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The Other PlaceReview - The Other Place
by Jeff Burton
Twin Palms, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Aug 2nd 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 31)

In The Other Place, Jeff Burton shows some of the workings of the porn industry.  In contrast to the recent collection of posed portraits of porn stars by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders in XXX (reviewed in Metapsychology April 2005), Burton shows people in action or off-guard, between performances.  It includes both male-female sex and male-male sex, and is occasionally explicit, although it does not include explicit pictures of intercourse.  However, this is not really a documentary work, and it does not show the "truth" behind the appearances.  Rather, it is far more informed by aesthetic sensibilities.  The photographs are full of rich colors, and the large format images with high quality printing make the book a pleasure to handle.  The people in the pictures are almost never shown directly and show no awareness of the existence of the camera or the photographer.  In many, we see only glimpses of people's bodies, and some they are shown in reflections, or are out of focus.  In a good many photographs, we just see the location, surroundings or details of the scene, with no people shown at all. 

Depictions of pornography tend to wear their values on their sleeve: it is either shown either as a brave exploration of human sexuality, harmless fun for adults, or the heartless exploitation of vulnerable people.  Burton's approach resists such simplicity.  He uses a rich pallet and shows a loving fascination with his subject, yet he also conveys discomfort with the life of porn actors and conveys the unhappiness that goes with can be associated with selling an intimate part of one's life.

Some examples.  The images are not titled and the pages are not numbered, so it is hard to refer to them, except by description.  In one image a couple of men seem to be having sex in a library, but it is hard to tell because they are out of focus, while crisply in focus on the left is a carved torso of a bearded man, apparently part of a mantelpiece sculpture.  On the facing page is another photograph largely out of focus, of some kind of pet bird, with no associated sexual content.  Both images have pleasing colors, with golds, lovely greens, and muted reds.  In another picture, a woman with long golden blonde hair lies with her head backwards, and we see just her head, neck, and the top of a lacy piece of clothing.  Her mouth is slightly open, and her blue eyes are visible, but they don't seem focused on anything and she looks almost like a corpse, except for the blush to on her cheeks.  We can see grass below her and a man's foot, in a short white sock and white sneaker in the dark behind her, and from the context it is likely that she is having sex with someone.  In another pretty picture, we see slightly out of focus a man's muscular chest, in rich pink hues, framed in an inverted V by another man's hairy thighs, in focus.  A few pages on, there is a dramatic couple of images facing each other.  On the left page, there's a highly explicit image of a woman's shaved vagina as she faces downwards.  It is raised in the air, ready for sex, and round her waist is a metal belt draped over a rich red sheet.  Someone's hand rests on her back.  On the opposite page is a curtained stage, with two director's chairs lit in red, presumably prepared for a discussion between two people who will soon come on stage.  The folds of the curtain behind the chairs strike the viewer as they are illuminated in the red light.  High above the curtain is darkness, that takes up nearly half the image.  In this darkness, are two ornate decorations, although it is hard to work out their relation to the stage.  The red in the two pictures is closely matched, and they make a strange juxtaposition.

There is some muted humor to The Other Place, such as in the picture of a naked man framed by deep green plants, bending forward in front of the camera so we just see the top of his head, apparently fellating himself, or the picture of a flat bed truck in a wooded area, behind a wide tree, with two naked men wearing just socks and black sneakers, presumably having sex with a third hidden man or woman.  Indeed, many of the images have a subtle playfulness combined with a sense of pathos.  Burton seems to take great pleasure in unusual perspectives, surprising vantage points, and making his viewers guess at what they might be seeing.  While there's no sense of shock within the pictures, there's some surprise in their arrangement, so that while having the book open at one point might present quite innocuous subject matter, turning the page may display an explicit shot of genitals. 

Burton's work seems like a commentary on the pornography industry -- after all, it would be odd for him to just use porn actors as his subject as a random choice, or because he happened to be hanging around with them.  As a commentary, it is slightly inscrutable, hinting at judgments rather than making them directly.  Yet the book is full of emotion and provocation, making it a demanding experience to scrutinize the pictures.  Certainly, it is a far more interesting body of work than Greenfield-Sanders' XXX and it is one of the most striking depictions of pornography in recent years.  It deserves a wide audience. 

 

 

Link: Twin Palms Publishers

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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