Friday, 31 March 2017

The Poignancy of Old Pornography


I'm putting this warning here because it's one post, and I don't want to turn my whole blog into a click-to-enter site. So, if you continue reading, keep your cool.

My friend Tracey showed me this video when I went to visit her in Nairobi recently. She thought I might like it because I've been engrossed in researching photography for Still Life, and this has a lot to do with how photographs have influenced the way we document sex.

For my book, I'm actually interested in how we document death (and if you want to see something modern about that, and have a strong stomach, click here), but in watching this video I realised that the two subjects are extremely similar in terms of why we take photographs of taboo subjects.

It's a really well made short, and it helped me to articulate a few things I'd been thinking about. The more historical fiction I write, the more I realise that it is the similarity between ourselves and generations gone that we pay attention to. Our interest lies in how people similar to ourselves cope with circumstances that are very different. We focus on politics and war when writing historical fiction, but within that, we focus on ourselves as characters. My belief in difference left me when I started travelling. Yes, we live in different circumstances, and there are a few quirky ideas between cultures, but we share 99.5% of the same DNA globally and people are people. Africa isn't the Dark Continent, there was never a Golden Age. Peel back those illusions and it's not so difficult to connect across time and space.

The part about a photograph being 'a frozen moment in time, rescued from the dissolving force of the years,' plays a huge part in what I'm researching. There was a wonderful point, just before photographers discovered how to fix images, where you could make a photograph but the image itself would disappear after a few moments. You could watch that dissolving force at work even as you tried to preserve someone from it.

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