Where Are The Women Who Photograph Men?

Imagine you’ve been asked to join the board of an erotic magazine for lesbians. When you arrive at the first board meeting, you discover that all those funding and managing the project are straight men, and they’ve decided that all the magazine’s erotic photography will be the type of ‘lesbian’ photography largely created for and by straight men, often referred to as ‘girl on girl’. It’s just easier to find ˜lesbian’ photography by straight men, they tell you, and besides, real lesbians won’t know the difference. They ask you to make sure the articles aren’t too intellectually challenging, and that it’s packed with make-up and fashion tips. When the magazine is released, sales are good but not great. The board believes the magazine’s lower-than-expected sales are because ˜lesbians aren’t visual’, and they pull the plug after just a few issues.

Chances are that regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, you find the beliefs of the men in this ‘fictional’ scenario laughable, if not offensive. This is why it’s so odd to me that we have totally accepted, over the years, that this is exactly how straight (and bi) women’s erotica magazines should be run. Reading up on the history of magazines like Viva, Playgirl, For Women and Australian Women’s Forum and speaking with those who’ve worked for them, I’ve heard this same depressing story, with only minor variation, over and over. While their editorial staff were frequently women, the magazines were driven by male management who would rarely listen to the female staff, instead enforcing their own opinions about what women want to see and read. Meanwhile, there was a tacet acceptance that most, if not all, of the photographers would be gay men.

After researching this bizarre history of women’s erotica, I decided to create a magazine for women that featured erotic photography of men actually created for or by women, alongside articles that explored ideas, politics, philosophy and history, instead of unaffordable fashion trends. It’s called Filament, and Good Vibes has just started carrying the latest issue.

What is photographing men ˜for women’?

In a world where photography of men is more often associated with selling bodybuilding formula, I wanted Filament’s photography to send women sliding off seats. I needed to know what women wanted to see more and less of, to try and create a blend that would work for the huge variance of tastes among women that I knew I would encounter. I used findings of research that looked at what women found attractive, and formed an online community to ask about the finer detail. Did they prefer black and white or colour photography? Did they want to see a model’s face? Which matters more \’ an attractive face or an attractive body? For each of these questions, clear preferences emerged. It’s not science, but it gave me qualities to look for so the pictures that appear wouldn’t be about my taste, nor necessarily the gender of the photographer.

I later discovered that a chance to apply these findings would be a fine thing. I could scarcely find half a dozen photographers who had any experience in, nor were interested in, photographing men erotically for women. Female photographers were often particular resistant to the idea. Here are some of common reasons they gave.

“Why I don’t photograph men erotically “ the views of (some) female photographers

  • ‘I wouldn’t feel comfortable photographing a man as an erotic subject.’
  • ‘I wouldn’t feel safe around a nude man, unless I knew him very well.’
  • ‘There’s no ˜ideal’ to aspire to “ all the male erotic photography I’ve seen is by gay men, and I don’t generally find it erotic.’
  • ‘I don’t feel comfortable about the idea of objectifying men.’ [This one is particularly interesting because it usually comes from women who have large portfolios of work ˜objectifying’ women.]
  • ‘There’s no market for it: galleries and publishers aren’t interested in male erotic image.’
  • ‘I’d love to photograph men, but my tastes are weird. Nobody else would like what I’d like to photograph.’
  • ‘I’d love to photograph men, but male models seem to be of a body type that doesn’t appeal to me.’

While some of these answers are a depressing indication of engrained gender prejudices, it struck me that many could, at least in part, be addressed. A magazine like Filament could, for example, provide a body of work to inspire (or perhaps the great motivator, ˜I’m sure I could do better!’); connect female photographers with male models of more varied appearance, and most importantly, provide a place to show this work to the world.

Women photographing men: a growing movement

The number of people photographing men for women is so small that Filament currently publishes more than half the photography it receives. Some of this photography we have actively sought “ we’re not just sitting around waiting for photographers to come to us! We’re not publishing an ideal female vision, simply some of the most exciting photography of men that’s being produced with a female audience in mind.

The pool is growing. I hear female photographers say that it’s exciting to do something as unexplored as tap into their visual desire for men \’ many were told at photography school that only one way of photographing a male nude constitutes ˜art’.

Men have represented female subjects erotically \’ some would argue male subjects too \’ since time began, but it is only very recently “ and in very small numbers “ that women have started to photograph men erotically. Knowing that this is a new style of photography, it’s amazing to watch it emerge from its chrysalis. Like many-a Filament reader would contend, there’s plenty of it that doesn’t float my boat, but to me, that’s exactly how it should be \’ other than those daft people who actually believe that all women are basically the same, it’s only in the variety of the images create, and who is creating them, that we can hope to see erotic image truly reflect human sexuality, instead of who happens to call the shots in our society. We’ve mistakenly believed that women have long had this opportunity, but in fact we’re only just beginning to see erotic image that has women in mind from its inception, rather than simply giving us a vague mention on the masthead.

I will leave you with a quote from Australian erotic photographer Cat O’Nine Tails, Filament contributing photographer and creator of Shot with Desire:

Filament is available for $15 online and at all Good Vibes stores.

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