Category Archives: Laurie and Debbie’s blog

“My Goal – That You Are Found by Wonder”

We support a ceasefire in Palestine.

Laurie's photograph of Queen T'hisha, a dark-skinned naked Black woman lying face up on a couch with her breasts showing and her legs crossed
Queen T’hisha, by Laurie Toby Edison

Debbie says:

It’s sometimes easy for Laurie and me to forget that not everyone loves and celebrates the naked body the way we do. That’s why I was delighted that Mona Eltahawy, whose global news round-up we often cite here, wrote her own essay on the subject.

She recounts going to her first clothing-optional party in 2013:

When I was younger, my body was an afterthought. When I started my period at six months past 11, my body changed so much that I barely recognised it. I think that’s where my estrangement from my body and its wonder began.

That nudist party in Cairo, when I was 46, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, in the throes of perimenopause, was the start of a conversation that brought me back to that wonder of my body.

In the beginning was the word. And my eyes said “Look! Look now at these magnificent bodies around you.”

The human body is wonderful!

As I eased into being naked among others, I looked at more than my fellow nudist party goers’ eyes. I took in their bodies in all their wonder and knew that my body was adding to the communal wonder.

It’s a familiar trajectory: you start noticing how something in other people pleases you: their hair, their eyes,  their voice, whatever. And if you’re honest with yourself, you start realizing that that attribute in you probably gives them the same feeling, so you have to admit what you have to offer. I think this is especially true with the naked body, because — even in this frequently sex-friendly time (in many places) — most of us still have limited experience with nakedness outside of sexuality.

To be naked among others is to enter a community of vulnerability–disrobed, disarmed–and risk–will they judge my body; we are all naked in a conservative country that is under the dictatorship of a military-backed regime. …

Vulnerability and risk are the heart and mind of wonder and will fuck whatever preconceptions you brought with you to the party. When the woman who had been sitting directly across from me went into the room where we had all left our clothes and came out to say her goodbyes in hijab–only her face and hands showing–fuck me! What?!

Eltahawy captures what nakedness means to her, and thus makes it available to many people who may not have experienced it or thought it through–and the details of the hijab do the job of making her experience individual while also comprehensible to those of us not from Islamic cultures.

That nudist party, my first but not my last, that woman – hijabi by day, nudist by night – demolished that wall. I went home lighter and able to hear, at last, my body again.

Look at your body! Really look. Listen to it. Can you hear it?

My goal: that you are found by wonder.

My wish: that you intensely live.

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Debbie occasionally posts on Mastodon.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.

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The Horrors of War Photography

We support a ceasefire in Palestine

Laurie says:

Deb called my attention to the “Picture of the Year” controversy and this article by Dahlia Lithwick and Masua Sagiv. Lithwick and Sagiv make a clear case for why the photo of Shani Louk is exploitive and dehumanizing. However, when Deb and I started to talk about it, we realized that we had some disagreements which we wanted to share here.

About ten years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts (here and here) about my conflicting feelings about war photography. In the intervening decade, I have made up my mind that the vast majority of war photos are simply shocking and serve no real other purpose.

My nudes are the reverse; they are meant to make people feel “comfortable,” as the Japanese say.

There are probably some exceptions to this, but they are few and far between. A useful photo would end war. It can evoke useful or healthy reactions toward ending a particular war, and the Vietnam war is a good example of how that doesn’t happen. Mostly they activate emotions that are not useful. On a case by case basis, war photographs may occasionally be okay, but I think that’s too rare to justify the existence of the whole war photography genre.

War is definitely a part of our history but the photos of it are not. They mostly only encourage anger and war-like emotions. We might ask when a photograph is a public record and when it’s a stimulus to mostly destructive reactions.

And this is even truer in the world of infinite repetition.

Creating beauty out of man-made horror is wrong.

Debbie says:

It should go without saying that the photograph of Shani Louk is exploitive and, in Dahlia Lithwick and Masua Sagiv’s words, “prurient rubbernecking.” In the same article, they also say, “It is undeniably essential to photograph war and famine and the suffering in Gaza as a means of keeping a public record.” That statement is not undeniably essential, because Laurie denies it, and few people are more discerning than Laurie.

For me, I think it comes down to the question of whether there is value in documenting a human behavior which is (if not inevitable) near-universal and virtually omnipresent. I can dream of times without war, but I cannot produce much evidence for my dreams. As long as we live with war, I see some tainted value in recording war and its horrors. I believe there has to be some method by which the realities of war are conveyed to the people who live outside the war. The world is full of people like me (and so many contemporary Americans) who have never been up close and personal with violent death, let alone organized slaughter for the purpose of “victory.”

I believe it’s important for those of us who live privileged and protected to have access to some records of what we are being protected from. At the same time, I completely respect and honor Laurie’s contrasting view, and her recognition that good photography inevitably beautifies the horrors.

The question of which images are exploitive and which are informational can, in my opinion, only be answered case by case, and depends on the factors Lithwick and Sagiv begin to explore: is it respectful of the victims? is the information readily available in some less evocative form? is the image easy to flip into some kind of gross celebratory story? how is it gendered? who is making the record and what is their role?

But I don’t see how we benefit from avoiding war imagery altogether, until we figure out how to do without war altogether.

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Debbie has deleted her Twitter account. Follow her on Mastodon.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.

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