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Photographs by Manuel Laval
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A large part of our culture is concerned with partnerships and sexuality. However, one area of the body is mostly left unexplored.

Genitals are only shown to any extent in pornography. It is only rarely that they are included in an aesthetic and cultural setting.

There is a gap in our culture, a blind spot on the map of our relationships.

With my photography, I attempt to bridge this cultural gap and to encourage viewers to think about their attitude to their own and other people's bodies. My intention is to help people to take pleasure in looking.

My pictures invite viewers to experience voyeurism as both pleasant and positive.

After all:

What is exciting can also have aesthetic value.

 

The background

My photography aims to oppose the established sexual taboos.

But why now, of all times, and against what taboos, when there are seemingly endless reports in the media about child pornography and the trade in girls and women? Why now, when the smallest details of sexual activity or personal conduct are dragged into the garish light of day on talk shows, in the press and other media? Why now, when so often we hear complaints that anything goes and
everyone can live as they please? On closer examination, it becomes clear that the concept of
"sexual freedom" is superficial and insubstantial.
It is only the exploitation of eroticism in pornography, prostitution, strip shows, advertising and sensational newspapers that is truly unrestricted. Even illegal material is available to an almost unlimited extent.

Nor does the commercialisation of sexuality steer clear of problem areas like child pornography, Aids and violence. These topics are loudly displayed in public and, instead of being sensibly examined, they spread a mood of hysteria throughout society. Viewing figures are treated as more important than clear reporting, open debate and real sensual experience.

Sexuality as the most beautiful interpersonal experience is largely dominated by money. Junk Sex is in and triviality holds sway over sexuality. The result is that sex and eroticism have become tainted and can now hardly be included in an unbiassed way within a cultural setting.

A great many artists are shy of dealing with and representing eroticism, because they fear being categorised as sordid. There are also concrete barriers such as censorship on television and in the cinema, and nervousness among the grant-giving organisations and editors. For these reasons, it is not possible to include a taboo-free erotic scene in a culturally valuable film without coming under suspicion of dealing in poor taste. Permissive scenes fall victim to the mental scissors of self-censorship, although they might well have been good for the film, because a single too explicit scene can endanger the whole project through legal problems, censorship, poor international marketing prospects, and so on.

On the other side of the coin, there are some remarkable differences within the field of censorship, as, for instance, in Japan, where trading in pornography (even pornography involving children) is permitted, provided that genitals and pubic hair are painted out.

There is an enormous market in pornography. The wish of the individual to consume it is also legitimate - and why not? However, pornography always contains the same ingredients: licking, fucking, blow jobs. This is junk-food sexuality; creativity and fantasy are left out of the equation.

As far as erotic culture is concerned, or what could be called by that name, there is hardly anything to be found. Museums of erotic art usually only show the superficial, or, again, just pornography. Only very seldom can one find works of art or antiquities from other cultures which prove that eroticism and sexuality can be integrated into art and everyday life without embarrassment.

Of course there are some sensible and necessary prohibitions, such as violence against children and adults.

Direct representations of violence of all kinds have increased in the media and have been turned into a mass consumption commodity, while censorship, even where children and adolescents are concerned, is much less strictly imposed than in the area of eroticism.

Relationships often fail on the grounds of sexual dissatisfaction. Communication between partners concerning their erotic desires and dreams still tends to be scanty and is beset by inhibitions. Individuals wonder what their partner will think of them if they express their real wishes. Very many relationships are riddled with possessiveness, jealousy, dishonesty, lack of communication and misunderstandings.

The existing erotic culture tends to distance us from each other and moves us away from actual experience. It ends up, finally, in the realm of clichés.

 

Utopia

Culture is a developing process. My own Utopia is a world where eroticism develops in the culture until it is discussed and acknowledged as openly as food, music or sport. An unprejudiced exchange of views would take place. That would make sniggering,
smutty jokes and unspoken vulgarity between men and women superfluous.
Voyeurism would be enjoyable and would lose its taint of corruption. It would no longer be something negative. It would become a matter of looking with desire and aesthetic interest. Exhibitionism, showing oneself, and desiring to be looked at would be recognised as pleasurable and would not be hidden or banned to a milieu (of striptease, pornography and the like), where commercialism and ostracism turn culture into junk culture.

 

 

The picture
I am trying to win back for culture some excluded areas. My pictures of genitals are simply one possibility for provoking discussion. The erotic performances, far removed from disco strippers and table dancing, that I put on together with the group "Der Körper" [The Body] lead the viewer away from the ordinary and towards contemplation and enjoyment.

The pictures work at a variety of levels. The aesthetic level draws the gaze and awakens a positive feeling. The erotic level can, depending on the observer, alarm, provoke or even repel, but it can also excite. Then there is a puzzling level, on which, with many of the photographs, it is not quite clear how they have been made and what exactly they show. This produces a confusing mixture that stirs the viewer to contemplation.

Breaking taboos provokes and inspires.

When the photographs have been shown (at exhibitions and performances), it has become clear that the concept works and that the pictures trigger thought and discussion.

Example: one couple started talking to each other about intimate details and desires that they had obviously never discussed before, although they had lived together for years.

 


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