Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Diminishing Beauty

Beauty literally stops me in my tracks. It can annoy my wife when she’s in the car because I’ll hit the brakes unexpectedly, pull over, and reach into the back seat for my camera. It might happen anywhere and if I don’t capture that right away it can fade in minutes or even seconds. Photography is about light after all, and light is often transitory, especially with scattered clouds and a storm either building or breaking up. A shaft of light will illuminate something against a dark background and I have a brief window in which to get the shot. By the time I’ve stepped out of the vehicle, turned on the camera and framed the image, a cloud may have blocked the sun and the opportunity passes.

When I am successful though and I pull up the image later on my computer, it’s a great feeling. The photos I like best all convey whatever feeling I had when I saw the scene. If the photo kindles a similar feeling in others it will sell. The ones I’ve been paid for are images of things — landscapes, street scenes, coastal scenes, loons, sunsets, and so forth. Images of my loved ones are among my favorites but I don’t put them on the website. One did get on accidentally once when I was re-sizing a batch of coastal scenes and a shot of my grandchildren looking for crabs on a beach got mixed in somehow. I didn’t realize it until someone ordered a collection of photos and I pulled up the full-resolution version of that shot from my computer. Now it hangs in a northern Maine nursing home.

Shots of my grandchildren when they’re young convey an innocence that has universal appeal. Young children are genuine; they lack pretense. With a zoom lens they don’t usually know I’m photographing them. They see me with a camera so often that they’re seldom self-conscious about it. When they become teenagers, however, that natural, unaffected demeanor fades. They’re not sure who they are themselves and that uncertainty comes through in photos — especially when they know I’m shooting in their direction. Almost never do I ask people to pose because I much prefer candid shots.

All imagery interests me, but especially other photographs. Again, my taste runs toward candid. We’re all bombarded by photos of men and women with physical beauty, but when photographed for advertising purposes they lose their charm. Subjects are paid to be pretentious. In my eyes, that disingenuousness comes through more strongly than anything else the advertiser intends. It’s worse when the models’ affectations have a sexual bent which is increasingly the case.

Often we see photographers following subjects in revealing dress and snapping away as the models try to look alluring. They strike various poses with ostentatious “come hither” expressions. Such scenes are meant to convey the alleged glamour of high fashion but it never works for me. The fakery is so obvious I can never get past it. It must work with most viewers though because that sort of advertising is ubiquitous. Some could be called soft porn, and it is always pushing limits of propriety.

And pornography which no one could call soft has become dangerously widespread with the internet. Images depicting sex without love would define it, and in my youth, Playboy Magazine was considered porn. It might not be labeled such today because still photographs of the Playboy type have given way to digital video. It’s a plague the young and old contract with the cell phones in every pocket. As with drugs and alcohol, pornography is addictive. Continued use requires stronger doses to reproduce the initial thrill and teenagers today produce their own with cell phone cameras. Our culture is increasingly coarsened in the process. Porn destroys relationships from teenage romances to marriages and professional counselors warn us there’s no end in sight.

Consumers are mostly male but females are catching up. A 2011 article the UK Guardian claimed one in three users were female and 17% of women were addicted. Porn actors degrade themselves and watchers degrade themselves vicariously. How widespread is pornography? Statistics vary: anywhere from 15-75% of Americans use it regularly. Extensive revelations of Jeffrey Epstein’s rich and powerful associates abusing underage girls seem to mirror trends in porn users toward child porn, the only kind that’s still illegal.

For how long will it remain so? That depends on how much society values the innocence of youth. Will Epstein Attorney Alan Dershowitz prevail in his arguments to lower the age of consent? Will Republican congressmen persuade Attorney General William Barr to prosecute internet porn producers more vigorously? There are forces at work both pushing and pulling.

Beauty, defined as: “a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense,” is becoming endangered when seeing images of fellow human beings. Beautiful landscapes, however, remain plentiful.


Brian said...

It i s always nice to see such columns that show despite our political differences there are some things on which we agree.

George said...

Weinstein, Epstein, Dershowitz, moonves, etc.. huh, if only there were a common thread linking these sexual predators and scumbags.
And many of them work in movies and the media. Gee, I wonder why there is so much porn and such easy access..hmmmm...