The Male Nude in Photography and the Erotic-Portrait

Our sexual taboos are so strong that respectable photographers are today still forced to qualify their use of male nudity as 'tasteful' -- code word for either no cock or limp-dick, but NEVER used to describe a photograph showing an erect, hard cock. To avoid being labeled a pornographer and ostracized, the photographer falls back on the most conventional expressions of nudity in art. Consequently, we are subjected to an endless succession of often boring sculptural and pastoral male images which I like to call 'sleepy nudes' or 'nudes with no balls.'  With almost no erect penises in the iconography of world art (Only a few exceptions from antiquity such as Hindu temples and Greek vases and statues) whenever the penis rears it's head, the photograph is routinely dismissed without any further evaluation. Isn't it time to end this charade about pornography?

Since Art only exists beyond the confines of accepted behavior;* that is to say, art is irrelevant unless it serves to redefine reality, what is required in this case is nothing less than the overthrow of existing sexual taboos regarding the male cock. We need a morality more in harmony with the new demands for our survival on the planet. (For more on this last point, read: The Pursuit of Happiness and the New Morality.)

What my photography is about...

As a portrait photographer, I'm working to create a new genre: The Erotic Portrait -- le portrait érotique. There is a great hunger for quality erotic images that differ from what is generally available. In saying that, I am not criticizing the porn industry which provides a tremendous service to the community and gets little or no credit for its important role in the prevention of AIDS and the containing of STDs. How many men who might otherwise engage in unsafe sex can be seen nightly walking hand-in-hand with the latest DVD or VHS porn video even in San Francisco's Castro district? And how many straight women and new born children have been spared the despair and agony of AIDS because of pornography? That is something to seriously ponder before pontificating against the porn industry. Not an ideal solution, nor perhaps the one you'd choose, but a perfectly safe one.

However, we need more creative and more racially and ethnically divers pornography for our emerging global community. The acceptance of pornography will mark a new era in human liberation as well as set the stage for a more positive outlook on the wonders of human sexuality. In most cultures sex is still treated like an ugly secret kept from children who are then left to clandestinely discover it for themselves. Does that make any sense to you? Sadly it says much about the failure of human communication in this vital area.

Only when 'pornography' becomes a descriptive rather than as judgmental word, will this situation begin to change for the better. Then photographers, movie and video makers who traditionally have not wanted to be associated with the porn industry will cross over bringing with them their talent and expand the notion of pornography as we know it today. The time is right to join in providing sexually safe entertainment the public craves in it's Pursuit of Happiness.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your views. I look forward to your reply. Click -->

--*See: "ALL SORTS - Where do you go from Radical? In the case of 70's artist BIRON he's moved from the Xerox to photography, and is using the internet to push the (pornographic) envelope." (blue, No. 23, Sydney; October 1999, p. 62).

Answer: A photograph that has the qualities of a good portrait (lighting, composition, individual personality, etc.) which, in addition, happens to be sensual or erotic depending on one's sexual appetites. This added ingredient, either suggested or overt, would, when successful, be considered in a more positive sexual atmosphere as enhancing rather than detracting from the photograph's essential qualities. Yet we still expect the artist who uses pornography to seek justification elsewhere with claims that the work as a whole has redeeming social value.
I would argue instead that pornography can be a valid element of a work. And those who deem everything they consider to be artistic as not pornographic, simply deny the meaning of the term. For example, I've been told that each of the photographs on this page is definitely not pornographic by people who liked them but could not come to terms with the dreadful word. In short, pornography is a fact, not a moral judgment, and should be subjected to the same aesthetic criteria as any other form of creative/artistic expression.

I can foresee a time when the intention to cause sexual excitement is not condemned and the Erotic-Portrait becomes popular as we move into the new millennium. It has already become fashionable with the young men I photograph who understand what I am doing. I can imagine celebrities whose private lives are already an open book, becoming trend setters in this area. And why?

The reason is simple: Sexuality -- although a highly personal and individual concern --is no longer a private matter. We know the intimate details of the sex lives of The Presidents of the United States and countless other public figures from Prince Charles on down who seem to be doing quite well despite the most intimate sexual disclosures. People's sex lives remain of great public interest, but are no longer a viable subject of scandal. We have more pressing problems that include at the very top a population explosion still out of control -- 6 billion and counting! Even the working man and woman can now bare it all publicly through the modern media of TV and now the Internet. Capitalism is undermining all remaining vestiges of privacy as detailed information about our own lifestyles -- based only partly on our spending habits -- are collected and stored in cross-linked computer databases and sold daily, rarely with our knowledge or consent. What else can you expect? This is the Information Age, isn't it? And if you thought that meant the Encyclopedia Britannica on a CD-ROM, well, think again!

News flash! There are no closets in the information age - lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, etc. The consumer databases -- those great search engines of world Capitalism created by a marketing industry that feeds an advertising industry -- are bulging at their gigabyte seams with detailed data on every aspect of our lives. Those Supermarket plastic discount "Club" cards are tracking our every purchase. Soon these supermarket chains will make more money selling this information than the goods on their shelves.

In the US, the failure of political coalitions as reflected by the fragmentation of the political agenda into ever increasing sub-sets of issues has provided the dominant economic interests an easy way to self target market groups of consumers who otherwise would have been more difficult to define. Divide and conquer has never been more effective.

For example, the 'gay marriage' issue helps define a choice mailing list of middle-class Americans with oodles of cash to self indulgently spend on clothes, vacations, implants and face lifts. Political action mailing lists are just the thing marketing companies dream about, and rank high with coded bank customer lists that give away just about everything else except bank account specific totals. Does it matter if they include you in a specific range. We've all seen those online questionnaires asking for your income range. No secrets when the information is so valuable and so easily electronically transferred from one data base to another with just a click of the mouse.

Rather than fight against the core values of the various political groups, Capitalist interests simply identify and exploit them for their own economic advantage. Is this so difficult to see or are we just too numb to react?

Isn't it time the anally-retentive politically correct acknowledge that they have been outmaneuvered? What may have worked 25 years ago for the hippies and those of us in the anti-war movement simply will not work today. It's also true that this kind of bound-to-fail politically correct politics attracts the more politically inept who alleviate little else than their gnawing sense of guilt with their ranting against the system they help perpetuate.

It's more than enough to get anyone to take up smoking the new unfiltered nicotine-laced cigarettes. For heaven forbid anyone do anything that does not prolong their lives into a likely quite dismal future. Are we being condemned to involuntary good health against our good wishes? Must the pursuit of happiness only be socially responsible? Some happiness, right!


You're getting the drift of my remarks: social engineering is upon us and individual consent has become a mere formality. Group hysteria when people caught smoking in public are stoned to death, figuratively if not literally -- if looks could kill.

What I'm talking about is an irreversible fait accompli, ever more skillfully being applied to the new emerging world markets throughout the continents of South America, Asia and Africa -- the New 'Capitalist' Frontiers of the 21st century filled with masses of innocent pre-capitalists just waiting to be exploited in the fully-wired cable-ready high rises that are being constructed at breakneck speed as is the case in China today. That's what life is all about in this post-Communist global Capitalist environment.


Now you know why the World's Stock Markets have become the major news story of the day. If there's a buck in it, it will be KNOWN; if there's a buck in it, it will be DONE. Even at the risk of human extinction? But then again some might argue that what is human will long be dead before the species finally disappears from the planet. The process is well under way and accelerating.

No turning back the digital clock. So, the only logical conclusion is to accept the fact that we have all been Outed -- not by political left -- but by the foot soldiers of Capitalism: the credit bureaus and the all invasive all-knowing cash-for-information marketing industry. The quality of your junk mail is directly related to your zip code.

What about the collective good? Can't blame Capitalism for ignoring it when a fragmented political opposition only seeks its own special interests. In short, everyone's doing the same thing. News flash: We are not victims only coconspirators

So, where does the answer lie?

Answer: perhaps in a more compassionate assessment of our global situation rather than in old-style confrontations. It's an 'us' rather than a 'we-them' dynamic. Sorry, but everyone's hands are dirty. And whatever you may think you are doing that is significant probably serves more to rationalize your position than help the situation. If you feel that "they" are doing it to you, think again because you are doing it to yourself for "they" are not in the least interested in you.

Once understood and not merely intellectualized (as I am doing here), the need (along with the possibility) for any of us to hide information about any aspect of our lives, including our sexual self-identity, simply vanishes, and countless unimagined new ways of doing things can emerge. The Cyber Sex revolution that began at the close of the 20th Century is just another step in that general direction. Hopefully, we can together create a world without shame, pretense or deceit, regarding our sex lives, and begin to focus on the more important global issues that threaten our very survival on the planet. 

Photos by BIRON © 1997 All Rights Reserved.


READ: The Pursuit of Happiness and the New Morality: Cyber Sex, Pornography, and alternative sex practices beyond condoms.