Eroding Rights

There is a lot of wonderful photography news to talk about today, but I wanted to take a little moment and relay a little storm on the horizon that I’ve been noticing lately and is going to be troubling if it arrives the way I suspect it might. Our rights and freedoms are being slowing eroded away. Not so much that you’d notice, unless you were really paying attention. So here’s a little heads up.

A woman’s right to choose is in play for real these days. The extreme conservative religious movement is digging their heels in in several states. That’s been in the news a lot, but here’s something else that has just shown up on my radar.

Birth control.

Something we’ve all taken for granted for years since it was officially made legal in the mid-1960s, could be limited if some groups have their way. Basically they believe that any sex that is not intended to procreate is wrong. Even if you’re married and you decide you want to put off have children for any number of reasons, if you use birth control, it’s wrong.

So now we have groups trying to stop condoms being distributed to teenagers. We have pharmacists refusing to fill certain prescriptions involving birth control and the morning after pill. The FDA, even though an overwhelming number of doctors and scientists maintain that the morning after pill is safe for over the counter use, has decided to postpone approving it – indefinitely. It’s been available in Europe for 20 years. The US government is withholding relief money to countries being ravaged by AIDS unless they agree to teach abstinence and minimize or completely remove any discussion of condoms or other birth control. Oh, and we don’t want sex education in schools because kids will think about sex. So no birth control and no sex-ed. Sounds like a genius plan to me.

I have no problem with people believing whatever they want to believe, but I have a big problem when they start limiting what I can do in my personal life. There was an frightening article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine titled Contra-Contraception. You may have to sign up for a free membership to the NY Times online, but it’s an important read. Take 20 minutes and catch up to what’s looming out there.

So what does all of this have to do with photography? Many things. But at it’s most basic kernel is the idea that if you start restricting people’s rights, especially rights that we all thought were safe, other troubling things are probably not far behind.

On Saturday night there was a closing reception for my photo exhibition at Echo Gallery, and we noticed that a group of five women were intently looking at my work and really discussing it. One of the people I was standing with went over to them and told them that the photographer was right over there. So they eagerly came over to me and introduced themselves and told me how much they liked my work. I have two themes of art that I’m showing. Ten photographs make up the Underwater Gallery which are huge three foot by four foot images, and the other ten are the Love and Ecstasy Gallery which are framed a bit smaller to 16″x20″. They were particularly intrigued by the Love and Ecstasy images. They said they really loved the way I captured the beautiful sexuality of women without objectifying them. That was wonderful to hear because that is exactly what I was trying to do with that series. It’s a very fine line to walk and I still have to work carefully, but intuitively to create something in that area that I hope will contribute to womens’ positive sense of self worth about themselves when they see the photographs.

But clearly I succeeded with them. They were from Oklahoma, visiting Chicago for a conference and happened to stop by the gallery. Now Oklahoma is not exactly what I would call a liberal state, but it really made my night to hear that they were able to get what I was trying to do even though you might expect people from Oklahoma to be a little less comfortable with my subject matter. One of them said, as they were walking away, if only more men and more husbands saw women the way you do.

I’ll admit my preconceptions about certain parts of this country were proved wrong. And I’m glad they were. I worry that artists like me are really are getting squeezed when it comes to how we can express ourselves in public. I’ve always felt that my work is art. There has never been a question about it. I do create images that contain nudity, but I think I do it in a positive, beautiful, inspiring way even when it gets to the edge of being sexual or erotic. But the way the government has been really going after artists, some that I know personally, it’s forcing me to be more careful. I don’t like that.

I think if someone under the age of 18 sees my work and then walks into a 7-11 and sees the cover of Maxim and FHS and the other lad magazines, my work, even though I might be showing more of a woman’s body than the cover photos on those magazines, is so much more positive when it comes to how people might react to it or have their opinions of women shaped by it. My work is emotional, inspiring and perhaps in some instances provocative, but not in the “come and have sex with me” way that the lad magazines portray. I’m not saying they should not be there. First amendment and all. And I like a sexy picture as much as the next human. But I’m saying, I feel that since my subject matter involves nudity, I’m more likely to be hassled by the government, even though my message is more positive from a humanity standpoint.

I was having drinks with a great friend of mine last Friday. She used to work for the MCA here in Chicago (Museum of Contemporary Art) and we were talking about my website and how even though I don’t believe any of my art would be considered “adult content” in a pornography sense, I may have to put a warning on it and rate it as “R” so that I don’t have to worry about it being able to be seen by people who might be offended by it. It really makes me sad. I feel like putting a warning on my site is censorship and I really find that offensive.

Meanwhile most of the country is on a “violence is okay, but sexuality and the human form is bad” bent. I just don’t understand it. But okay. As my friend said on Friday, I have to protect myself these days in this political climate.

But more good stuff. She has been living in Europe for a few years and is back now and she’s going to shop my work around to her gallery contacts and see what develops. She was one of the first people to begin collecting my work about 13 years ago and it’s great to see it on her wall when I visit her. She’s one of the good ones.

And then there’s Paris. Morgan and I will be returning to that wonderful city this summer. We have an apartment there right across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. Absolutely beautiful. We’re already planning the pictures. Should be amazing. I can’t wait!

Here’s a photograph of Morgan from last month when we were fooling around with a ridiculous pair of platform boots that I found about 4 years ago. Yeah, we can do sexy too. Ironically, the first time I ever photographed her was in those boots almost a year ago before she was even considering modeling. She and her sister Ryan were over on her birthday and we had consumed just enough cosmopolitans to play dress up and take a few pictures. She found those boots. I think we’ve been wanting to revisit them ever since. And now we have.

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