Reflections on the Guelph Sexuality Conference – Part 2 of 3

(Annotated by Sarah Lawrance)

[Courtesy of the SSHRC-funded research project that is responsible for this blog, I had the pleasure of spending a day at the 31st Annual Guelph Sexuality Conference in June. This year’s theme was “Positive approaches to sexuality and sexual health.” I am particularly interested in sex-positive and queer-inclusive approaches to this topic, so I was delighted to attend the plenary panel of sex workers discussing their work, a session of 3 research briefs on erotic photography and pole dancing, and a workshop on a variety of themes tied to sex-positivity. I briefly describe my thoughts on each of these sessions in three separate entries.]

Research Briefs

The session of research briefs I attended featured two papers on erotic photography and one on pole dancing, and here I am going to focus solely on the former.

I will first briefly discuss “Behind the Lens: A qualitative analysis of erotic photographers,” by Jocelyn Wentland and Amy Muise of the University of Ottawa and the University of Guelph respectively. This paper was an account of the experiences of photographers who offer boudoir or erotic photography among their services. What I found particularly interesting about the study’s results was how the photographers consistently drew very clear descriptive/definitional boundaries to distinguish their work from pornography. When I probed the presenter, Wentland, on why this distinction was so important for photographers, she said that she hadn’t investigated this point. She guessed, based on their responses, that the photographers’ desire to avoid stigma and maintain a family-friendly image was probably the root motivation for most respondents.

In light of my own research regarding the intentions behind the production of alternative pornographies, I was also interested in learning why photographers decided to include this genre of photography among their services. In most cases, Wentland responded, it was because there was such a high demand for it from their clients! After receiving many requests, the photographers realized they were losing potential business by not offering this service. I found this response particularly surprising in light of many women’s motivations for having the photos taken—described in more detail below.

This brings me to the second paper, “Bare’ing it All for the Camera: Exploring women’s experiences of having erotic photographs taken,” by Amy Muise, Ed Herold, Melanie Gillis, and Robin Milhausen. In this case I was interested in the motivations of the women clients: why did women want to have lingerie, semi-nude, and nude photos taken of them? Muise’s presentation explored this in detail. Many clients reported what I would classify as “political” motivations: the desire for empowerment, to reclaim their sexuality and their bodies (in relation to pornography made for men), and to teach their own children about real beauty and self-confidence. I found these responses really interesting to contrast with the photographers’ own motivations for doing this work. I guess I had an assumption that the photographers would be motivated by more than just money, by some sort of feminist politics, and my assumption was blown wide open!

Another set of client motivations also really interested me; I’ve categorized these as “autobiographical.” This refers to the women who wanted to document their bodies at different points in time for their own memory and, in some cases, to someday show their children. Examples of this include: one woman went in once every year to get erotic photos taken; another woman wanted the erotic photos to be displayed at her funeral rather than the usual photosets; a woman with breast cancer wanted erotic photographs of herself pre- and post-surgery, with and without the scars; and yet another woman wanted to record a moment in time so she could look back a herself 30 years down the road, “like telling a story” about herself.


~ by artpoped on July 7, 2009.

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