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In one of the tamer pictures in
this collection, "Lily, 1991," a woman with bleached blond hair, the roots
showing as her head is down, sits on a stool, against a featureless
background. She is wearing a black bra
and white boxer shorts. Her legs are
wide apart, and she is resting her arms on the stool -- we can see on the inner
side of her left arm the word "VICE" thinly spelled out in her blood,
presumably using a razor blade. On her
left inner thigh are the words "IS NICE," larger than on the arm,
also etched in blood. Yet the woman is
looking down, and looks vulnerable and sad.
It's a striking image.
The other black and white
photographs collected here are more obviously pornographic and playful. I hardly know where to start, so why not at
the beginning. In "Scott, 1992), a
man is sitting naked and fully erect on a stool, against a black background. He is hunched over, his spine curved as far
as possible, enabling him to just reach his mouth to his penis. In "Peter and Jack, 1992," one
well groomed man wearing a white shirt with sleeves rolled up, a conservative
tie and blue jeans stares into the camera.
He is lit from the side, and his face suggests a sense of wistful
detachment. His companion is naked,
standing on a latter, his knees slightly bent, and his rear presenting itself
to his friend. The second man's head
and shoulders are out of the frame, so he is simply a generic man. What makes the picture even more striking is
that the first man has his arm up in the second man's rectum well up to his
forearm. Other pictures show people
with jewelry, nails and even a bone through their nipples and genitals, plenty
of clothes-pins attached to breasts and genitals, people wearing leather
S&M apparel, strap-on dildos, inserted dildos in various orifices, and
various women being fisted by themselves or grinning partners. In some of the pictures, the subjects smile
happily or self-consciously at the camera, while in others they are looking at
their sexual partners. Other pictures
focus on the genitals and leave out the rest of the person.
For many people, the interest in
the photographs will simply be the spectacle -- it's hard to stop oneself from
gawking and wondering how much pain the subjects endured. Most people would probably find these images
weird or disgusting. However, it would be
a mistake to simply dismiss this work as pornography. The production values are high and the black and white images
have a clear aesthetic sensibility to them, even if they don't compare to the
beauty of Robert Mapplethorpe's notoriously sexually explicit S&M
images. What's especially striking
about these pictures is the range of different people who pose, although it
should be mentioned that all the models are white. The bodies shown are fat, thin, well-endowed and small, hairy and
hairless, gay and lesbian, cross-dressing, young and middle-aged.
Sexual Art is a pleasing
collection because it is adventurous while not pretentious. Rosen has managed to portray his subjects
sympathetically, so one is not inclined to simply dismiss them as freaks or
perverts. He does not impose his own
comment on their sexual preferences, but he clearly has some respect for
them. The work is modest in its aims,
but it succeeds, where many have failed to rise above mere voyeurism or
amateurism. So while this work is
clearly only going to appeal to a very specialist set of readers, those readers
will probably enjoy it.
© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.