If one life has been saved by this photography session, it has been worth it
On Saturday, following the example of artists who'd reconstructed the Unabomber's library, I made a tentative effort to put together a shelf of the books I'd have had at the age of 18. I suppose the idea of such reconstructions is that books also construct us -- they can be the building blocks of our subsequent personality -- and that by reconstructing a library we're reconstructing a construction, and therefore suggesting that different books could have resulted in a different person.
But it isn't just books. If I think back to the Edinburgh bedroom of the teenaged me, there are posters on the walls, too. They're by David Hamilton, a British photographer living in France who specialises in soft-focus soft porn images of pubescent girls. Did David Hamilton's images "construct" my adolescent sexuality? I think they very possibly did. I was a rather sheltered virgin at a boys-only school. The internet didn't exist then, so I'd never really even seen porn. I would probably believe anything you told me about what girls, what women, "really" were.
Why did I choose to believe David Hamilton? Well, his images reflected me in female form. Like these girls, I was a teenager of slim build. Like them, I was somewhat refined and naive. Like them, I embraced a somewhat late 19th century aesthetic, a Wildean decadence. I was even, at 17, developing a bookish myopia which threw the entire world into the kind of gauzy soft focus Hamilton favoured.
I didn't at that time know the "pagan sensuality" of Pierre Louÿs, nor had I seen David Hamilton's film of his 1894 poetry collection Songs of Bilitis. All I had was Hamilton's poster of a ballerina, and -- I'm pretty sure -- the one of the two girls at the picnic table. Despite the "decadent" label -- and the fact that in a post-Polanski France, a hysterical-about-child-sexuality Britain and a puritan America these images certainly don't read now the way they did in the 1970s -- these are "innocent" images to have grown up with. If I were 17 now, I'm sure I'd be seeing much, much harder stuff.
It was in Japan, though, that I encountered the only other person to have been impressed as much by David Hamilton as I was; Kahimi Karie. The photographer-turned-singer loved Hamilton so much that she put one of his images on an early Kahimi Karie t-shirt. This t-shirt inspired me to go off and write one of my most beautiful songs, the fluid, languid composition which just bears the photographer's name as its title:
Exemplifying the post-feminist guilt of a lot of my Kahimi material, this song gives a humourously jaundiced view of Hamilton's work. Read the lyric and you'll see that the tale of a modeling session is told from the point of view of one of the waif-like nymphs; "bored and slightly chilly", she wonders why the photographer must "gild the lily" with his umbrella flash, his liquid nitrogen, his carbon snow.
Then again, the song's narrator is happy to live in the South of France, in the lap of luxury, at Mr Hamilton's expense, lying in bed until 3pm "with nothing on", and grateful that "he only asks for photos in return". In the end, she's philosophical: "If this lazy suffering can bring erection to the lap of just one man it hasn't been in vain". That's a crib from a line of Howard Devoto's: "If one life has been saved by this photography session it has been worth it."
I'm not sure if any photography session can save a life, but influence a life? Oh yes, photography can do that. For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, for harder or softer focus.
That's the original demo. The song grabbed everyone who heard it; they knew it was something special. Although it was inspired by a Kahimi t-shirt, it was written for Laila France (whose name, delightfully, inverts Francis Lai, composer of the David Hamilton Bilitis soundtrack). But when Shazna and Kahimi heard it, there were reproaches: why hadn't I written such a lovely song for them? So I negotiated a deal: Kahimi and Laila would duet it, and then I'd do a different version for the Laila album (it turned out quite odd, with trombone rasps and a Kraftwerk beat). The Kahimi-only version appeared later, and Kahimi basically made the song her own, claiming (in Index magazine, for instance) moral ownership of the song because of the t-shirt!
I've never heard the live version she did a couple of years ago with Otomo Yoshihide -- if anyone has a copy, I'd love to hear what his New Jazz Ensemble did with it!
Yes, Air have banqueted on Francis Lai's cast-offs (as have I). Speaking of Air cast-offs, the little one from Air was in the Pompidou Centre with his partner and two little girls last Sunday, and as they walked by the younger child threw her cardigan out of the pram. I picked it up and handed it back to "the litte one" (having looked him up I see he's called Jean-Benoît Dunckel) saying "Tiens, monsieur, vous avez perdu ca!" I might as well have been handing him a Francis Lai song, but in that case he'd probably have said "Non, ca ne m'appartiens pas!"
It's hard-soft to know, but I'll take a pork stab at it.
I think hardcore-internet-bred me would be more inclined to keep sex and society separate, in the sense that I'd be a bit ashamed and keep my public face clean and my private face dirty. What happened instead is that I developed, as an individual, rather the way France and Japan, as states, have: we tend to let sexuality percolate to the surface in everyday life without feeling morally panicked about it. Sex is more likely to be socialised than repressed.
Then again, it's hard to believe I would have been worse at sex than I was when I lost my virginity at 21. I met up with my first girlfriend recently in Holland and we were laughing about how terrible I was. We had to stop halfway because I'd never knowingly rolled my foreskin back! I'm sure if I'd watched a few pron films I'd have been a bit more satisfactory.
How has age affected your sex life? As a nearly 50 year old man, are you less interested in sex? Or just as interested but not able to do as much about it? Is your sex more fetishised or less so? Or have you noticed no particular difference?
Well Momus, under the cloak of anonymity I'm happy to disclose that I'm about 15 years younger than you; that I certainly orgasm less than I used to 10 years ago; and that, yes, I think sex has become a little more fetishistic, probably due to my becoming more monogamous, and the search for variety having to happen within the confines of a relationship rather than between different partners.
Fascinating! I'd nearly forgotten about David Hamilton's books. While I was working at a bookstore in the shopping concourse under New York's World Trade Center in the 1980s, we sold at least a few copies of his books every day to male Wall Street types, and dozens of mass market porn titles by Anonymous to their female underlings.
I can't help but feel like this photography promotes a sick expectation for real women to live up to, but then again, porn is about making people look like things you can't actually meet or be, much less fuck.
Having grown up all my life with internet access, I can say that the internet has created for me a really accurate way of finding what I like and want in a way that probably wasn't possible for teenagers and preteens of decades ago. I also started looking at porn at a very young age (say, 11). I learned that the internet had groups of people who liked every kind of specific thing, and this might have even comforted me as a young woman because I knew no matter what I grew up to be, I would be someone's "type," and even better I could find own type. Now I happily date my prepubescent, androgynous boyfriend and feel the internet might have helped me figure this out, and he's happy with his busty-blue-haired girl.
I seriously hope age doesn't bring less enjoyment of sex, but I guess time will bring whatever it wants.
Interesting. I was a teenager just before the Internet age, when porn was still hard to come by, unless you had the balls to buy it a newsagent. It made it all so forbidden, I can't imagine how different it would have been to have all this hardcore stuff on tap. Honestly, at the age of 15 I would have been utterly shocked to see footage of a chick with a shaved vagina being ass-fucked within an inch of her life or whatever. Whereas nowadays that would be boring standard Internet porn. I can't help thinking all this will change sexual behaviour but how exactly I'm not sure.
I found myself humming this the other day in a bookshop as I was leafing through Miwa Yanagi (a book of!). Hmm, I thought, unlike some of the other volumes here in the shop, there'll be no problems at Customs with this one, since everyone's made to look exceptionally old.
So it passes the "can the postman/aesthete whistle it?" tune test! Lovely song.
I found out about porn in the mid-90s, by finding it in my eldest sister's room (she was 19 or 20, and I would've been 10 or 11). She had softcore (one of Penthouse's story issues), comics (Studio Proteus translation of Bondage Fairies amongst others) and I guess the 'hardcore' would be the sole issue of Hustler. Naturally, I wanted more but couldn't go to buy any, so I had to figure out ways to get it online without being detected or blocked by Parental Controls (We were so 90s in the 90s, we had AOL in this house). Stuff was still pretty tame though in comparison to what's considered hardcore porn now (with Sasha Grey gagging on a cock fit for a horse, jesus christ). I also read stories more than I looked at pictures. When I do surf porn, I try to find stuff that's not what's considered "hardcore" in the West. I'm more likely to watch Japanese girls kiss (if you search XHamster, there's damned near 700 of these).
If who we find attracted is a reflection of us, that'd explain why I'm actually liking those pictures. If I take off my glasses, everything except what's a few inches in front of me goes fuzzy. I'm lanky and I don't have much of an energy level. I'm also pretty much a softie. I've had some fooling around under my belt but that's it.