Why Are We Laughing?

Did you ever wonder what provocative female nude poses look like when copied by a middle-aged man? Photographer Terry Donovan did. He produced a series of nearly fifty paired shots of female nudes he’s photographed over the years, with current pictures of himself in the same poses. He says, “Have a laugh at my expense,” and the pairs actually are, among other things, funny.

He also says, “What better way to blunt the criticism that most nude art degrades women? I’m saying that I’m perfectly willing to do anything that I ask my models to do. And I really think that the more feminine the pose, the funnier the shots become.” Here, he’s completely off the mark. When he takes the same poses his models do, the bravery he demonstrates is the bravery of someone willing to be laughed at. It’s not, however, the bravery of someone willing to be desired, or objectified by the person desiring.

The real comparison here isn’t about gender, but about body image, and conventional desirability. Compare the shots of Donovan in provocative poses to, for example, this random shot by “Violentz” pulled off a public series on Flickr. Where Donovan’s pictures of himself are mocking and contrived (and funny), Violentz is going for the erotic and desirable; Bobby is a far better comparison to the women in Donovan’s pictures than Donovan himself is. If you want to confirm this for yourself, enlarge any of Donovan’s paired shots and compare the facial expressions.

Nonetheless, there’s one thing that all three groups–erotic female nudes such as Donovan’s, erotic male nudes such as Violentz’, and Donovan’s comparison photographs–have in common. When push comes to shove, they’re all about the photographer. The first two are about what gets the photographer hot, and the third is effectively a gimmick based on what gets the photographer hot.

At least in this culture, in this day and age, eroticism has a great deal to do with vulnerability. One question we asked ourselves about the Donovan photos is, “How vulnerable does he seem in these pictures?” We’re interested in your answer.

Ours is that despite being somewhat laughable, he doesn’t seem vulnerable, because he is not taking the risks of truly exposing himself. In contrast, the courage of the men in Familiar Men is neither the willingness to be laughed at or the willingness to be eroticized: it’s the courage to risk a revelation of a real self.

5 thoughts on “Why Are We Laughing?

  1. I don’t find his pictures funny; they annoyed me. It looks to me as if he is mocking the women who posed for him. His expressions and his body language are both often different from the model and covey the overall feel of mockery to me.


  2. It also sounds like Terry Donovan would like to have it both ways–we’re invited to “have a laugh” at his expense, which I did. I found some of the juxtapositions funny. Then he suggests that his posing will “blunt the criticism that nude art degrades women.” Um, didn’t he just suggest that he was mimicking the female models poses for a laugh? I don’t see how this defuses the objectification. Did I miss something?

  3. I agree with Mary Kay. He seems like he’s smirking in nearly all the photos I enlarged (I didn’t look at them all.) And there are subtle differences between the two so it look like he’s going through the motions of posing the “same” way, but he isn’t.

    He doesn’t look at all vulnerable to me.

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