Artists, in general, rail wildly and loudly against censorship in any form because it inhibits our freedom of expression. Artists insists that we must be free create exactly what we want to create with absolutely no prohibitions from outside influence.
Yet, I have fount that more often than not, artists are their own most stringent censors and we censor ourselves through the very methods we use in creating our art, from our choice of materials to the specific words we use in a poem or essay. Our work is limited much less by external sources as it is by our own decisions as to how we represent a specific idea or concept. Is this part of the artistic process or are we unwittingly limiting ourselves.
The topic came up for me a couple of weeks ago when I first processed a photo from this set and immediately wondered if I could get away with showing it in an upcoming exhibition in April. The requirement for that exhibition is that none of the images have an R rating or less. Such a request is not unusual for smaller venues where guests may not be expecting more explicit demonstrations.
While the response that came back was that yes, the image is acceptable, it created for me an awareness of the degree to which the methods used to create these images, all images, is in one way or another a form of censorship. Those choices begin with how I choose to crop a photo. Do I include a naked vagina? Or do I lop off a model’s head so that the image becomes “anonymous?” When I’m applying a waveform, do I allow it to cover or distort a woman’s breast? When I create alternative coloring, does that change and in some way diminish the power of the human form?
I’m wrestling with my answers to these questions. I want to say that I’m making an artistic choice, and to some degree that is true. However, if I am making those choices so that the image is more appropriate for social media or to avoid offending a specific group of people, is that not censorship?
Technically, anytime we remove or alter anything within an image, it is censorship. If I crop an image, which I almost always do so that it fits within a standard frame size, that is an act of censorship. Granted, it is often the case that I’m only cropping out excess background, but by the most technical definition, that is still censorship. I’m leaving something out.
We do the same thing when writing. We choose words carefully not only to convey meaning but so that we do not offend certain people groups. We avoid words that might carry a racist or sexually demeaning connotation and while that is totally appropriate and necessary, technically it is still censorship.
This is a short set this week because the first six images required an immense amount of time to create. The last two images, though, may be the ones that require the most thought. They are processed in more traditional fashion, yet they are both censored. One is censored in the choice of the model’s pose. The other is censored through my choice of image crop. Compare those two with the previous six and ask yourself which is the more heavily censored.
We need to talk about censorship in all its forms but for that conversation to be meaningful, we need to consider all the ways in which we self-censor and determine whether we are the ones holding back the conversation.
Click on an image to view the entire set at full size. Please consider sharing this article and look for announcements as to where our work is being exhibited this year!