Friday, June 22, 2018


I'd been sitting on this theme for a long time, but I wanted to shoot it last (yes, this is the last planned shot in the Why Nudism? series - I managed to complete it within a year!) because it stands out in the sense that, while every other shot highlights a reason to practice nudism, this one emphasizes the importance of a nudist to be able to overcome the hangups that prevent textiles from practicing nudism.

I knew I wanted it to be a play on the black censor bar cliché; the only question was where to shoot it. I picked this spot because it provides a nice, clean background (plus, I think nudity has slightly more oomph when it's outdoors), but it turned out to be a great complement to the theme of the shot, because the lines behind me kind of look like the backdrop to a police lineup, even down to me holding a black board in front of me! A little nod, perhaps, to all the legal issues that are involved when it comes to nudity.

Anyway, I was thinking about the subject of censorship in preparation for this shoot, and I came across an article arguing that censorship is good for photography. Basically, because it maintains the "shock value" of controversial images. I don't necessarily agree that the need for censorship is good for photography (i.e., that art wouldn't flourish in a more liberated culture) - although I cannot deny that there is some satisfaction in violating taboos - but I'm inclined to agree that artists should not be so quick to decry the censoring of photography (e.g., adding black bars to a nude photograph), at least insofar as it enables controversial (albeit modified) images to reach wider audiences, who then still have the option of accessing the original work. Certainly, though frustrating it may sometimes be, I feel like I have only grown as an artist by catering to the slightly less liberated audience of deviantART (provided I still have other outlets for my more risqué works).

But that, really, is a pretty narrow context for censorship, and what I would argue constitutes something closer to a form of filtering, than the active suppression of speech that the term "censorship" is usually linked to. Censorship, in its truest form, is somebody (whether it's the government or not) dictating what you're allowed to see/read/consume. It may involve actual destruction of information - as in the iconic example of book-burning - or, more commonly, a destructive modification to the source material (e.g., applying the black marker). Even the simple act of a gatekeeper preventing certain materials from reaching an audience can be considered censorship. The common theme in all of these cases is that somebody else is making a decision for you about what kind of information you're allowed to be exposed to, whether or not you have knowingly and willingly granted them this authority.

Filtering, by contrast - while sometimes having the superficial appearance of censorship - distinguishes itself from that practice by preserving the individual's choice. It recognizes that some subjects are contentious and potentially offensive, and that a significant portion of the population may prefer not to be exposed to them without warning. It makes no moral or ethical judgments about the effects certain kinds of information may have on people. It merely lets the individual decide for themself what they're comfortable with. For this to be possible, there must always be some kind of click-through enabling the viewer to consciously choose, if they so desire, to view the original, uncensored work.

I feel a bit like I'm taking the devil's advocate position here, as I am not a fan of trigger warnings and "safe spaces" - and I still think the marginalization of sexual speech does the subject a severe disfavor - but as I've said in the past, I'm willing to make reasonable compromises, and though I consider myself to be somewhat radical in terms of some of my beliefs, I still believe that the moderate position is usually the sanest and most advisable one. So as an alternative to "hard-line" censorship, I'm willing to live with a filtering system (as I did, mostly happily, during my flickr years) as an acceptable compromise, if not the ideal situation (which would be a more tolerant and open-minded culture).

Now, when I say that there must be a click-through to the uncensored work, I will allow that this may involve cooperation between separate sites/companies. A website needn't permit the hosting of information it deems objectionable, as long as there exists an alternative host, and the filtering site does not actively obstruct access to it. A site that prohibits linking to the original, on the other hand (as deviantART not only prohibits the hosting of "pornographic" content, but also the posting of links to sites that include pornographic content), is engaging in active censorship. The crucial difference is the preservation of choice. You may place the controversial materials behind a curtain, but not a locked door. Because you still have the freedom to pull back the curtain if you wish.

Unfortunately, what makes sexuality (and also nudity, insofar as our culture links it with sexuality) different from other forms of speech - such as crude language and violence - is the fact that there are laws with potentially severe penalties for anyone responsible for allowing minors to access such content. Choice has been removed from the equation, and the government has unilaterally (and in opposition to science and reality) deemed such speech a public menace. You may be criticized by your peers for letting your preteen watch an R-rated movie, but nobody's going to jail or losing custody of their children over it. For those of us, however, who recognize that the human body is not synonymous with sexual activity, and, to go even further, that knowledge of the carnal act is not toxic in the same way that other forms of potentially offensive speech (e.g., hate speech) may be, this is a distinctly frustrating state of affairs.

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