The exhibition of unknowing men's penis pics

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Photo: Getty

Just this past week, I put a ‘Missed Connections’ ad on Craigslist after making meaningful eye contact with a handsome chap. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. But there were a few nice replies of the “I am not him, but I did laugh at your ad” variety, and then it happened: a dick pic. The fellow in question sent no other identifying information or chat save for said photo of his knob standing to attention as he lay in a rather barren room.

(There was one other bloke who at least had the decency to offer me “30 quid” if I was free to give him a foot job.)

Not really knowing what to do, I simply replied “Put it away, mate!” and deleted the email, but if happenings in New York’s Bushwick this week are any indication, perhaps I should have filed it away as material for an art show - because that’s what the “artists” behind Show Me More: A Collection of DickPix did.

“Four artists interested in feminism, the internet, sex, porn, and power have decided that the dick pics they've gathered are important enough to share with the public,” Vice’s coverage of the exhibition runs. “Over 300 men who have engaged in a little harmless online exhibitionism sending this summer may be surprised to learn that their members will mounted, framed, and put on display on August 23 at a Brooklyn gallery space by an artist collective known as Future Femme. The group is hoping to turn the tables on this mind-boggling male habit.”

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To say my own response to this exhibition (or perhaps more accurately, statement) is one of great conflict is putting it mildly.

I certainly agree that receiving unsolicited dick pics is one of the less savoury aspects of internet dating (and sometimes just “the internet”, full stop!). As The Kinsey Institute’s Justin Garcia told Vice, “In a national context in which women are treated less favorably than men—in the workplace, in healthcare legislation, and when it comes to sex and dating, it’s troublesome to me that women are getting flashed in the digital era. With these pictures, you’re removing a certain agency from women. I think there’s a larger method of disrespecting women with these photos than we even recognize.”

It’s that very sense of entitlement that makes me wonder if, were the unsolicited wang photographers to discover their members in the Bushwick exhibition, it would make any difference to them at all. If exhibitionism is the order of the day, I don’t imagine the thought of their knob being viewed by hundreds, possibly thousands, of people would turn them off dick pics, as it were. In that sense, the ethics (or lack thereof) of the exhibition are beside the point.

But what of the men who have been, as NY Magazine’s coverage of the exhibit puts it, “catfished” by the women: the blokes who sent knob shots in (reasonably, one assumes) good faith because they were requested, thinking it was an entree to a consensual sexual encounter? As Vice notes, “Most of the women have gone the straightforward route in collecting dick pics, using versions of their real OKCupid profiles and brief conversations—sometimes just going right for the jugular and straight-up asking for a dick pic, avoiding flirtation and conversation at all costs. One of the artists, however, went a step further by posing as a gay man on Grindr and wound up with 150 photos.”

There are no ifs or buts about this: it’s unethical. But how do ethics mesh with the idea of art, which is supposed to be a free-for-all of expression? These women aren’t researchers, after all, they’re artists (or “artists”), which throws the whole thing into muddy territory. This isn’t as clear cut as the recent case - similar only in the sense that it involved photography and a lack of consent - of Arne Svenson’s exhibition of photographs featuring the windows of New York apartments.

Svenson said of his work, “The people I photographed were not aware at the time. That said, I have been committed to protecting their privacy—and stringent about not revealing their identities. I was not photographing them as specific, identifiable personages, but more as representations of humankind, of us.”

(The legality of Svenson’s work is up in the air, since the photos are of intimate situations, but technically taken in public, where New York’s legal system has a history of telling people who bristle - legally - at having their photo taken that they don’t have much of a case.)

There’s another difference: Svenson’s photographs are exquisite works of art.

Now, before you accuse me of dissing the artistic merit of the four unnamed women in Bushwick, I like plenty of grotty, base, sex-mad art - Sarah Lucas’ Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab and Au Naturel, for example. But there’s a vast chasm between making art about the idea of exhibitionism or sexual depravity, and turning unwilling participants into a riff on the same thing.

Also, saying “they had it coming to them” and “well, he shouldn’t have sent the photo” smacks intensely of victim blaming. Imagine a group of men posting upskirt shots from exes or women who’d spurned them as some sort of statement about sexual aggression. We’d probably just call that what it actually is: Creepshots on Facebook and Reddit, not art. Is Show Me More any different just because it’s women doing the “posting” and it’s happening in a gallery?  Further more, if Show Me More is, as the coverage seems to imply, positioning itself as a feminist art project, well, I don’t intend to share feminist ranks with anyone who engages in victim blaming. No matter how many grainy photographs of naked schlongs are involved.

11 comments

  • I do wonder how many men would have consented to such an exhibition if asked, with their identities protected (no face shots, nothing to attribute to them). And how many women would have consented to the same under the same conditions.

    Commenter
    GitL
    Location
    Bris
    Date and time
    August 23, 2013, 9:33AM
    • If it's unethical, it's unethical. A violation is a violation. There is no 'muddy' area. Artists don't get a free pass just because they're artists, 'exquisite works of art' or not.

      Commenter
      Lyn
      Date and time
      August 23, 2013, 9:55AM
      • I'm sorry - if one sends unsolicited pictures of his genitals to complete strangers - he cant be suprised if they are used in ways that he cannot control.
        My 13 year old daughter was sent a number of dick-pics after participating in a g-rated chatroom a few years back. If I knew the culprits identity - I'd start my own webpage publishing their names, addresses and comments on the state of their rather sad ... assets.

        Commenter
        Deb DeGood
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        August 23, 2013, 10:43AM
    • Surely if photographs are solicited from people with the intention of wisespread use and/or distribution such intention should be disclosed and consent gained prior to the use of those picturess? It's extremely violating. Having said that, if someone sends an unsolicited, univited probably unwanted picture of themselves, then I think it's fair game.

      Commenter
      Nicole
      Location
      Darlinghurst
      Date and time
      August 23, 2013, 11:31AM
      • I'm unable to comment on the legality but I believe how one came about obtaining these images has or should have a great impact on how ethical it is to post them publicly.

        My opinion on ethical conduct of posting such images:
        Totally ethical if posted with consent and full knowledge of what is going to happen with the images.

        Mostly ethical (because they had it coming) if they sent these images unsolicited. I don't consider them victims in this case as they're really perpetrators of a sex crime. Imagine if they sent random 14 year old girls dick pics. We'd be pressing charges if they could be identified.

        Totally unethical if they were requested and there was an implicit understanding they are for personal/private viewing. Members on gay match making sites are expected to send and enjoy receiving dick pics. It's the social norm on those sites. It's exploitative and violates trust to pretend to be a gay man to collect these pics and then air them publicly.

        I would have no problem if the exhibition had a quarter the number of photos but they were all obtained from men sending unsolicited dick pics to women they were trying to bed or simply shock. It'd not be that hard to collect a large collection surely. Just advertise to women who participate in online dating to forward any photos of tools sending unsolicited dick pics.

        Commenter
        Vayor
        Date and time
        August 23, 2013, 11:46AM
        • I think there's an ethical issue in relation to the use of someone else's work for potential publicity and profit. These people aren't artists, simply because they haven't taken the pictures, nor have they (presumably) offered any input in the way of framing or pose. I hope if they sell one of their "works", they forward the money onto the model/photographer who did all the work...

          Commenter
          Heisenberg
          Location
          thisaggression.wordpress.com
          Date and time
          August 23, 2013, 12:59PM
          • They shouldn't have been sent and, once sent, they shouldn't have been shown about publicly. Whatever happened to discretion?

            Commenter
            TK
            Date and time
            August 23, 2013, 1:27PM
            • So Honi Soit gets their magazine cover of consenting women pulped because of a minor printing error however it's fine to display men's penis' in a gallery and call it 'art'?

              Commenter
              Mofflin
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              August 23, 2013, 1:27PM
              • They're not victims, they're merely experiencing the natural and quite morally neutral consequences of their actions.

                If I sent a picture of my penis to someone, sure I would probably be upset at them who put it out for show, but I would also realise that that I had lost the moral right to control that image the moment I sent it.

                Commenter
                Christian
                Date and time
                August 23, 2013, 1:32PM
                • You think they did it in good faith?

                  I cannot understand the mentality of someone who thinks "I'll send some random woman a pic of my schlong". It baffles me that there is anyone out there that would think it's a good idea and it would somehow work.

                  I'd call them a gigantic tool but they'd probably take it the wrong way and consider a compliment.

                  Commenter
                  Bender
                  Date and time
                  August 23, 2013, 2:24PM

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