“Each period has its peculiar image of man” said theologian Paul Tillich at the beginning of his essay for the Museum of Modern Art exhibition New Images of Man in 1959, and if he were writing it today he would need to spend some time dealing with “dickpix”—a subset of the “selfie”—which are the early 21st century’s favorite “peculiar image of man”.
(Tillich, of course, was no stranger to porn, as his wife Hannah describes finding a cache in his desk after his death: “All the girls’ photos fell out, letters and poems…beside the drawers, which were supposed to contain his spiritual harvest, the books he had written and the unpublished manuscripts all lay in unprotected confusion.”)
SOME NOTES ON THE AESTHETICS OF DICKPIX
Usually a handheld POV self-portrait, they are indeed a novel category of image: disembodied cocks to be sent to (presumably) interested parties. Don’t be fooled by its apparent artlessness, dickpix arrive with an aesthetic message—a casual immediacy—”from me to you.” They are a knotted performance of psychological privacy in the public sphere. Dickpix with too much technical polish are suspect: by treading too closely to commercial porn aesthetics they seem less “personal” (perhaps fake) shattering the illusion they depend upon. The fascination with Anthony Wiener or the media blaze surrounding a Bushwick gallery showing collected dickpix, is the quotidian excitement of collapsing the public/private roles dickpix perform.
The dickpix’s visual vocabulary is comprised of the repertory achievable with self-held digital cameras or the familiar proximity of a screen-shoted webcam, illuminated by glowing screen. The angles are meant to emphasize shape—extreme closeups are rare, no texture/surface studies. Sometimes there are contextual objects to show scale and these are resolutely everyday things, always inherently silly, they announce themselves as “whatever happens to be on hand.” For all their contrivance, dickpix never want to appear “thoughtful.” As such, the overwhelming majority are failures of creativity, and though meant to entice, are rarely “flattering” or “unflattering” beyond degrees. Against this background, SEX MAGAZINE hosted a “Dick Selfie Competition” earlier this year encouraging submissions to think about “Lighting, Cropping, Location, Digital Effects, Props, Clothing, and Humor.” You can see the results on this tumblr (http://dickselfie.tumblr.com/). This competition is an intervention in the genre, a response to the fact that unlike the cocks themselves, dickpix all look more or less the same.
A feminist/political critique of this weekend’s SHOW ME MORE exhibition in Bushwick has already been posted and its received greater attention than it deserves, so I see no need to go into it further. When I was at the San Francisco Art Institute I would have a meeting with all the freshmen and say: “you are all going to make a piece about ‘a break-up’; you are all going to do a performance ‘naked’; and you are all going to do something with ‘meat’ at some point—so you should get these things out of your system as soon as you can, so as to get to something more interesting.” If I were saying this today I would add “doing something with online-dating or dickpix.”
—Contributed by Jarrett Earnest