Geoffrey & Carmen Holder, March 3, 1955 by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964). Public Domain.
As a sexologist who teaches, and who in course of teaching creates slideshow presentations and other materials, I’ve been frustrated by the overwhelming pervasiveness of white images and the lack of good quality, sex-positive images of black people and other people of color. Due to financial constraints, and because I have a finicky aesthetic, I search Wikimedia Commons for public domain and creative commons images in the categories of fine or erotic arts. In these categories (and even in the “human couples” category), beautiful and evocative images of loving black couples, such as the fine photograph by Carl Van Vechten (above), are difficult to find. You can find loving black couples on public health posters however, and I understand the reasons for this. However, I wish that these images weren’t “always” so entwined with the context of disease prevention, know what I mean? Or maybe you don’t. I’m having a hard time expressing the nuances here. The image below is positive, sweet, caring, very attractive – all the things it should be in a public health message for safer sex – but I guess I wish we saw these same types of images more often in other mass media contexts, including ads for all kinds of products. As an educator, I want more portrayals of positive, intimate black relationships, of all genders and persuasions, to choose from. As a citizen, ditto.
I am delighted to find this series of photographs, below. The kissing couple below adorns a tram door. I think the this art piece is wonderful.
#1 Kissing couple on the doors of a tram in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Immanuel Giel, May 2009. Public domain.
#2 Kissing couple on the doors of a tram in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Immanuel Giel, May 2009. Public domain.
#3 Kissing couple on the doors of a tram in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Immanuel Giel, May 2009. Public domain.
I also like this photograph of an elderly couple laughing. There’s joy here.
Oklahoma Sharecroppers, 1914. Found in a box of photographs and submitted to Wikimedia Commons by “Father of Don O’Brien.” Creative Commons.
And below is a quiet, peaceful interlude in the lives of two people (and their pet). But the photo was taken for an Environmental Protection Agency report and discusses the growing disparity between black and white income levels in Chicago.
Black couple and their dog in their apartment in South Side of Chicago. Photograph by John H. White (1945- ). Taken June, 1973. Copyright. Photo archived by EPA, given to Wikimedia by the National Archives and Records Administration.
The photo below is also poignant, loving, cherishing.
Photo by Pacien, April 2005. Creative Commons.
Though portrayals of black lovers are rare (aside from shots of celebrity couples), it’s even harder to find a good anatomical drawing or image that is not white. Sure, a few people have posted genital photographs on Wikimedia Commons, but they are mostly unsuitable for sex education materials. I’m automatically suspicious, for example, of any shaved images on posted on Wikimedia, even though shaving is a common practice.
Of course, if I put on my erotologist hat, I can say all kinds of things about various images and forms of representation – but at the moment, I’m writing strictly about the difficulty of finding good, free, respectful sex, body, and relationship images that convey sexual, gender, cultural, ethnic, etc. diversity (without being fetishized or exoticized). I will also note that at IASHS, where I currently serve as Dean of Students, we have an enormous amount of erotic books, films, and artwork. But, due to a donation of a massive collection of gleaming sculpture, there’s currently a heavy emphasis on the female form in our common areas. And even so, we don’t seem to display much that isn’t white and hetero- (and cis-) centric. I’m on the lookout for a wider variety of images for my own office, as this lack of visual diversity troubles me.
More to come on related topics.