Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Danny Fields' Polaroids - Art or just icky?

Art is a confusing topic, modern art even more so. Art has been around for so long, and has had so many things done with it; pretty pictures no longer seem valid. You can paint an in detail picture of a landscape – but that’s been done. You can draw a realistic portrait of someone – ten other people have painted that same person.

No if you want to be new, if you want to get people talking, you need to get creative. You need to be daring. And sometimes this can be a little confusing for us non-artists.

Confusing in the sense of, is it okay for me to like this? If I like this piece of art, am I sinning? Do I need to go to a Catholic church and confess? Am I a bad person for viewing this art?

To understand where I’m coming from, I need to direct your attention to Danny Fields. Some of you might know Danny Fields as the long-standing manager of the Ramones. You might know him as the guy who edited the iconic 16 magazine. The guy responsible for signing the Stooges, MC5, and Nico. At the very least, you’ve at least heard the John Lennon quote Fields was responsible for reporting – ‘We’re more famous than Jesus.’

But what you probably didn’t know about Danny, is that in the 1970s, he also enjoyed making porn. As you do.

So when the day was done, and he had gotten his fill of being an iconic figure on the New York punk scene. Danny Fields would go out, get a group of boys and bring them back to his apartment. Once there he would give them some vague directions and take pictures of the boys – and their genitalia.

In his Richardson interview, Fields says:

“They were all prostitutes. Well, prostitutes sounds too glamorous; they were hustlers. I’d pick them up in the street or at prostitute bars, and then one always seemed to bring the others. You’d pay them forty dollars or something, and they’d pretty much do whatever you told them to. This was before AIDS and the internet, so people weren’t so paranoid. A lot of them are dead now, and a lot of them—I never even knew their names.”

This is the back story behind the collection of photographs in this article. And this is what I meant by art being problematic nowadays.

On the one hand, I cannot deny that I find the photographs fascinating. And yet at the same time I’m disgusted.

Is it disgusting because of what the boys are doing? The pictures I’m showing here are the tame versions, others graphically show ass fingering, bondage... poo holding, and other icky stuff.

It could be said that these pictures are disturbing because of what they tell me about myself. They show that I am conventional in my sexuality. That other executions of sex repulse me, and perhaps that shows me to be a little closed minded.

Not all sex is based on love and cuddles, some people have sex purely for the pleasure. And some people experience pleasure in different varieties.

Then of course we have to address the origins of these pictures. Is this art or exploitation? Is this what makes the photos disgusting? These boys are being paid to perform these acts. More than likely the men in the pictures are selling themselves out of experiences with drugs, broken homes, dysfunctional relationships, ect.

Was it wrong for Fields to pay, and therefore fuel, their lifestyle?

By displaying these pictures, is he exploiting their misfortune?

Or are these pictures offering us a glimpse into someone’s life that would have otherwise been over looked. And it does have to be said, that in some of the photos, there appears to be a genuinely look of joy on some of the boys faces. Did they enjoy the experience? Are we judging their way of life too quickly?

In all honesty? Probably not. They probably were deeply troubled youths, and we’ll never really know how the rest of their life’s turned out. Maybe Fields is right, maybe most of them are dead. But do I find the photos exploitative?

Personally no. 

These are shots of just one night in these boys lives. Without Fields, these boys would have continued to do the same thing, only with a different person. And in a way, I find most interest in these photos stemming from a desire to know these people. To know what happened to them. To know if they’re now okay.

Obviously I’ll never get these answers. And the boys will never know that I care about their lives. But for a couple of minutes, these pictures have forced us to question something about ourselves and at the same time, pulled us out of our own problems and question and care about someone else’s.

Though keep in mind I do a literature degree, so I am prone to have my judgement clouded with feelings and pretension. So what do you guys think? Fields’ photographs: Porn? Exploitation? Art? Or just plain icky?

Let me know in the comments.

All the photographs and quotes in this post come from the sex magazine Richardson. I’m not cool enough to read said magazine, so I found all of this on one of my favourite blogs: Slutever.com. When you’re done reading my crap, give the original article a read and check out some of the more in detailed pictures. Because I can’t really have up close shots of anuses on a blog with a dragon drawn on the top, can I?

All images by Danny Fields

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