Photography is art
Even if a Jacksonville, Fla. city council member calls it porn
To view the Angela Strassheim photograph referred to in this post, follow this link. A warning that if your workplace does not approve of the viewing of nude forms you might want to wait to look at it. Or look at it on your phone.
I love Jacksonville, Florida. It’s my hometown, it’s where I grew up, it’s where my mother grew up, it’s even where my grandfather grew up. You can drop me anywhere in its 874.6 square miles and I can find my way to any major landmark. I learned to navigate ocean waves at Jax Beach, I learned to mountain bike at Hanna Park, I learned to hike at the Timucuan National Preserve.
I also learned how to appreciate classical art at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and modern at at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville(MOCA).
And MOCA is why I’ve been ashamed of Jax this week. Not because of anything the museum did, but because of what the City Council President did after walking into the museum last week.
He saw a nude photograph, and immediately decided that it was porn. Because y’know it’s a photo of boobs.
In his anger he sent an email to Chris Hand, the Jacksonville mayor’s chief of staff.
Upon entering the Laura Street doors today at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), I saw a large picture on display straight ahead hanging on the lower right corner of the gallery wall of a woman with bare breasts exposed and laying in a questionable position. Given that any member of the public, including children of all ages can enter, and are in fact encouraged to do so, as City Council President I take great offense on behalf of the people of Jacksonville that the City would accept this. The City of Jacksonville is currently budgeted to give MOCA $233,029 in taxpayer funds for the current fiscal year. Unless Mayor Brown supports this inappropriate, pornographic display, and accepts that anyone, including children can enter and see it, I insist that you immediately cause to be pulled all funding designated for MOCA for the current fiscal year or otherwise explain how this will be addressed within 24 hours.
This is why I’m ashamed of my hometown this week, because an elected official can’t tell the difference between artwork and pornography. Because an elected official is worried that the poor children of Duval County will be exposed to not only a pregnant woman, but also to bare breasts!
Of course at the same time I’m also proud of my hometown. The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, the body that actually funds MOCA, released a statement defending the exhibit.
The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.
Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life — “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” — opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.
And they’re not the only ones defending the exhibit, the city has been united, and #IstandwithMOCA has been the social media tag of choice. Most are critical of the attempt to censor an artist, others are embarrased of the provincial and backwards sensibility of Clay Yarborough and some are just ridiculing the man.
#IstandwithMOCA was used about 500 times as of 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 29. That number came from about 200 users, reached about 350,000 people and had over 650,000 impressions. Not bad. And all of the local news outlets have covered it, and those with opinion sections have come out in support of MOCA.
The one most vehemently supporting MOCA is the alt. weekly, Folio Weekly. In fact, they were the ones that broke the scandal on Nov. 26 with a piece titled “CLAY YARBOROUGH DOES NOT CARE FOR THOSE BOOBS, MOCA” since retitled to the much less pithy “CLAY YARBOROUGH, GUARDIAN OF CIVIC VIRTUE, DOES NOT CARE FOR THOSE LADY PARTS, MOCA.”
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s daily newspaper, picked up not soon after with the rest of the city media following. Even the Times-Union’s letters to the editor was filled with support for MOCA. And the metro columnist, Mark Woods, devoted his weekly column to supporting MOCA, in fact his is probably the best since he gives a great explanation of the entire exhibit, so go read it. I’ll wait.
So much support, it makes me proud that Jacksonville has finally recognized that art should be defended, and sometimes art is focused on the female form. It’s pretty simple, this whole scandal will blow over and hopefully Yarborough will learn a lesson about what the people he represents value.
But, the MOCA supporters have missed the important detail that the only reason there is a scandal is because the photographer, Angela Strassheim, uses photography as her medium.
If Clay Yarborough had walked into MOCA and seen the exact same image as an oil painting, he probably wouldn’t have had such a reaction. He would have disapproved, but ultimately considered it “Art.” But since it was a photograph, it clearly could only be porn!
This highlights a longstanding problem for photography. Few considered photography “Art.” It is considered commercial, popular, easy to do. Everyone is a photographer, so photography can’t be “Art” or everyone would be an “Artist.”
Painters and sculptors are “Artists,” because what they do is hard and not everyone can do it. But a photographer isn’t an “Artist,” because what they do is seen as easy and everyone can take a photo.
A simple experiment would show this to be true. Set up an easel and paints next to the Eiffel Tower and ask a hundred passers-by to paint what they see, very few would be able to do it. And those that could would take a very long time to do so. But if you were to take a camera and ask a hundred passers-by to take a photograph of what they saw they would each do it. And you would be able to do it in an hour or two.
If you then asked those hundred people if they created “Art” they would naturally say no. They just took a photo.
But does mean they are right?
In fact you could say that the experiment was an “Art Experiment.” A method of showing that a hundred people can be in the same location and each sees it slightly differently. Each photograph would have a different perspective; some photos would be high, some would be low. Some would focus on the crowds, others would focus on the Eiffle Tower.
And this is something that many people don’t seem to understand, that “Art” isn’t about technique, it isn’t about skill, it’s about vision and helping others to see your vision.
Sure photographers are technicians, we have to know how to use our cameras to get the proper exposure, we have to know how to use Photoshop to correct any problems or create what we want. But every technique we use is an effort to share our vision.
And traditional “Artists” are also technicians, a sculptor must know the proper angle to strike the rock at, the painter must know the proper mixture of colors to recreate the shade they want. And this is all to create the vision they want to share with the world.
The technique behind the “Art” isn’t important, as long as goal is to share a vision.
And Angela Strassheim’s photograph clears that goal by a mile. She had a vision and decided to share it with the world. That City Council President Clay Yarborough can’t see that shows his lack of vision, both for himself and for the City of Jacksonville.
If you would like to read more about Angela Strassheim’s exhibit at MOCA Jacksonville, visit the museum website at www.mocajacksonville.org/
If you would like to contact Clay Yarborough for any reason at all his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
[EDIT] After writing this I discovered this webpage on the Jacksonville Times-Union website, which includes a further statement from Clay Yarborough. I’ll include it in its entirety.
“In order to get to Café Nola, one is required to enter the doors of MOCA because there is no other way through which the public can access the restaurant. Upon entering the doors of MOCA on Tuesday for a lunch meeting at Café Nola, I observed the picture hanging on the gallery wall in plain view of anyone entering, including children.
“Unlike other venues that may contain such pictures, no admission fee is required to enter the lobby and view the picture. While we may all differ on the definition of art, the real question is should an adult and/or children who wish to eat at Café Nola be forcibly exposed to the picture upon entering the taxpayer-owned building if they do not wish to see it?
“As a parent of young children, I support parental choice and believe no parent should be put in the position of having to answer awkward questions that could arise from their child seeing a picture like that. The mayor’s position is still unknown and the Cultural Council’s response suggests an unwillingness to compromise, which is unfortunate in this situation.
“Since this issue surfaced, it is also interesting that all public-facing media outlets, including Facebook, have either blurred or removed the image due to content.”
I guess nobody should tell him that the Smithsonian is free and includes nudes, as are many other museums around the world. And most every city in the world has nude statuary in public places.