Laurie Toby Edison

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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Breast Obsession: From Games to Hard Decisions

Laurie and Debbie say:

Melanie Testa’s “Shirts off, Underwear on:, Play Out, Breast Cancer and Gender Expectations” is superb.

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Perhaps I am an anomaly in the world of breast cancer, having chosen against reconstruction while also choosing not to wear prosthesis. I was certainly made to feel as if my choice was abnormal by my doctors when I was asked to see a psychiatrist to make sure I was of sound mind in my ‘contralateral decision making process’. At that same office, my fellow sisters who chose reconstruction were not asked to justify their surgical choice to a psychiatrist, regardless of their contralateral choices. Perhaps my doctor wanted to be entirely sure that that they would not be removing a breast that I might come to miss, and regret my decision. I could have chosen to keep the unaffected breast. There was no question that a unilateral mastectomy was medically necessary, but I chose a bilateral mastectomy – a decision I have never regretted.

This bias is unacceptable, and clearly illustrates a preference for reconstruction to the shape of a breast and breastedness in general. It also serves to make it difficult for women to choose otherwise.

Testa’s observations both inform and are informed by Patricia Anderson’s post on Kotaku about “breast physics” and how and why video games gets breasts so wrong.

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Plenty of people theorize about why games often feature bad breast physics, but there is little hard information about the actual breast-creation process. After looking into it a bit, I found that many amateur developers seemed to genuinely have a problem figuring out how to tackle breast physics in their games. There are a startling number of forum posts and tutorials where people discuss the best ways to achieve good breast physics online. One person even created a four-part Powerpoint presentation titled “The Quest for Boob Jiggle In Unity.” People have developed specialized tools for other developers to use, to help demystify the enigma that is “how do breasts work.”

For an excessively jiggly set of videogame breasts go here.

Anderson basically says that animating bones and rigid body action is easier than animating soft tissue body action. After explaining why realistic breasts are expensive to animate, she concludes (surprise!) that “absurd breast physics aren’t always unintentional.”

“Ultimately though, I sort of suspect that when a developer doesn’t get breast physics looking right, it’s because, for whatever reason, somebody wanted them to look that way,” [Tim Dawson, an indie developer] said.

So what does this have to do with Testa, and women with breast cancer?

As many as 58% of women who have mastectomies after cancer either do not reconstruct or do reconstruct and then later deconstruct, either out of choice or because of failed reconstruction. I pondered just how many of those breastless women disliked wearing prosthesis and presenting an image of a woman with breasts. Prior to my diagnosis, I had never knowingly met a single-breasted or bilaterally flat-chested woman. I imagine there are many women who don breast forms with hesitation, annoyance, or even resentment. Why do we feel that we need to promote the false impression that all women have breasts?

The bulk of her piece concerns the pressure on women to get reconstructive surgery and/or breast forms and not to “go flat,” including substantial medical and psychiatric pressure. She has had a lot of trouble being believed when she says: “Wearing fake breasts would do nothing positive for me, physically or emotionally; I quail at the idea of presenting two body types, a breasted public image and a flat private image.”

Rhylorien from Laurie's  Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes

Rhylorien from Laurie’s Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes

Reading these two pieces together, we can’t help but see that the psychiatrists and surgeons trying to force Testa into a false-breast look are influenced by, and themselves reinforcing, the game developers who like implausible breasts enough to keep making them. Of course, neither the medical establishment nor the game designers are working in a vacuum: they are both reflecting an obsession which is everywhere in the Western world, from billboards to fashion runways and everywhere in between.

In other words, Testa is talking about real breasts: why we want them, what they mean to us, what losing them means, what visibly losing them means. Anderson, to some extent, and the video game industry and breast surgery industry to a large extent, are talking about breast fantasies.

Both industries will come of age when women without breasts become part of their mental landscape. Testa says: “The sooner doctors and researchers collectively agree that women sometimes choose flat or bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, the better. Get out of our minds.” She could also be talking about animators.

 

Gravitas, by Lynne Murray

Debbie says:

Our co-conspirator (well, regular guest blogger) Lynne Murray has been pretty quiet around these parts recently, and one reason is that she’s been working on a new short science-fiction novel, Gravitas, which is now available on Amazon and in other e-book formats, for $2.99 per copy.

Gravitas

I had the privilege of reading Gravitas in manuscript, and I want to recommend it to all of you. It is that rare bird, a novel which embraces fat power while not being about fat power. Instead, it’s about the troubles and travails of Val-Sybilla, who is burdened with a huge amount of the perfume Gravitas, a scent which has the power to cloud people’s minds (well, to turn people on and heighten their other emotional reactions). Val-Sybilla is carrying more Gravitas than most women ever carry, because she expected to get rid of it fairly promptly. But she is forced into an unexpected detour … onto Earth. Val-Sybilla’s people admire large bodies, so Earth is a bit of a surprise:

Before we could enter the building a vehicle cruised past us and someone stuck his head out the open window and yelled, “Get dressed, pig! No one wants to see that!” He tossed a large cup at me. Crushed ice and dark liquid hit me, but I managed to raise a hand to bat the cup back to hit the side of the car.

Every cell in my body seemed to contract in a new reflex. An arc of lightning followed the trail of tossed liquid back to the car, which sank a few inches lower on its suddenly flattened tires. A smell of burnt rubber rose in the air.

As the car settled down in the roadway and began to creep away, the driver yelled. “What did she do to my car?”

His companion said, “Don’t be stupid, how the hell could she do that? You hit a nail or something.”

Josu pulled me into the glass-doored building and the muffled cursing faded. He put an arm around me and turned us away from the window into the store itself. “I’m so sorry you had to endure that insult and the one on the highway. I hate to tell you how often this kind of attack is endured by women of abundant flesh on this planet.”

I stood for a moment half stunned, cold, sticky liquid trickling down my leg. “I thought the Great Mother was worshipped on Earth.” I whispered.

So, fat power, sex (influential women on Val-Sybilla’s planet are expected to have several husbands), adventure, suspense, and goddess worship. What more could you possibly want?

Colour by Significance

Laurie says:

As someone who has been a black and white photographer for most of her photographic life, I’ve always considered color both easy and difficult. Easy because it reflects the way we think we see the world. (Although photography is always a particular vision or/an interpretation.)

Black and white for me is simultaneously abstract and intimate. It creates a reality that is not the way we see and asks us to look harder.

Color creates the reality of familiarity, unless the photographer incorporates color in a way that is essential to the art. That’s hard because the color creates a kind of ordinary beauty that is seductive without depth.

Zsolt Bátori, of the ph/21 Gallery in Budapest, recently had an exhibition of Colour Burst that discuses aspects of color photography brilliantly. This is the gallery that I had work in earlier this year in their Body exhibition.

There are two kinds of photographs with respect to the significance of their colours. On the one hand, ever since colour film technology became widely available, colour has become the default in most photographic practices. In other words, some photographs are in colour not because their colours bear some special significance (compared, for instance, to their possible black and white counterparts), but simply because the available film or digital technology has long turned colour to be the common method of capturing photographic images. We may think of these photographs as colour by default. On the other hand, colours are often central to the meaning of photographs for their emphatic, symbolic, psychological, social, compositional, etc. significance. These photographs would not work in black and white at all; that they are in colour is not merely a technological given, rather, it is an integral, formative and significant aspect of their photographic meaning. We may think of these photographs as colour by significance.

I love the phrase “colour by significance”.

A long time ago, Ctein and I did a series of landscape collaborations of my black-and-white darkroom photographs and his dye-transfer photographs. They were, among other things, a fine art discussion about black and white and color.

Monterey Kelp is an example of our work.

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Monteray Kelp_ Edison_Ctein

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It was hard to choose images from the Color Burst exhibition. Its conversation about color work is broad and complex.

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The Dive_Eva M. Brown

The Dive

Juror’s choice The Dive by Eva M. Brown is, indeed, one of those images whose complex communicative content is based on the colours of the photograph. Colours in this case are not accidental or automatic features; they are not in the image merely because it is technically possible for them to be there but because they must be present in order to create the meaning of the picture. As we begin to study the photograph we notice some components that we recognise as flowers, perhaps petunias. Then we realize that they are considerably more subdued in colour than an ordinary petunia flower, so we may decide that they are likely to be something else. We are also a bit uncertain about their location and context. Are they in water? Do we look at them from below as they float around from the perspective of a diver as suggested by the title of the image? What is the bluish green substance that provides the background of their floating dance made of? Their pattern is most unusual, different from the familiar flowery arrangements. As our recognition is becoming less and less precise and certain, we are letting ourselves be carried away with the sophisticated dance of the colour patterns emerging from the swirling arrangement. The forms and patterns are themselves captivating but it is the colours of this image that mesmerize us, that make recollection effortless and most rewarding.

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Yazoo, 2014

Untitled by Thomas Pearson

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Untitled Margarits Mavromichalis

Untitled by Margarits Mavromichalis

See the whole exhibition here.

No, Mr. Congressman, It Doesn’t Go There

Laurie and Debbie say:

By now, you have probably heard about Idaho Congressman Vito Barbieri, who (apparently seriously) asked during a committee hearing on (yes, still more!) abortion restrictions  if a woman could swallow a small camera to conduct a pregnancy exam. Dr. Julie Madsen, the physician witness politely told him that swallowed pills “don’t end up in the vagina.” Congressman Barbieri later said that his question “was rhetorical and intended to make a point,” although the intended point is, to say the least, unclear.

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If in fact a swallowed camera (or pills) ended up in the vagina, what else would be true?

1) In heterosexual penis-in-vagina orgasms, as women, we could expect semen to come out of our mouths.

2) In heterosexual oral sex orgasms, we women could get pregnant, as the semen slid down through this “tube” from our mouth into our uterus.

3) Maybe there would be some kind of road sign to tell food to go to the stomach, intestines and colon? If not, we would have either food or shit coming out of the vagina, and quite possibly have small cameras intended to examine our uterus going through our colon. (Imagine the confusion of doctors trying to figure out just what they were looking at!)

We might never finish making fun of this level of ignorance, but there’s a more important point to be made.

The main reason for the existence of Body Impolitic is to call attention to body image issues. Mostly that means either how we feel about our bodies or how other people feel about our bodies. But all body image depends on a basic understanding of anatomy, both our own and the anatomy of everyone else. No, not everyone has to understand how ATP feeds cells, or how neural signals get from the brain to the extremities. Not everyone has to understand what the hypothalamus is and does.

Everyone should understand the basic internal and external conformation of the body, not just the organ systems that drive gender and sexuality, but what the spinal cord is and why snapping your neck can result in paralysis, what the pathways are from the mouth to the urethra and asshole, what the difference is between muscles and tendons. Not knowing those things is like not knowing where the light switches are in your house, or where the exits are in the theater.

Knowing your environment starts with knowing your body. And knowing your body should, in a sane world, be an absolute requirement for anyone who sits in judgment over other people’s bodies.

Congressman Barbieri, if you would like a basic human anatomy tutorial, the Internet is full of them. Here’s one place to start.

Swimsuit Issue Makes the News … Twice

Debbie says:

Sports Illustrated is in financial trouble, and the magazine’s famous swimsuit issue is apparently what’s keeping it afloat.

This is almost certainly why they put (no! I know you’re shocked!) a controversial photograph on the cover.

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Tracy Moore at Jezebel reports on the controversy over whether or not model Hannah Davis is “showing too much” here. Moore’s basic point is that Davis is coming in for a lot of criticism and no credit, while the magazine and the industry are getting a free pass.

Our culture is awash in pornographic imagery and Sports Illustrated is just another try-hard trying to keep up. Which isn’t to say that we should all sit back and smile for our facial, but rather, that there are probably better uses of our energy when it comes to critiquing the industries that breathlessly try to out-pornifying each other. We should target them by examining their motives, not the motives of the models in question, who are simply going after the work that exists.

Instead we slobber; we salivate; we ooh, we ahh—then we demand that the women defend doing it—to make it make sense for us. You know what you’re doing right? we seem to ask. You’re…titillating us. Isn’t that the point? Since we’re titillated, isn’t it…naughty? And what does it say about you for being so naughty? Well, what does it say about us? And then the model or actress with the sexy photo or nude scene must say: No, it’s no big deal. It’s totally not. It’s the most normal thing in the world. Nothing scandalous about it.

Moore doesn’t quite get to the difference between semi-nudity as softcore porn and actual nudity as reflective of real bodies, but she’s very close. And I can only stand up and cheer at her defense of Davis, and her analysis of the impossible position of a swimsuit model.

… these sorts of pictures in mainstream, ubiquitous places make us squeamish. That’s pornographic! And it’s not over there with the porn where it’s supposed to be! What’s she doing there, making me uncomfortable?

And this is the weird rock and a low-slung bikini place we put women in when they traffic in their own sexuality as a commodity.

But that’s not the only story about this year’s issue. SI isn’t quite ready to feature a plus-size model, but they’ll take Swimsuits for All‘s money, even if the ad shows Ashley Graham (size 14) in a bikini.

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Size 14 isn’t my idea of plus-size, and I wish it wasn’t even anybody’s idea of midsize, but you can definitely see Graham’s curves and shape. And we are dealing with an industry where size 4 can be considered “too fat.”

According to Liz Dwyer at TakePart, this is part of an apparent trend of greater visibility for plus-size models (some of them truly plus-size) in 2015.  Dwyer cites Tess Holliday’s new contract as a clear example. The magazine agreeing to run the ad may well be another sign of the trend; you’d be surprised how often ads like this are turned down as “offensive,” or “unacceptable to readers” even by publications in financial trouble.

Who knows? Maybe someday there will be a swimsuit issue which shows real women’s bodies and has the models choose their own poses. A girl can dream.

Shout Out to Folks with Dangerous Bodies

Debbie says:

Verónica Bayetti Flores has a manifesto at Feministing that I appreciated so much! I’ll start where she ends:

For those whose bodies are dangerous, I’m here to tell you that the life in your body, your life, matters. That it is in the interest of the betterment of the human condition that you live. That despite what is of interest to the media, your names matter while your hearts are still beating. I’m here to tell you that you are the most beautiful creatures to walk this earth. That even though the world wants to kill you, so many of us are out here fighting for your life.

Your bodies are how the revolution begins.

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She begins with a (necessarily incomplete) list of various kinds of dangerous bodies, often with references that underline the danger:

For trans women of color who are living in their truth,

For women who choose to wear hijab

For young mothers finishing up school while raising their kids,

For queer youth who know their rights in the face of a system that is killing them,

For women on government assistance who find joy in the news of pregnancy,

For black folks who dare to survive in the face of joblessness and divestment by selling loosies or turning tricks,

For undocumented women who dare to have children,

For those on the dance floor with a cane and those too sick to be out,

For those who dare to separate sexual pleasure and reproduction,

For femmes who wear femininity with pride

There’s a little more. I’m not going to reprint the entire post. I’m just going to say I hope you will read Flores’ whole post, and read all the links.

If dangerous bodies are not how the revolution begins, I don’t want to be part of the revolution.

Photo copyright (c) Laurie Toby Edison for Women En Large. All rights reserved.

Alberta Who? Where, Oklahoma? Erased Black History

Debbie says:

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Unlike Aurin Squire, who wrote “MLK’s Mother Was Assassinated, Too: The Forgotten Women Of Black History Month” for Talking Points Memo, I am not of African descent. However, Squire and I are alike in having thought we were “fairly well-versed in African-American history.” What’s more, I was (and Squire perhaps was not) alive and adult and paying some attention to the news in 1974. But I had no idea that Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, was assassinated six years after her son was killed. Although her death was apparently a result of anti-Christian violence rather than racial violence, she was a key figure in American black history and should not be forgotten.

Taking black women’s activism beyond Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, Squire brings up activist black women like Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer. He could equally have mentioned Rosa Parks, and dozens of others, but it’s a short post. He frames the issue in terms of activist women:

When female stories are muted, we are teaching our kids that their dignity is second class and the historical accounts of their lives are less relevant. This lowered value carries over when women face sexual objectification and systemic brutalization from inside and outside the community. When we can’t see ourselves in our history, we begin to think that we are disconnected and suffering alone. Historical ignorance always precedes cultural imbalances and individual despair. Too many lives are still lived in the blank space, too many march for racial equality while subjugating their gender and even sexual orientation.

Kameron Hurley’s “It’s Always Been Awful Under the Boot: On the Fatigue of Everyday Horror,” also taught me a piece of black history that I didn’t know: the Tulsa massacre (more commonly, but no more accurately, frequently referred to as the “Tulsa race riot”) of 1921, in which a mob of angry white people burned a neighborhood of Tulsa to the ground:

More than 800 people were admitted to local hospitals and police arrested and detained more than 6,000 people. The riots left 10,000 homeless and destroyed 35 city blocks. Up to 300 people died during those 16 hours.It was not until 1996 that the state even bothered to commission a proper history (.pdf) of the event that would be available to everyone, instead of relying on a spoken oral history maintained by survivors who were now dying.

Wikipedia also informs me that the 1996 report ” included the commission’s recommendations for some compensatory actions, most of which were not implemented by the state and city governments.” The names of the dead may be memorialized somewhere; a few, but no list, can be found in the deeply chilling official report.

Here’s the part of Hurley’s conclusion that sticks with me:

And this is what gets me with folks who are fatigued with the shit, and I get it, I do, I get fatigued and I have to take a fucking break too, but I don’t want people to shut up, I don’t want to close my eyes, because whether or not I heard about it Tulsa still happened. And I cannot sit on my hands and cheer for Katniss burning down the Capital and the folks walking away from Omelas and then say, “Shit, could the rest of you just shut up about your problems because it sure makes me uncomfortable.”

It should make me uncomfortable. It should get me to question everything I’ve been taught. It should rouse me to take action, to not be silent, to amplify voices, to, above all, help ensure we do not erase this shit.

Black lives matter.

Thanks to supergee for the pointer to Hurley’s essay.

Featured Artist: Women’s Caucus of the Arts

Laurie says:

It was a surprise to be chosen as one of the twelve Women’s Caucus of the Arts members to be featured for a month on the front page of the WCA website. The “Featured Artist” section of the website includes 3 rotating images. It was hard to choose 3 images to represent my work. The size of the images on the site is small so I had the added consideration of photos that look will beautiful in that size. I chose one from each of my suites of photographs.

I feel like “Miss February”.
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Hwangbo Kangja
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Hwangbo Kangja is an activist for human rights, especially minority rights in Japan. Her work is focused in the Kansai. She is a feminist who works for women’s rights in many ways, including being active member of the Zainichi Korean group that works to support the “comfort women“. (Comfort women were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II. The name “comfort women” is a translation of the Japanese euphemism.) I met her through my Women of Japan project. As part of her collaboration on the project, she went with me to Hokkaido and introduced me to the Ainu women that I photographed. Her help was both valuable and indispensable. The photo is from my Women of Japan project.
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Edison_Violin_WCA_Feb
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Jonathan Segel is a composer, performer and multi-instrumentalist. He performs improvisational acoustic and digital solos (or with others as Chaos Butterfly), in the revived Camper Van Beethoven, as the bandleader in his eponymous band, and is an occasional contributor to music from the Big City Orchestra. Segel currently resides in Stockholm, Sweden where he has most recently collaborated with the experimental improvised band The Muffin Ensemble. I met him through my daughter Cid. He has composed superb music for her dances. The photograph is a framing from my book Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes
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DLN
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Debbie Notkin is my writing partner, including editing the text for Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes and editing the text and co-authoring the keynote essay for Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes. We have worked together since 1984 on issues of body image and visibility, writing and co-authoring numerous essays and papers. Among the books she’s edited, she compiled (with Karen Joy Fowler) 80! Memories and Reflections of Ursula Le Guin as an 80th birthday present for the renowned author. She also works as an organizer of Strike Debt Bay Area. The photograph is from my book Women En Large:Images of Fat Nudes

You Don’t Have to Settle: Fat Sex on Your Own Terms

Debbie says:

I don’t actually think Sarah Hollowell at The Butter (“This Is an Essay About a Fat Woman Being Loved and Getting Laid”) and Philippe Leonard Fradet at The Body Is Not an Apology (“Sex at Every Size!” were conspiring to get me to write about this topic. They probably don’t even know each other.

But both essays are excellent, and both make a particularly important point about not “settling” for less than you want.

Here’s Hollowell’s self-description:

I am not a little chubby. I am not a few pounds over some arbitrary acceptable weight. I am very, very fat. I have a huge stomach and arm fat that flaps for days. I do not have the large breasts and tiny waist that would make me into an hourglass. My thighs are so far from having a gap that any day now they could meld together and transform me into a glorious mermaid.

My curves are not in all the right places but they still bring men to their knees.

Hollowell is exactly the kind of person who doesn’t need Fradet, but so many of us do need him. A fat man himself, he has set out to modify the Health at Every Size model to be specifically about sex. He has come up with eight points, and you should read them all, so I’ll tantalize you with two:

You have every right to express your desires. If you have decided to have sex, you have the right to discuss all of your desires with your partner. One of the keys to any relationship, whether it’s a fling, a long-term deal, or a purely sexual encounter, is communicating what you like and don’t like and what makes your comfortable and uncomfortable.

Here’s the point where he converges with Hollowell:

There is no need to “settle.” The concept of “settling” can indeed be unsettling, but you shouldn’t feel that you need to forgo your own desires just to have sex. If you feel that you’re not going to be happy, or that you’re not going to enjoy your sexual encounter, don’t force yourself to move forward. Never enter a relationship that is mentally, emotionally, or physically abusive.

Hollowell’s version of “not settling”:

I am not, never have been, and never will be a pity fuck.

… I have been the chosen one among a group of women more traditionally pretty than me and I have been on the other side, doing the selecting. I have gone man to man to man and kissed them hard to feel if our lips lined up and if they knew the right way to pull my hair and bite the point where my neck meets my shoulder. I am picky and I will dismiss a man who is not to my liking, and there will be someone else in line waiting to be tested.

Men look on my naked fat body in the full light – because I don’t have sex in the dark – and grow hard at the sight of me. I have had my stomach cradled in gentle hands and been told in reverent whispers that I look like an ancient fertility goddess. I have had those hands turn rough and squeeze my stomach fat as passionately as one might squeeze a thigh or a breast.

Neither Fradet nor Hollowell invented fat sex, and they’re not the first people to talk about it openly, or to recommend against “settling.” What they are is clear, contemporary, committed, and convincing. I’ll just steal Fradet’s closing:

The best way to promote fat sexuality is to talk about it with other fat folks, especially fat folks of color, queer fat folks, trans* fat folks, and fat folks with disabilities.

Cid Pearlman: “Economies of Effort” Show Premiere

Laurie says:

I wrote about my daughter Cid’s new work on Body Impolitic a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s part of what I said:

“My daughter Cid Pearlman has a major work opening in San Francisco in February. I’ve been watching her work for over 25 years and the combination of beautiful complex dance and thought in her work continues to knock me out.
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“Economies of Effort: 1″ is an evening-length dance exploring the virtues of self-reliance and the creative impulse.
This interdisciplinary collaboration is the first installment in a planned triptych of performances by Pearlman on the theme of “economy.” Performed in the round, and featuring a set designed by visual artist Robbie Schoen that the dancers build each night as part of the choreography, “Economies of Effort: 1″ aims to generate questions about the differences between creating something with bodies (theoretically intangible) and building something that has a solid shape (with the illusion of permanence).”
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As I said I’ll be at the San Francisco performance Thursday and Saturday night.  Her work is so layered, I  like to see it twice.

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Economies of Effort: 1 will premiere at; Joe Goode Performance Annex February 5-7 buy tickets, Motion Pacific February 20-22 buy tickets, Pieter Performance Space March 9,  donations

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