Jock Sturges
May 15, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Line of Beauty and Grace: A documentary about Jock Sturges (both links NSFW)
posted by Joe Beese (20 comments total)
there's a very good chance that clicking those links will make you worry that you'll get a visit from chris hanson.

i admire a man like jock sturges for pushing the envelope and showing us that we've got a screwed up set of sexual immorality laws. but i wouldn't be surprised if he was a pedo who was using this as an excuse.
posted by taumeson at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2009

but i wouldn't be surprised if he was a pedo who was using this as an excuse.

I met him once, and was friends with people who knew him well. While I suppose you never really know what's going on in a person's mind, Jock sure didn't strike me as a big time creep (at least, no more so than any other naked-people photographer I've ever met).

I've always found his photographs stunningly beautiful, and would love to own one, though I doubt I could ever afford it.
posted by Forktine at 10:38 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jock sure didn't strike me as a big time creep

I've heard this. I believe it.

Then again, I know somebody who was a model in her teenage years. She had some stories that make me think a lot of these guys, no matter their outward appearances and actions, got into this profession for one reason only.
posted by taumeson at 10:41 AM on May 15, 2009

Can't watch the film trailer at work, so the following may be covered there. But for more context on the man and his work: consider his brush with the feds, the ire of moral crusaders, and in his own words.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:50 AM on May 15, 2009

This may need the all new ENSFW disclaimer. E can stand for extra or extremely or exceptionally. Having one of those images in your cache can be big trouble.
posted by bz at 10:56 AM on May 15, 2009

bz: "Having one of those images in your cache can be big trouble."

IANAL. I can only say that, for me, much of the appeal of Sturges' art is being able to escape for a while to a less sexually fucked up world than this one.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:02 AM on May 15, 2009

She had some stories that make me think a lot of these guys, no matter their outward appearances and actions, got into this profession for one reason only. is a photography community heavily dominated by professionals, so there's generally a correspondingly high quality to the work there (and a certain professional monotony, too). They have excellent features for browsing the massive collection of photographs there, and one of the best ways is to return once a week or so and just see the top-rated for the last few days.

For a while I enjoyed doing this a lot--I got exposed to a tremendous variety of very skilled photography. But over time a certain unease set in, and it took me a little bit to articulate it: The photographers are mostly male, and the naked people are almost all female, mid-20s, skinny with big boobs, arching their backs. Individually the photographers and their collections seem respectful and artistic and not overtly sexist, insofar as they can appeal to a long history of the form of the female nude in art, and little of it is overtly erotic.

But there's a very definite communal pathology there that's about the simplest possible illustration of the objectification of women in a patriarchal society, and the fact that individual photographers are superficially not conscious of it does nothing to rescue it. So even if Mr. Sturges talked glowingly about how much he loves beauty and women, how he has the utmost respect for them, and how no woman has ever felt uncomfortable in his lens, he's definitely taking part in a practice that's skeevy and sexist in the aggregate.
posted by fatbird at 11:10 AM on May 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

how no woman has ever felt uncomfortable in his lens

maybe that's what creates the quality of naturalness in these shots, of women being in their bodies without a sense of violation, but with a sense of fullness filling them. And who can see a shot of a woman with her sense of self laid literally bare (as in these photos), and not be struck by the force of that beauty?

The Fritz Lang "M" style catch a predator movement is old as germanic puritanism itself, but so hollow that art like this will vanquish it again and again.
posted by sarcasman at 11:14 AM on May 15, 2009

Joe Beese: I don't disagree but certain corporate IT departments live for that kind of find and the files exist without context. Unfortunate but true.
posted by bz at 11:16 AM on May 15, 2009

Sarcasman, it is worth noting that many of the "women" in his lens are actually "girls."
posted by barrett caulk at 11:19 AM on May 15, 2009

While I appreciate the artistry, this really left me nonplussed. Okay, got it - naked women shot under the sobriquet of "The Truth No One Is Letting Us See".

I don't quite get how this works when naked women are naked women, and okay so?

I don't feel like I've been changed or exposed to any kind of capital-T Truth here.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 12:53 PM on May 15, 2009

Never heard of the guy, but having watched the trailer--and I ain't no prude... ick. The guy comes across as a world-class pretentious crap-spewer.

This Truth thing, his work--photographing beautiful young women--is his life and his life is his work? And there's some grand Truthy Truth?

I don't imagine this DVD is intentionally a sexy comedy, but he does come across as laughable.
posted by ambient2 at 2:15 PM on May 15, 2009

In his interview, he says A Lot of Things about family and sensuality and natural urges, but I notice that all his photos I've seen have been about women and girls. It doesn't seem to be very transgressive to perpetuate the traditional male photographer/female model dynamic, even if they are family friends.

I know the interview is old, but this part in particular struck me:
We live in an age when anonymity is growing in magnitude like a bomb going off. As media stars become increasingly powerful, the rest of us are increasingly ciphers. The distance between the lives [of celebrities] and our lives is growing all the time. Children feel absolutely invisible, unnoticed, as if they can make no difference. The more of the world we see in the media, the more aware we are of how insignificant any one of us is.
Isn't this becoming less and less true with the increasing popularity of temporary internet stars?
posted by muddgirl at 3:00 PM on May 15, 2009

a practice that's skeevy and sexist in the aggregate

I'm not sure if I would phrase it that way. People take pictures of what they find beautiful. There's a definite link between sexuality (slash sexual preference) and perception of beauty. In other words, straight men find women beautiful. Yes, it's sexist; there's a definite preference for one sex over the other. And yes, this can lead to bad things. But whether it's bad in and of itself... not so sure.

Whether there's a distinction between beauty tinged with sexuality (subtly or overtly) and beauty that's not, like a painting of water lilies... I'd say that's impossible to answer, at least not without begging the question.

All that said, yes, I did feel a little creepy watching the trailer and clicking the second link. But I would guess that'd be different coming from a culture that wasn't simultaneously puritan and hypersexualized.
posted by supercres at 3:29 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

And the fact that a lot of these subjects are so young is a different issue altogether. With children who are too young to understand sexuality, any amount of eroticization is A Bad Thing.

But calling "men find women beautiful and thus take pictures of them" a pathology? I have to disagree.
posted by supercres at 3:32 PM on May 15, 2009

From a review of the documentary: The obvious omission in the DVD is the viewpoint of his models (or at least models who are not also family members). Given that Sturges himself says so much about his relationship with his models and someone else comments that Jock gives so much of himself to his models that he is in danger of doing too much, one wonders whether his models share this perception. Further, given that Sturges condemns Diane Arbus for exploiting some of her subjects and not telling them about how widely seen their photographs would be, one wonders how much Sturges himself did to explain to his subjects that their images would be available in bookstores all over the world. Indeed, now their images are also widely available on the Internet. How do they feel about that, and how has it affected their lives? The documentary-makers do not explore this at all.
posted by Sailormom at 5:28 PM on May 15, 2009

Having read about an autobiographical documentary that one of his models made about him, I think there is a little more pedo in Sturges than these links suggest. "Art for Teachers of Children"
posted by jeanmari at 7:53 PM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

> But calling "men find women beautiful and thus take pictures of them" a pathology? I have to disagree.

I said that it's not individually pathological. I'm sure that Jock Sturges thinks exactly that: "women are beautiful and I like taking pictures of them naked." So does David Hamilton. So does John Peri. So does basically every professional photographer on who bothers to shoot nudes.

When you look at it as a community of photographers, two things become obvious: they're mostly older men, and the subjects are virtually all younger women who meet some fashion magazine definition of beautiful (unless they're going for a Suicide Girls edgy aesthetic, in which case they're pierced and tattooed).

So it's not "men find women beautiful", it's older men with a camera and a good line pretty exclusively finding a very narrow type of woman beautiful, and constantly getting them to take their clothes off. Forgive me if I'm a bit cynical when they claim their motives are "making art" and "finding truth".
posted by fatbird at 8:29 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If Jock Sturges isn't a pedophile, he certainly does a good imitation of one. Whatever technical merits exist in his work, it's undeniable that it has a strong and general appeal to creepy pervs.

Having worked in a bookstore with a large art and photography section, I can tell you that the most, erm, shopworn titles in the section were the ones by Sturges. Usually when we did reshelving and cleanup at the end of the night, we'd find them hastily wedged between other books in a secluded "porn-browsing" corner of the store. Very occasionally, we'd find the Sturges books somewhere in the men's restroom, either on the floor inside of a stall or stashed inside of the fold-up diaper changing table. On those rare times that I actually saw somebody holding/browsing/actually buying a Sturges title, it was always grubby middle-aged guys who looked like a police composite sketch.

So no, I don't have any problem with calling Sturges a child pornographer.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:41 AM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a shallow comment then a serious one.
I regard art seriously, and it sucks when you see this guy misuse its best ideas, such as "looking for truth", or the more ridiculous "this is about freedom". This is a shortcut to thinking, these aren't original thoughts, but they are good thoughts, at least when originally made by innovative artists such as Pollock (I think he mentioned 'freedom', when he made paint fly). After studying various artists biographies and comments, this comes up again and again, with people who can't explain or don't know what they are doing (and yes you can even find it with artists who are thought of as 'legit' artists).
Although I love art, and don't necessarily think age is required for nudity but I cannot see dedicating your lifetime to this subject material, this is very hard to explain for motivations. I agree with many disparaging remarks on a visceral level. But I can also play devil's advocate: I did happen upon one of his pieces in the back of a gallery once and it stunned me, since I immediately thought -hey this is illegal? After that actually I had the effect of complex reactions: beauty, innocence and yet fear of the gravity of this boundary, guilt etc, a psychologists brew. I have been trained to question what is the intent of the artist. I thought of how our religious upbringing preaches original sin, yet in the east there is original innocence: deep ideas. I know others may never regard a photo so critically.
But on the other hand any half-wit artist can see this is a rich subject matter, easy to exploit, especially when the audience is mostly men who will always have complex and ulterior motivations. But when you think about the best that could come out of this work, such as the beauty and innocence, couldn't it be done without the complete nudity? I think the answer is yes.
posted by uni verse at 11:44 AM on May 16, 2009

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