email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlaySame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
How to write about these pictures? First, description. Merritt was born in 1977, and these pictures are from the last few years. They are catalogued into eight sections, most of which are labeled according to which camera she used. The pictures are of Merritt and her sexual partners, male and female, engaged in sexual activities. They are explicit, and are probably illegal in many countries. I certainly would not expect to find this book in the local mall, although one can browse through some of the pictures on the web sites listed at the end of this review. They are full color images, taken with digital cameras. There is some text, about her life and the role of photography in her life. The pictures include nudity, oral, intercourse, bondage, kissing, masturbation, and even a golden shower.
Second, evaluation. These are different from images you would normally find in mainstream pornography. They are less predictable, less clichéd, less silly. They are mysterious in a sense: we don't know who the subjects are, how Merritt met them, or what she did with them apart from what we see in the pictures themselves. They seem real rather than fake, but they are not a calm documentary of sex. There's a variety of styles and approaches. There's no obvious theme apart from sex. Some of the pictures are beautiful, some are shocking, and some are bizarre or ugly. It's a confusing book to open and browse - it is hard to work out what Merritt is trying to do with her photography. That's despite the fact that she says why she does this work:
"Taking images is a way to:
a reason to explore
a safe way to experiment" (p. 52)
There's something important about the idea of using a digital camera to document the details of one's life, and Merritt is part of a rising tide of young women using cameras and cams to record their lives, including their sexual activities. Maybe it is empowering, or maybe it just makes a profit. The motives are largely unarticulated. It is clear though that it is a way for women to gain greater control over their representation in culture, as well as to get attention and to make friends. Maybe it is a form of exhibitionism, but it would be nonsense to say that there is no more to this use of cameras than women showing off. I find the question "is it art?" mostly unhelpful because it takes the focus away from the question of what this sort of work accomplishes.
Of course these images can be used in the same way that mainstream pornography is used, for sexual excitement, release, fantasy, and objectification. Magazines like Hustler, Penthouse, and Playboy, and the thousands of pornographic web sites that now exist and do good business use similar languages and forms of representation as women's fashion magazines, teen magazines, and Hollywood movies. That's where we mostly get our discourse and iconography of sexuality. Many people find those representations of sexuality confining and stupid, and look for alternative approaches. One way to go is the sexual underground, where S&M, domination, fetishism, and perversion are explored and enjoyed. Some art photographers and artists have portrayed this world, with varying success, and Merritt says that Eric Kroll is both a friend and a strong influence on her work. However, much of this work is as clichéd as mainstream porn, and Merritt certainly goes beyond the banalities of fetishism. Her work is more spontaneous and exploratory than most, and that makes it interesting.
Lastly, what has any of this got to do with mental health? The most important connection is also obvious: a healthy sexual life is part of good mental health. But what counts as healthy when it comes to sex? It's work such as Merritt's that helps us to question our presuppositions about what is normal and what is desirable, or maybe more accurately, Merritt starts to articulate buried doubts that we already had. Merritt certainly doesn't have any clear answers or theses for us - she never claims that she has. But it's a start, and it's a good one.
© Christian Perring, 2001
Two art erotica sites
Two interesting Cam sites