In Hans Maes & Jerrold Levinson (eds.), Art and Pornography. Oxford University Press (2012)
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One striking feature of pornographic images is that they emphasize what is depicted and underplay the way it is depicted: the experience of pornography rarely involves awareness of the picture’s composition or of visual rhyme. There are various ways of making this distinction between what is depicted in a picture and the way the depicted object is depicted in it. Following Richard Wollheim, I call these two aspects, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of pictorial representation ‘recognitional’ and ‘configurational’, respectively. Some pictures emphasize one of these aspects while underplaying the other. Pornographic pictures try to trigger as little attention to the ‘configurational’ aspect as possible. Instead of examining pornography, where the ‘configurational’ aspect of experience is underplayed, I focus on a historical attempt to create images of the female body where the ‘recognigional’ element is the one that is underplayed and the ‘configurational’ elements of the picture form an essential part of our experience. The pictures I have in mind are André Kertész’s series of photographs from 1933, called Distortions. I argue that Kertész’s Distortions are in this respect the counterpoint of pornography: they may be the least pornographic representations of the female nude. Instead of ignoring the ‘configurational aspects of the picture, making the picture transparent and fully at the service of showing the female body and thus to trigger arousal, Kertész aims to achieve the exact opposite. His photographs strip the female body of all its sexual connotations and draw our attention to the formal features of the picture – which is quite a feat in the light of the subject matter of these pictures that normally draw our attention away from the formal features of pictures.
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