Male gaze, Japanese photography, Courbet, ketchup


Actually, the subject is zooming in and zooming out

Pardonnez-moi, chers lecteurs francophones, de n’avoir pas encore préparé une version française de ce texte-ci.


I began to pay attention to how much this act of brushing my teeth had become routinized, nonconscious behavior, compared with my first efforts to do it as a child. I began to suspect that 99 percent of my daily life was just as routinized and unnoticed; that my mind was always somewhere else; and that the thousand signals my body was sending me each minute were ignored. I guessed also that most people were like me in this respect. — Allan Kaprow, “Art Which Can’t Be Art”

Photo of Leonid Brezhnev, in trunks and with telephone
I know two women who—as punishment for the need to make a living? for a desire to make their careers in the art world?—spent the last many weeks in a large concrete room, the walls of which were covered with some two hundred black-and-white photographs of women, almost all of them scantily clothed or naked, some of them bound, crotches or breasts or asses exposed, photographed, on public view. The grainy photographs along on one wall were almost all of women shot close up and from behind, without faces, in panties or with naked buttocks. In several of the photos the woman was covering her buttocks with her hands, as if to preserve her modesty, so that the entire crack of her ass or the lovely tuft of her pubis could not be seen.
I did not find these particular photographs (by the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama) erotic. Were they meant to be? Did Moriyama—who made his reputation with quite another image, of a stray dog, a resonant symbol of the outsider in Japan—was he, with these quite different, more personal images calling our attention to a particular, peculiar interest of modern men, or of some modern men: in the fact that women keep their sexual body parts hidden by underwear or, faute de mieux, their hands?

Gustave Courbet, La femme au perroquet (Woman with a Parrot), 1866, in MET collectionI will say here at the outset that, as both a viewer and artist, I am not uninterested in erotic art. Indeed I believe that much good art involves an eroticism, broadly defined. That is, a central feature of such work is the warmth and physicality of the connection between the artist and her or his subject, and so that, however briefly, all of the artist’s desire, sexual desire included, flows into the work. As viewers we feel this warmth, the strength of this connection and of the artist’s longing, and this is a large part of what attaches us to the work. It is also the case that, as feminists have stressed, our museums are full of European paintings of naked or semi-naked women, and the creation and exalting of this work has a lot to do with a male “erotics,” let’s call it (while also noting that many of the greatest contemporary admirers of these paintings are women). Above right is a photograph of a typical, wonderful and large example: Gustave Courbet’s La femme au perroquet (Woman with a Parrot), which is prominently featured in New York’s MET museum and which, in 1866, became the first of Courbet’s nudes to be accepted for an official show of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Edouard Manet, La femme au perroquet (Woman with a Parrot), 1866, in the collection of the METAfter visiting the show, the concrete room, that featured several hundred photographs of naked or semi-naked women, I found myself less interested in the art works than in the experience of the two women, gallery employees, whose jobs, among other things, involved sitting in that space, long day after long day, with a view of all these images of women who had been paid, in one way or another, to reveal their crotches, breasts and asses so that male photographers could offer pictures of these things—or of this fact of being exposed—to others. I have spoken briefly with these employees, but I do not know them well. I believe they are both around 30 and have both been serious students of art, earning master’s degrees. In addition to greeting and counting the visitors and making sure nothing is stolen, they were tasked with preparing and disseminating documentation for this and other shows. It might be said that their view of all the women—or of all these male views of women, which might lead one to think, even against one’s will, that what we men find most interesting about women is, say, their buttocks and the possibility that we might make them take their panties off—this view was blunted by quite another of the male compulsions that has come to dominate modern life. That is, set up on the long tables behind which the women sat were three Apple screens, one quite large. Of course various images or web pages could be seen on these screens and yet, in that gallery space, with all the photographs on the walls, what I felt was not that such screens show us things, but that they help block our view of other things, things that we would rather not see.

“You zoom in and zoom out,” one of the women told me when I asked about her experience, overseeing that particular show. And note that the gallery’s overall focus is on Asian and African photography in general, and not just on the “male gaze” or photographs of naked women. And I will also note all too briefly here that, say, the employee of a cigarette company may often zoom out on the fact that the product she is selling is toxic, and an employee of the United Nations as a matter of course zooms out on how the organization is used to serve neocolonial aims, and a person involved with a partner who has more money tends to zoom out on the extent to which she or he may be being paid for sex, emotional support or companionship. In the course of a lifetime a human being will find himself or herself in more than one concrete box and surrounded by images and other phenomena that he or she would rather not have to look at, or not so frequently.

Drawing by William Eaton, March 2017, after Nobuyoshi Araki photo from "101 Images for Robert Frank (Private Diary)"A few of the images on the other walls of the gallery were of Japanese women bound in the Japanese S&M manner. (The Japanese terms are kinbaku, which means tight binding, and shibari, literally “decoratively tie.”) At right is my sketch of one of kinbaku pictures. Zooming out, I found myself interested in the décor of this picture: the ceramic vase—a stereotypical female container—several cheap paperbacks, a can of beer or soda, her underwear around her calf, and, at the back and along one side, the grid (or bars?) of the lattice of a rice-paper partition. Could this photograph be read as suggesting that there is something awry in Japanese life, either in its conventions or its desires—that in such an everyday environment, a worthy young woman, a simple embodiment of earnest Japanese womanhood, might find herself tied up, exposed, photographed for men’s pleasure?

Later I noticed that, along another wall, this picture had a twin. That is, there was a picture of a younger woman, a high-school-age girl, clothed, sitting on a couch in a loose-fitting dark skirt that covered her thighs, and yet one of her thighs was spread to the side as the other young woman’s had been spread to the side by the kinbaku rope around her ankle. A viewer might imagine that underneath the younger girl’s skirt, her crotch, pantied or not, was exposed much as in the kinbaku picture. We all have our obsessions, sexual and otherwise. It seemed that in the case of this well-known Japanese photographer, Nobuyoshi Araki, one of his several obsessions or interests, was in this particular separation of a woman’s thighs—or in the fact that women cannot always keep their thighs closed? (One afternoon at one of the studios where I go to draw, there was an artist who, before drawing the two female models naked on the little stage, bound, with a scarf, her own tights-covered thighs, tightly shut.)


Zooming in and out is what all of us do, and even if we never set foot in an art gallery. Artists, writers and similar may be more zoomed in than most people, and certainly we like to think this. Nonetheless, zoomed out, trying not to see too clearly, dissociating, trying not to be distracted from how we wish life and other human beings were—I take this to be the human default mode. It might be said that we have developed elaborate religions and religious institutions to help us stay zoomed out, often very far out. We have our drugs, electronic gadgets and social media included. Our advertisers and politicians do a lot of zooming out work, as do movies, TV shows, sporting events.

There is a young woman who comes to my apartment to model for me. I pay her twice what she could earn—fully clothed, confronted with more various emotional demands—working as a waitress. One of the first days she came to my apartment, she could not find my building door and so called me from the little park outside. When I found her there she was trying to take a picture of one of the black squirrels.  I suppose black squirrels are a rare sight, and a reader of a draft of this piece told me that her infant daughter used to have coughing fits whenever she saw a black squirrel—as if such animals were omens, suggestions that something was awry. But, for my part, until I saw this woman—Joanna, I will call her—trying to photograph one, I—zoomed elsewhere—had never, in 14 years, quite realized that “my” park had any black squirrels.

I once heard a comedian—Chris Rock, I believe it was—say that men (just heterosexual men?) never do anything for women without sexual intent. If we hold a door for a woman, it is in the hopes that this will lead her to allow us to put our penis inside her. There is a deep, animal truth here, and this even while, of course, most of the time we may hold doors for women and men without the least sexual thought entering our consciousness. Joanna has said to me that she has chosen to ignore the fact or possibility that many of the men who approach her may have sex on their minds. She said she finds life easier if she ignores all this sexual desire. It would not be correct to say that I can draw Joanna naked without feeling sexual desires—strong ones! But I have never proposed that we have sex or even a delicious, see-you-next-week kiss on the lips.

One afternoon Joanna asked if she could draw me. As I was posing, I was able to articulate the following observation: a voyeur’s deepest desire is to be asked to take his clothes off. But, you might say, zoomed out, projected into his supposed obsession (or his work), the voyeur or artist rarely sees this. We are so busy trying to see and portray the other, or some aspects of her or him, . . . Our best works may be redolent with this desire to be seen, and viewers of our work may see this, even as we, perhaps, do not.

I have been reading Henry James’s The Wings of a Dove. At a dinner party, a young American heiress remarks to a young English Lord who she has just met: “You’re blasé, but you’re not enlightened. You’re familiar with everything, but conscious really of nothing.” Could something similar—a word like “distanced” often substituting for blasé?—be said of many of us?

Jacquelyn in red pen, 28 March 2017, by William EatonAs regards the gallery employees, my sense is not that they were blasé, but rather that they were sophisticated and pragmatic professionals, and thus were often able to look at the world, contemporary art and these Japanese photographs, through the filter of their sophistication and of their pragmatism. It might be said that this sophistication and their desire not only to earn their livings, but also to build careers, did zooming-out work, so that much of the time they were, in a sense, conscious really of nothing. (Though one might ask, too, if their relations with men were uneasier, more distant—or more wildly erotic?—during these weeks they spent cooped up with these photographs?)

Living, as I do, not far from several New York hospitals, I often, when walking across the avenues, hear ambulances’ sirens and see their lights flashing. Presumably the drivers are trying to get seriously ill or injured people to emergency wards as fast as possible. I see, too, that few of the other drivers, or cyclists or pedestrians—all fellow New Yorkers—bother to get out of the ambulances’ way. One might ask, then, why we still bother with sirens? Is it just that old habits die hard, or do we wish, in fact, to daily call attention to our mortality and our selfishness? To make sure that we do not zoom too far out?

And yet I doubt that many other New Yorkers, or our visitors, notice this particular, peculiar drama—the urgency of the ambulances, the other people so unmoved. It is a central fact of my life that I do notice phenomena such as this, and—as a kind of defense?—I have decided and proclaimed in my texts that a life so lived, so noticing, is a fuller life, a life more zoomed in. This is not say that such an approach promotes joy or will win you friends, money, prizes, social status, sexual partners. Oh that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away, and be at rest?


One Friday evening while the Japanese photography show was running I was sitting on a cushioned bench at the MET painstakingly making a crayon drawing of Courbet’s femme au perroquet. I came to be surrounded by an art teacher and a score of middle-aged art students. Prior to the students sketching from Courbet’s work, the teacher wanted to lecture about the paintings. He had a great deal to say about color and geometry, and if, though busy with my drawing, I nonetheless learned something, it was that Courbet may have been the great Realist, but that didn’t prevent him from manipulating forms and colors to achieve certain effects. Of course one of the principal effects is erotic and hardly in a broad sense of the word; Courbet’s model looks somewhere between ravished and ravishing. (As I greatly admire the work of models, I will note that this model, Joanna Hiffernan, is one of the most famous, having also modeled for and been the mistress of James Whistler, as she was also one of Courbet’s mistresses. It has been said that she was not only beautiful but also intelligent and sympathetic. “She gave Whistler the constant companionship he could not do without.”)

The art teacher spent some time on how the colors of the parrot’s wings served to bring out the colors of the human flesh, but he did not mention the human who did the modeling, nor the eroticism of the painting. Did this teacher feel that, since more than half of his students were women, he could not say that he did—or that even that he did not?—find Joanna ravishing? But might he have asked, “I wonder how we feel about this painting and this woman and the artist, and especially now that so much has been said about the male gaze and the reduction of women to sex objects?” Could he have mentioned that Courbet—and much more than Whistler—had made of Joanna one of the great sex objects in the history of European painting?

A teacher might also have discussed the particular artistic dialogue in which Courbet’s femme au perroquet played its role. On the one hand there were Giorgione and Titian’s ravishing Venuses and Ingres’s Grande Odalisque, and, on the other hand, Goya’s La Maya Desnuda and Manet’s Olympia, in which the model, we might say, is zoomed in; she appears to know she’s posed naked and to have her own feelings about this, and thus—it’s like when radio signals get crossed—the male gazer’s cannot get such a simple, clear view. The woman—or women—do not exist just for his pleasure. From this perspective, Courbet’s femme may be modern and Realist in its unabashed explicitness, yet retrograde and zoomed out in making its woman nothing more (and nothing less) than a sex object. And in a neighboring room at the MET may be found the next moment in this dialogue: Manet’s La femme au perroquet, in which he again painted his favorite model, Victorine-Louise Meurent, a well-established painter in her own right, who he had previously shown shockingly nude in his Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. But now, in response to Courbet, Victorine was more than fully clothed in a pink silk dressing gown. (An image of the painting can be seen far above, and it might be observed more generally that Manet is a good example of a non-erotic painter—more ideas than desire; in some canvases a conceptual artist avant la lettre.)

I also need to note somewhere that I would have had a different experience of the Japanese photographs if the gallery had not included two female overseers, the gallery employees. And—heading down another path—I would also recall that not every person photographed or sketched naked is unhappy about this. The Joanna who comes to model for me and many other models, for artists and in the fashion business, are often pleased to do this work, quite preferring modeling to other jobs they could get. Modeling is a way they can be part of something—art or fashion—larger than themselves and that seems wonderful to them. And people, men included, tend to like it when an artist or photographer appreciates their beauty and their talent for modeling (which is a performing art). They like it, too, when the artist or photographer is able to make something special of them—a work of art, a person or image somehow larger or more special than the person they feel that they are. It is as if we, however temporarily, have made not only our own but also the models’ fantasies come true. (And at times this involves zooming in deep, and at times zooming way out.)

Ingres, La source, with male viewer in foregroundAt the MET, after the teacher finally shut up, one of his students, a woman about my age (62) sat down next to me and began to sketch another Courbet painting. She was at great pains, making faint, careful lines and erasing, to get the proportions right, and she did not seem to want to talk. I left her alone. But the fact remained, no more than me was she sketching just any painting. Her choice was La source (The Source). This is a painting of a naked woman at a waterfall. Somewhat like in the Japanese photographer’s work I first described, the model’s face is hidden; we are shown her backside, her buttocks first and foremost. And this is doubly interesting, because this painting of Courbet’s was a critique of Ingres’s idealized neoclassical painting, La source (presented at left). There’s a sense in which—not unlike all three of the Japanese photographers whose work surrounded the two gallery employees—Courbet was shouting at his society—“Let’s stop playing around here! Let’s call a spade a spade!” And what is the particular “spade” Courbet wanted named? Something about how—all our art and other refinements, all our sophistication and professionalism notwithstanding—we’re animals, flesh and blood. Among other things, this means that, for men, women are for not just objects of beauty to be put up on pedestals and admired in all their chaste purity and beautiful geometry and flesh tones. In the chaste context, male erotics and sex acts soil women and spoil them, to include with offspring. But to the Courbet I am fleshing out here in my own impasto style, this fact of life was hardly a bad thing. He was not ashamed of who he was or of who we are. He was not seeking to zoom out or to be any less the male animal he was. Women are never nudes but often naked, and seeing them naked men may well want to fuck them.


With this Courbet segment, I do not wish to say that women should be used only for other people’s pleasure. I would not have had the two gallery employees going straight from work to some locale where they could show their naked backsides or allow themselves to be tied up. Nor do I think that they needed their weeks in that male-photographs-of-naked-women concrete space to recognize the extent to which our culture—art, pop culture, fashion industry, advertising—keeps telling women that one of their chief roles is to look good for men. And sometimes this looking good involves chaste purity and cleanliness and unreal-womanly scents, and sometimes it involves showing breast flesh, buttock forms, blood-red lips, etc.

What I would stress rather is that a more fundamental aspect of human existence is our zooming in and out. And if we are always zoomed out, our lives are empty vases. We may be familiar with everything, yet conscious really of nothing. But without some large measure of zooming out, our lives would be intolerable. We would be too conscious of our mortality and animality, of how self-interested and aggressive human beings—men and women—are, and of how advertising, pop culture, religion, et al., has such control over what we think of ourselves and how we behave, to include gazing, photographing and drawing. We’re neither sex objects or male gazers, so much as parrots?


When one frequently draws naked people, men or women, one can become inured to their nudity and to the erotic feelings that our culture has associated with nudity and with people taking off their clothes, being exposed to the concentrated gaze of others. Insofar as these feelings are social constructs, or like chemicals that have been injected into our blood streams, coloring our vision and our behavior, and insofar as culture and the chemicals keep changing, if not as rapidly as we sometimes think, . . . All sorts of conflicts arise, to include between the different states of my own feelings and between “my” feelings (my chemicals and particular responses to them) and feelings of my neighbors or feelings that the culture likes to have publicly expressed or suppressed. We touch here on why nudes Courbet painted prior to La femme au perroquet were rejected as politically incorrect—indecent—by the Académie.

In the midst of all this, I try not to zoom too far away from my animal nature and my sense that good art is often erotic. I try not to become inured to the nudity of models, male and female, and to “my” (biologically and socially conditioned), sexual responses included, to this nudity.

Heinz ketchup ad - how to please a husbandOnce I was discussing this with an American woman artist about my age. She took vigorous exception to my point of view, an implication being that my position was indecent. In the midst of our heated conversation, she said that for her, experienced artist that she was, the naked models were “ketchup bottles.” Subsequently I have fielded similar remarks from women artists of various ages, and it has always been interesting, and startling, the substitute analogies that are offered. Another I have heard is “lampshade,” a word with quite a range of connotations: from something drunks put on their heads to a way of referring to a particular style of dress—baggy T-shirt and gym shorts—that young women adopt when they want to play down their feminine forms.

Ketchup bottles are hard to top, however. My son has pointed out the association with Warhol and Pop Art. My own mind has run to the fact that ketchup is a cheap consumer commodity. As if women were no longer to be reduced to sex objects, but rather to cheap, artificially sweetened consumer commodities. And ketchup has also been used as fake blood. I suppose some writer has suggested that women are first and foremost blood. But containers of fake blood?

The other day I saw that a Central Park souvenir cart was offering an illustrated plaque with the words “My breasts are real, but my smile is fake.” I very much liked this, but in my drawings and texts I try to find, in dialogue with my models, be they naked or clothed, moods and features of human beings, and of myself, that seem real to me. I work hard to try to zoom in, believing that this is hardly always possible, but does make for a fuller, which is not say more or less pleasant, life.


— William Eaton


William Eaton is the Editor of Zeteo. A collection of his essays, Surviving the Twenty-First Century, was published in 2015 by Serving House Books. A second volume, Art, Sex, Politics, is due out in 2017. Readers of the present piece may also like Drawing, Conversation, Life and Collage, TV President, Bonnard, Miró.



Detail from James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, number 1 - The White Girl (1862), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCAt right: Detail from a James Abbott McNeill Whistler portrait of Joanna Hiffernan. The 1862 oil painting carries the title Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl. It is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Images shown above, beginning at the top and working down:

Photo of Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982. (See In 1982; reference elaborated upon at the very end of the Sources section below.)

Gustave Courbet, La femme au perroquet (Woman with a Parrot), oil painting, 1866; in the collection of the MET museum, New York.

Edouard Manet, La femme au perroquet (Woman with a Parrot), oil painting, 1866; in the collection of the MET museum, New York.

Graphite pencil sketch by William Eaton after a photograph by Nobuyoshi Araki, from his 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary). Décor shown in the photograph is included, but a few changes have been made. Most notably, the image has been flopped so that the model’s leg opens toward the right edge of the text.

Drawing by William Eaton of Jacquelyn West, one of the several excellent models working in New York City at the moment. Drawing, on newsprint, is with red and brown pen on top of old charcoal sketches from some other modeling session.

Picasso, La source (The Source), 1921, Moderna Museet, StockholmPhotograph of a man looking at Ingres’s painting La source (The Source). Photograph has appeared on the Italian Wikipedia site about the painting (“La Sorgente”). The oil painting was completed in 1856 and has been said to present the most beautiful figure in French painting. The model for the painting was the daughter of Ingres’s concierge. In addition to Courbet’s take-off on Ingres’s work, there is Picasso’s, from 1921, shown at right. The Ingres painting is now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris; the Picasso at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Images below:

Photograph of Artur Walther, as found on his Wikipedia page, April 2017. Walther was born in Germany and made his fortune as a Goldman Sachs partner, specializing in interest and currency swaps. The Walther Collection, of photographs, is principally on view in Germany.

Snip of an artnet compilation of images from Araki’s 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary). Accessed via the Web, April 2017.

Infrared photograph by Kohei Yoshiyuki from his “The Park” series, first exhibited in 1979. Photo shows couple engaged in love making and two peepers, one of whom has reached out to touch the woman’s hip.

Charcoal drawing by William Eaton after a photograph by Nobuyoshi Araki, from his 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary). Note that, in contradistinction to my drawing, Araki’s picture has a setting—the corner of a hotel room—that suggests a story or raises questions. Was this woman having an affair? Had Araki used money? a threat? her love for him? to get this middle-aged woman—a doctor? the wife of an executive or government official?—to pose naked for him?—her face, her identity, yet more exposed than her breasts or pubic triangle? More generally, it can be said that one of the most appealing qualities of Araki’s photographs is how some of them suggest there is a story behind them and lead us to imagine what that story might be.


This has not been a review of a show, but the show that led to this piece was Acts of Intimacy: The Erotic Gaze in Japanese Photography, which, from January 19 through April 2, 2017, was on view at The Walther Collection Project Space on West 26th Street in New York. As described in a press release, the show brought together “three key photographic series by the Japanese artists Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama and Kohei Yoshiyuki—each of whom has given special attention to the role of eroticism and sexual subcultures in Japanese society.”

Moriyama’s series of images, briefly described in the essay above, has been titled “a room.” The series encompasses 67 images made from the 1980s to the present in Moriyama’s Tokyo apartment.

Snip of an artnet compilation of images from Nobuyoshi Araki’s "101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary)"Araki, born in 1940, has published some 350 books of his work, and were I indeed to write about him, it would be tempting to begin with this: his productivity. It makes a statement about photography and, now, digital photography and perhaps, too, about the status of the individual. As many a female celebrity and teenager has realized, if you want—briefly—to bob a little higher on the sea of humanity, the easiest thing may be to take your clothes off (or write about your sex life), show a nipple or wear a diamond- or steel-studded dog collar around your neck.

Among the 350 books: Araki’s diary in words and images of his life with his wife until she died of cancer, and Tokyo Lucky Hole (Taschen, 1990), about Japan’s sex industry. From the blurb for the latter book:

It started in 1978 with an ordinary coffee shop near Kyoto. Word spread that the waitresses wore no panties under their miniskirts. Similar establishments popped up across the country. Men waited in line outside to pay three times the usual coffee price just to be served by a panty-free young woman.

The 2017 Walther Collection show included Araki’s 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary) (1993), which, according to a gallery press release, was created after Araki emerged from mourning the death of his wife. The “photographs constitute an extended self-portrait of a man slowly reawakening to the pleasures of life.”

My own (“Male gaze . . .”) essay above does not refer to the photographs of Kohei Yoshiyuki, but, from an artistic and intellectual standpoint, these were the most interesting, if also the most unsettling, of the Walther exhibit. When Yoshiyuki’s work (one image below) was shown in Liverpool in 2012, Sean O’Hagan wrote a good piece about it for The Guardian. The heart of O’Hagan’s article:

Raw, grainy and oddly lit, the images look seedy even before you realise what exactly Yoshiyuki’s camera has captured. Then, they become seedier still, but oddly compelling. Human figures crouch and kneel on the grass and behind bushes in a Tokyo park at night prying on couples having furtive sex on the ground. Here, the voyeurs are caught in the act by another voyeur with a camera. And, as we look at these images—even in a gallery context —do we become voyeurs too?

Yoshiyuki began making his series in the early 1970s, having literally stumbled on a couple having sex on the grass while he walked though Chuo Park in Shinjuku one summer night. He then noticed another couple crouching behind a tree clandestinely watching the couple on the ground. Intrigued, he spent the next six months befriending the Peeping Toms in the park before photographing them in action using infrared flash bulbs. He later said: “I went there to become a friend of the voyeurs. To photograph the voyeurs, I needed to be considered one of them. I behaved like I had the same interest as the voyeurs, but I was equipped with a small camera.”

Yoshiyuki claimed that, in most instances, the couples having sex were unaware of the presence of the voyeurs or, indeed, of him. Often the watchers crept very close to the couples or even tried to touch them. Sometimes there were scuffles and fights. Yoshiyuki captured these elaborate nocturnal games of risk and sexual prying from the inside. When his photographs were first exhibited in Tokyo in 1979, he wanted to capture the surreptitious nature of the project so visitors to the gallery were given torches in order to view them at close range in half-darkness. At [the Liverpool gallery] that voyeuristic ambience is approximated . . . but as yet, there has been no echo of the fierce storm of protest and angry debate that the original exhibition precipitated in Japan. Yoshiyuki’s photographs seemed to touch a collective nerve. But did they say something about Japan’s underground sexual culture or simply offend the morals of a rigorously respectable nation that considered the subject matter unfit for the gallery wall?

Allan Kaprow, “Art Which Can’t Be Art.” In the exhibition catalog Allan Kaprow 1986. Dortmund: Museum am Otswall (August 24–October 5), 17-19. Reproduced in Kaprow, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, Expanded Edition, edited by Jeff Kelley (University of California Press, 2003.

The lines beginning “Oh that I had wings like a dove” are from the King James translation of Psalm 56 of the Bible.

The quote about Joanna Hiffernan is from Elizabeth Robins and Joseph Pennell, The Whistler Journal (Lippincott, 1921), as quoted in the Wikipedia article on Hiffernan, consulted April 2017. One might also see Wikipedia on Victorine-Louise Meurent (also Meurant). In addition to modeling for Manet and Degas, she regularly exhibited her own work at the prestigious Paris Salon. In 1876 her paintings were selected for inclusion at the Salon’s juried exhibition, when Manet’s work was not.

My “impasto” sketch of Courbet has some roots in Jean Pétrement’s play Proudhon Modèle . . . Courbet, of which I saw an excellent production at the Théâtre Essaion in Paris in 2013. The text of play has been published, in conjunction with Latham Éditions, by the originating theater, Théâtre Bacchus of Besançon, France.

As regards my proposition that a life so lived, so noticing, is a fuller life, a life more zoomed in—see On Savoring, Zeteo, December 2014.

China marker drawing of person in photo by Nobuyoshi Araki (101 Works for Robert Frank), 1993 (in The Walter Collection), by William Eaton, 8 March 2017Working on the present piece I have also been reminded of an old Montaigbakhtinian and Web del Sol essay: In 1982, which begins with a quote that then appeared in the Wall Street Journal. An editor of a Soviet business magazine had said something that American readers, I have often felt, are unable to hear, let alone accept: “Our readers must be made to understand that life is a complicated thing of negatives and positives.” Perhaps if we could accept this, our zooming out would be less constant and compulsive?


* * *




For text without images click

Male gaze, Japanese photography, Courbet, ketchup (without images)

Categories: sex (more or less), The Real World

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: