My Personal Take On Eros

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

For the last few days I have been printing negatives in my darkroom that are of erotic content. They will be viewable here as of May 4. I will not discuss the difference between images that are pornographic and those that are erotic. It seems that in this 21st century it is a difficult subject to broach in company. What is pornography? Does God exist? What are your views on abortion? Is art dead? These are subjects best left alone.

Every once in a while I post photographs in this blog that are racy. The fact that I have has meant that a few established botanical websites and a few people of note have refused to link to my blog or to agree to appear in it. And this is even though I have been quite careful to self-censor what photographs I insert in this blog.

I find that my interest and concern in eroticism is growing with age and not diminishing. If this is an obsession I find it a healthy one as it keeps me off the streets.

I am 70 and what I find erotic now is completely different from my views as a much younger man. These, I believe are a tad more sophisticated. When I was in my mid teens I would purchase whatever Mexican magazine that featured anything on Brigitte Bardot. The only racy stuff was her cleavage. I found that wonderful. To this day I respond to cleavage and I must add that the smaller the breasts the better the cleavage. I smile at the idea that we men (or this man) can make so much out of what really is empty space (a concavity) between two convexities that would be meaningless without it.
By the time I arrived in Vancouver in 1975 taking photographs of any woman who would take her clothes off for me was erotic even if my first attempts were of the type, “Have you noticed how a female nude bodyscape resembles those dunes in the Sahara?” Yes I was stupid.

But in my first real photographic nude of a woman called April I managed to include in her smooth body as she lay on the sands of Wreck Beach, some dark sand in her toes. People told me that spoiled the picture. I came to understand that when something wasn’t quite right with a photograph it became more interesting and in the case of April it was my first erotic photograph. Without suspecting it the photograph had a connection with a Japanese film I had seen with a Buenos Aires girlfriend in the mid 60s called The Woman in the Dunes. I now know that the physical part of me responds (doesn’t anybody else?) to memories of the past. These memories can be of real experiences, imagined experiences, or from books, music, theatre, art and opera. It was only last week that I saw Harry Beaumont’s 1924 silent film, Beau Brummel. When John Barrymore gazes (in the start of the film) at Mary Astor (in a brilliant white dress and about to be married to someone else) I was transfixed by the eroticism of the scene, a scene of which in some way I will eventually transpose (even if hidden to most) to my own purpose.

April, Wreck Beach circa 1978

A few years after my Vancouver arrival I was a passenger on a Beaver that was about to land in Coal Harbour, the pilot suddenly swerved and we almost crashed. When I deplaned and a beautiful woman wearing hot pants (Tarren was her name) said, “How are you doing Alex? Where are you coming from?” the pilot said, “You know her? She was the reason we almost crashed! I became distracted.” What the pilot had seen was that wonderful smooth crease that Tarren had just below those very short, shorts — a sort of below-the-belt kind of cleavage.


One type of photographic image that never did inspire me to rampant sexual rapture is what is commonly called glamour. I absolutely hate cutesy poses (a reason why I dislike most modern and local burlesque dancers). I hate women in bikinis posing by muscle cars. I hate women making it like they are going to lower their bikini bottoms. I hate all banana and lollypop shots. I hate women dressed or undraped on railroad tracks (wearing or not wearing angel wings). I hate women attempting to look sexy on a motorcycle. I hate it when a woman posing for me attempts to look sexy by pursing their lips. I just hate glamour. Glamour is Grace Kelly fully dressed. That glamour I like. So what is left that may be erotic for me?
As humans we have a limited supply of orifices. These orifices are blatantly exploited in pornography. Thus orifices as such do not excite me in the least. I have the same opinion for that often used action that is called insertion and particularly the repeated perpetual motion one. I have a friend who is a professional dominatrix. One of her more popular acts, for which she gets very good money, is to sit on men’s faces. She also ties up her men and women. This is something I have never understood. I cannot figure out bondage and I have no desire to feel helpless. And yes I am ticklish everywhere.

Yuliya the dominatrix

Fetish in general bores me to death. I avoid all those Thursday Fetish Nights in Burnaby like the plague. Fetish rules are so firmly established, it is so mainstream, that fetish can no longer shock me. Fetish stopped being so after Bettie Page ceased posing in middle-American living rooms. So what do I find erotic? Marilyn Monroe playing paddle ball on a rubber string in the Misfits with all those polka dots of her dress moving around like crazy is erotic. And yet when I photographed Elliott Erwitt, the stills photographer for that John Huston film, he could not recall the dress! That shows that Eros is something extremely personal. With that in mind I have determined that I have my own personal idea of what is erotic and I have been pursuing it for many years. With the advent of my scanner, I have been able to enlarge negatives from the past that I never noticed before. I have found Eros in my past as well as shooting Eros in the present; in fact I shot some last week.
The one rule is that sand-in-the-toes thing. There has to be an element that is not quite right, that is off.

At least 20 years ago I participated in a group show with two other photographers. It was billed as a show of nudes. In those days of early Vancouver feminism I distinctly remember someone commenting on the guest book (a very bad idea that most galleries have discontinued), “Thanks Alex, for showing us their faces.”

In those days the removal of a woman’s face was seen as cruel and sexist depersonalization. I had an acquaintance from Wreck Beach of whom was said had a file of his photographs that used “parts” as the organizer.
But now I find that taking pictures of a woman wearing a mask or taking pictures of some of those parts can be awfully erotic. It has nothing to do with seeing the parts but more of visions based in memory of gestures, slow movements, subtle sounds and the smells that even after eons away from our caves we can still perceive.

I have an artist friend in Salt Spring Island, Stephanie Denz, with whom I share a delight in the Eros to be found in voyeurism. Of late I have been including myself in mirror images where you can see me with my camera while taking pictures of my subject.

Stephanie Denz

In the age of the Brazilian I find hair supremely erotic. But at the same time as a man, a heterosexual man who does not deny the feminine in me, I see a woman’s outer genitalia as an example of nature’s perfect example of the streamlined shape. I equate the vulva (in particular the bare Brazilian type) to that other perfect example of a smooth, streamlined shape — the Chinese spoon. A classic Chinese spoon should be part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art right next to Chrysler’s Airflow and the Tatra 87, and a vulva perhaps?

Link to: My Personal Take On Eros

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