Forever young

At 19 years old, or thereabouts…

I have never been keen on getting old, but once I was desperate to age. When I was 11 years old I cared not a jot about my appearance but when I was 16 and still looked 13 I started to worry a lot about how I was different to my rugby playing contemporaries. At 19 I still had not shaved. My anxieties about this  were then greater than my better documented and (now I know) unnecessary anxieties about my penis size – but my penis was not on display and its appearance to others in the world could be controlled.

Although there was nothing camp about me, and carrying around a silent but amazingly strong crush on several of the girls around me at school and university, that I’m sure they will have noticed, there were boys who decided that I must be gay. I guess around 1970 the gay stereotype was very far removed from the macho gay image we often see today. Then it was straightforward: macho = manly = heterosexual. Different = homosexual.

When I was about 15 years old I remember a conversation with a group of my male classmates when one of them chuckled and as part of a big joke described me as asexual. Maybe I actually would have preferred to have been called a ‘poofta’, because at least that would have conferred me with some sort of sexuality.  The comment wasn’t presented vindictively and would not have been so cutting if it had not come from an individual who, other than having sideburns of sorts, certainly qualified as being pudgy and camp. I am sure now that he himself might have felt some pressures himself because of his own differences.

As was the fashion at the time he was one of the many boys of my age who were growing sideburns. Beards and moustaches were not permitted at school so this was a way of teenagers demonstrating their masculinity. Occasionally my face in front of my ears used to be stroked by other boys, looking for a sign of change that was not emerging.

Even if friends realised that I was attracted to girls, many of them had a clear idea that the attractiveness could not possibly be reciprocated. Sadly this rubbed off on me and my perspective of myself. A boy who was a close friend gave me a card with a condom in it for my 18th birthday. “Have a luxury wank” he said, deciding that it was never going to be used it for its intended purpose.

He was absolutely correct, but I should be thankful to him for, following his instructions and much to my surprise, it actually fitted snuggly. This was the first real evidence I received that my erect penis was actually of a perfectly average size. It was however evidence that I did not accept, imaging that there must be another 6 inches of latex somehow wound up in that remaining tight band at the base of my penis, but it was a crumb of comfort.

Elsewhere I shall probably write about how if only I had better information I might not have carried on into life with a complex about the size of my penis. Anyway, at that time it was more about my lack of ‘masculinity’; this was never then considered by me to be bullying and despite its impact I continued to be naturally sociable, sporty and generally happy with my lot. But I now recognise it was bullying because although I was resilient at the time there has been a long term low level hurt.

 

An appreciation of the lurker

As somebody who can be a little geeky, who appreciates the power of statistics, I’ve been looking at my Twitter analytics for my @allablur account:

It seems that my nakedness engages you! I say that in a jocular way, even if I have not added a smiley. But despite what I see in these results, believe it or not every time I post a nude self portrait, elements of self doubt kicks in.

  • Do people really want to see more of this naked 30 – 60 year old man?
  • When does the expression of vulnerabilty become exhibitionism?
  • When does the need for self-assurance become narcissism?

Now I am fully aware that some of my followers might actively seek out exhibitionism and narcissism but I know most certainly don’t and at the root of things that is not why these images are made or posted.

Despite the engagement with what I put online, relatively few comment. Yes, I’m very aware that I am neither young and female or a kitten.  I am also aware that in an entirely public space with subject matter that is not exactly appealing to populism there are many that might not want to raise one’s head above the parapet. And that’s fine, I often find myself being a lurker, not wanting to be too forward. That’s where these statistics here and on other sites come in to help make this exposition of my art worthwhile.

You can’t click through above, but the two images in the chart above are:

and

The shredding of the vanities (1988, modified 2010, 2016)

The three photos that make up this artwork were taken by me of me on film in 1988, my first images with the more controversial subject matter of the erect penis. In 2010 I printed them, immediately shredding the prints as a symbol of rejection. I then photographed the result on a red background and published it on flickr with a somewhat vulgar title “Shredding the stiffies (1988 reprocessed 2010)” together with a five paragraph account of what was behind the image. It’s still there and public but you’ll need to be a member to see it; it was in colour and only shredded once so a broad mind and a sympathetic character helps too.

Today in 2016 I decided that that image was not sufficiently defaced to make the point I wanted to make, so I shredded the image again, this time in a different direction. Again I photographed the result and converted to monochrome and that is what you see here.

Three photos of an erect penis put through a shredder.

Those three photos were my first images attempting to deal with the problematical subject matter of the erect penis and render it in some way artfully. An alternative take is that it was my first attempt to address my insecurities head on.

When I photographed the original images, I know my intention and the way the light was used absolutely meant that I was trying to do something artistic. The shreddings years later are symbolic of the fact that that those original images did not really work as art, but nevertheless there was art in there somewhere. As in 2010 there is a desire to publish the images because they were so important in my personal development.

If my photostream were one of the new crop of art movies for general audiences that feature real sex then these images would be the ones that the director included because they were of vital relevance to the plot, but which tabloid film critics would tear to shreds. At the time they were taken these images were helpful in making me realise that perhaps the playing field was not as stacked against me as much as I had imagined.

While it’s always difficult subject matter, I can now look at a penis as just another thing which can be photographed beautifully in its own right. Equally it can be an important part of an emotional portrait of an individual. The dividing line from crude porn is however seldom straightforward and some will never see it.

Those words about the original image “trying to do something artistic” are important and as I state on my home page, I believe “there is nothing offensive about any aspect of the human body, especially when presented in a way that makes an artistic statement or conveys its beauty“.

Because the originals were an important development in my photography, I still regard them as art. Creating them was an erotic experience with artistic intent. The end result that you see here is I think a development of that original flawed art and I believe carries a rather more profound artistic statement.

But maybe, perhaps, it was the performance of shredding the photos that was the real art?

The naked self – thirty years of aging

Two male nude self portraits taken 30 years apart
Nude on bed – Toronto 1986 / Brighton 2016

Two self portraits of the naked me taken thirty years apart, the second photo taken yesterday, 8 November 2016. Just as in 1986, the new image was taken just for me; why the first was taken was probably for different reasons to the second but still I cannot easily explain why either might be here.

It might be easier to address how this juxtaposition makes me feel. Unfortunately it tends to validate my feelings 30 years ago that my body was quite different then, because the image on the right seems somehow more normal.  However, I know now what I didn’t then, that I should have embraced the difference in my body, that there are people out there who are attracted to boyish skinny men, that not all of them are gay, and that being in possession of such a body did not make me gay, but it certainly made me confused!

At 144 pounds or thereabouts, both bodies are the same weight, a weight I have been, plus or minus 3 lbs, all my adult life. On the left the weight is muscle weight, not a lot of muscle but very little fat. On the right is a body with rather more fat, still skinny by most standards but probably less actual muscle than that on the left. The broader body behind the arms and all around the waist is where most of that fat lies.

The one on the left might well have been the first nude self portrait photo I took, I can’t be sure. It’s awkward and I don’t like it as an image on its own but perhaps doing this gives it new meaning as an artistic statement. It’s interesting how it clarifies that it’s the shoulders up that bears the brunt of the aging experience, in my case anyway. I even suspect that many, if they knew nothing about these two images and cut off the faces, might express a preference for the body on the right.

The bed sheet is the same; the watch is the same, but no longer works; I’m glad I got rid of that mustache but would certainly like to have more hair on my head.