Thursday, March 08, 2007

Observations of the Human Body

Evolutionary psychologists are fascinated with bodies. To us, bodies provide clues about who we have been as a species. Want to know how sexually promiscuous human females have been over eons of evolution? Look at the average size of males' testicles. Bodies also tell us something valuable about the physical condition of the owner. Want to know how fertile a woman might be? Check out the condition of her lips. As a rule of thumb - the redder, the better. Want to know if a guy might be a cad? Take a look at his jaw and brows. Those cues are just the tip of the iceberg. EPs have looked at such things as WHRs, BMIs, facial and body symmetry, breast size, skin quality, and chest-to-waist ratios, not to mention finger digit ratios. All convey information that others can and do use to size up a potential mate.

Ethologists are interested in bodies too, specifically what they do and what we do to them. Desmond Morris, probably the best known Manwatcher, has catalogued a whole tome of body observations that range from the subtleties of hand gestures to the meaning of tatoos. What we do with our bodies, how we move them and decorate them, can also send sexual information. However, bodies don't always send sexual messages, and even when they do, it isn't always intentional. That leaves a lot of room for ambiguity and misinterpretation - and lawsuits for sexual harassment.

Bodies don't always have to be about sex though, not even naked ones. Bodies can send political messages. And they can be objets d'art. However, when all three unite, the effects can be stunning.

Artists whose canvas is the human body ask us to view the human body through their lens. War photographers and pornographers render up some of the most provocative and powerful imagery.

Recently I had the pleasure, if you could call it that, of watching a touching documentary called simply, War Photographer. It is easily one of the very best documentaries I have ever seen. Everyone should watch it. I already knew that war brings out the worst in humanity, but watching humans in war zones through the eyes of an artist who deeply respects his subject and approaches it with courage and dignity, is altogether different from anything I had seen before. The photographer, James Nachtwey, comes across as one part arrogant madman and three parts humble saint. I think he truly believes that what he's doing will end war. I hope he's right.

Pornographers also document their observations of the human body, but are looked upon a lot less favorably. There's no doubt we Americans have some serious sexual hang-ups when it comes to the naked body. Feminists also have some serious hang-ups, sometimes for good reasons, with pornography.

The artist who created the images posted here had this to say in response to his art being called pornographic, "I don't mind my work being called pornographic. As Andy Warhol said, "Isn't that great." Pornography has been an art form for as long as humans have been around. A large majority of the ruins of Pompeii had to be hidden because it wasn't acceptable for society. And of course, it's just not accepted in America." His work can be seen at the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival and EDL Photographics.

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