With a canny blend of artifice and gritty realism, bawdy farce and unabashed sentimentality, Almodóvar's movies examine the lives of contemporary Spaniards trying to free themselves from various prisons—among them the memory of Franco, Catholic guilt, and the telephone.
The postwar years have changed our sense of our physicality. Once, people born into the Western way of thought tended to imagine the human body as property of nature, from which the civilized consciousness was somehow separate. Thankfully, that gulf has closed.
KATHERINE DIECKMANN is a contributing writer for The Village Voice. Her articles have also appeared in Art in America, Mirabella, and Elle, among other publications. She has directed the music video for R.E.M.'s "Stand" and "The Adventures of Pete & Pete," a children's serial.
Among many others, we would especially like to thank Karen Hust and Lee Alan Buttala for compiling the literary passages quoted in this issue, as well as Elizabeth H. Berger and Burton Joseph for so generously sharing their insights with us.
In Aperture 119, "Cultures in Transition," in Nan Richardson's article about "The World Reality" conference, a quote attributed to the photographer Eugene Richards should have read, "Though sometimes their perceptions of themselves were sometimes absolutely untrue, even in untruth they were fascinating and important."
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all works are courtesy of, and copyright by, the artists. Front cover: photograph by Sally Mann; p. 17 photograph by Lisa Levart, three-dimensional photo-collage; p. 18 photograph by Cindy Sherman, courtesy of Metro Pictures; p. 19 photograph by Barbara Kruger, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery; p. 23 advertisement detail used with permission of SmithKline Biological Laboratories; pp. 24—29 photographs by David Wojnarowicz, courtesy of PPOW;