05 August, 2009

David Hamilton

Photography has really only been a side-interest for me, and since my formal photography education is nonexistent, I'm not really familiar with a lot of the popular or "classical" photographers that are (or were) out there. So if somebody were to ask me who my favorite photographers are, I wouldn't really have much of an answer. But there are a couple that I've caught notice of, whose work has impressed and inspired me. And one of those is a man by the name of David Hamilton, known for his reputation for shooting gorgeous young models often minimally clothed (if at all), and for the romantic soft blur effect that characterizes his photographic style. What matters most to me is the fact that Hamilton's aesthetic sense of beauty, as it relates to the budding eroticism of adolescent femininity, overlaps to a not insignificant extent with my own; hence, in viewing his photos, I can sense a sort of kindred artistic spirit (in addition to the sheer wow factor that his best images elicit, of course).

Due to the controversy in some modern cultures surrounding the erotic portrayal of "pre-adults", there is unfortunately no lack of criticism leveled against the quality of (likely a result of simple ignorance) or intentions behind (cue moral hysteria) Hamilton's work. Even beyond that, there are those in the artistic community who seem to be of the (elitist) opinion that naked girls can not be art (to which I say, what is art without naked girls?), or that erotica itself is independent of the "true" or "pure" artistic disciplines (which is clearly a delusion). It is secondarily for the sake of those who may have something to learn from some exposure to his work (at the inevitable risk of inciting the opposite effect) that I present [only] a handful of my favorite David Hamilton prints in brief to you here, but I do so primarily because these are simply beautiful artistic works - the kind of objet d'art that, once discovered, compels an art lover to share that wonder and amazement with others!

"A distinction must be made between eroticism and pornography; the media have blurred the disparity to an unforgivable degree. For those intelligent enough to recognize the difference, erotica will continue to hold a unique fascination. Social evils should not be confused with the pursuit of true beauty." ~David Hamilton

Note: If viewing these images makes you feel uncomfortable, might I suggest you read this?


  1. Social evils, he says? Hm...

    What if a man or woman becomes aroused by art portraying nudity, does the piece become pornography? In other words, do we rob the artist of his intention and redefine a work which is sexually arousing, or do we take the person enjoying the work and tell them "Your subjective appreciation of a subjective piece is -- though subjective -- wrong." More importantly, what are the intellectual, objective, personal and interpersonal attributes that define a work as art from the position of the one consuming the art? What does one think and feel and gain from viewing a piece of art? Whatever these things are, I say unequivicobaly that they can be applied just as easily to pieces of pornography.

    To me, the only valid reason to feel the need to defend "art" from "pornography" is the fact that pornography is typically done much more poorly. But the low quality with which porn is typically created does not reflect onto the virtue of the genre itself. Pornographic photography possesses every bit as much potential for being meaningful, powerful and intelligent as photography which is deemed unpornographic. I am often moved deeply and substantially by "pornographic" photos, in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with physical arousal. Porn can say things about society and the soul that "unpornographic" pictures can't, just as vice versa.

    And even in the case of arousal... is that not a rather substantial reaction to a piece of art? Show me another medium where such a strong personal and emotional reaction would be greeted with scorn or indifference. I could look through 1000 rock songs before finding one that gets me rocking, and I could look through 1000 porn pictures before finding one that is arousing. I relate to my porn in the same intimate way I relate to music or art. I mean... is there a reason why you are more commonly impressed with pictures of attractive women than of ugly women or men? I'm not asking you to appreciate porn, merely to understand that good porn probably says a lot of the same things to me that these unpornographic pictures say to you.

  2. We can agree, there are photographs made by people with the intention to arouse and ones that are not. But it's a bit like the line between music that's made just to sell records and music that is made with integrity. Couldn't an artiste come into porn with all the same motivations towards artistic vision as someone who happens to take those ideas into non-pornography? After all, most of the classic paintings were comissioned, and you have to imagine that there's a lot more money in porn than in nude photography of a clean intention. More importantly, I'd argue that an artists intention is wholly inconsequential. The only import that an artist has over his work is what WE percieve as his intention, no matter how right or wrong we are. I think a good example would be all those Flickr photos. How many of those could easily be pornographic or not? How many pictures of naked beautiful women have no over sexual aspects but are used as porn by many?

    I don't want to fight you on this, I just find pronography very much worthy of respect, and society's position on the matter is beyond meaningless to me. Society's position on porn can be considered nothing short of hypocritical. Don't your favorite porn pictures move you? Don't they stir your soul and say something? I understand the societal need to distinguish porn from non-porn, but I more than halfway think we could probably agree that in a perfect world, there would be no need nor any particular criteria to seperate them. "Porn" is a genre distinction like labeling what movies are or aren't noir, and what music is or isn't blues, and what TV shows are or aren't soap operas. It's all strictly subjective, there are ones that lean more obviously to one side or another and ones that are pretty agreeably inbetween. People can masturbate from watching Full House, that much we know for sure. The underappreciated fact is that people can appreciate overt porn without recieving a physical reaction. Perhaps you never even disagreed, I was just in the mood for an essay. I've falen off the internet wagon. Hopefully not for long.

  3. Here, read this.

    I don't personally agree that pornography is inherently evil, but I think the important point of that quote is to make the distinction between pornography and erotica. Calling pornography a "social evil" may be a low blow, but I must admit it gets the point across - specifically, to the people who do view pornography as a social evil. In this particular case, as it pertains to depictions of minors, it's important to make the distinction that you can take a sexy picture without the engagement of sex, and that it can have artistic merit above and beyond simple titillation. Note that this is not to denounce titillation itself - the whole point is that titillation is okay, because it can be approached from an artistic (tasteful, beautiful, complex) perspective. Pornography and erotica may very well serve the same ultimate purpose, but the difference is that porn often takes a vulgar approach (e.g., "what's the quickest and dirtiest way to get somebody hot and bothered?") while erotica is often graceful (appealing to a wider aesthetic of beauty, including, but not limited to, sexual arousal). That, in my opinion, is the important distinction.

    We could argue semantics and definitions, and the subjectivity of it all (which is undeniable), but that would be tedious and ultimately futile. Make no mistake, I am a staunch defender of pornography (it certainly has its values and uses), but I also maintain that there is a difference between erotica and pornography, and for me, erotica holds a higher value than pornography because it satisfies both my animal lust and my desire for a more sophisticated form of aesthetic beauty.

    For example, take any one of the images above, strip away the soft focus, and mix up the perfect balance of shapes and forms and lights and colors that currently exist between the model and her environment, and take another picture, with the emphasis on exposed naked flesh, rather than a beautiful composition. The shot could still be quite arousing, but in my opinion, it would be far less interesting, and less the kind of picture I'd want to hang on my wall and share with other people, and more the kind I'd hide in a folder somewhere and only look at in private.

  4. We mostly agree... I guess I just have a taste for the embarassing, because it seems more meaningful to me that way, so the "hide in a folder" pic is one that I would most like to share and identify myself with. I just don't see porn as necessarily quick or dirty. The sexuality can be overt without being shallow. For example a song on Vanity Ain't Fair was inspired by this porn pic which was basically an exuberantly happy girl flashing her breasts, and she just had this utter look of innocence on her face, as if what she was doing was pure and wonderful and okay. It spoke to me because it made my connection seem almost mutual... rather than feigning some jungle-lust it was as if she was enjoying herself as much as I was. And rather than tapping into a taboo, she looked as if what we were doing was definitively natural, like we could be playing tennis or watching TV or playing with a cat. I wrote a whole story about her (in the song I Want It All).

    There was no dramatic shading, but it still had an awful lot to say to me. I guess that's just my personality. Most porn may be vulgar (by your astute definition), but not all of it is. It's like pop music... most pop music may be vapid deplorable fluff, but then there are people like Tom Petty. People who could have gone in a more traditional artistic direction but chose pop/porn because that's what they believe in. What can I say? I'm a simpleton.