Widespread contemporary pornography has conditioned us to think that people having sex possess stereotypically perfect bodies, whether those bodies are enjoying the prim heterosexual missionary position or something far more elaborate with ropes, harnesses, and an audience.
Beer bellies, sagging breasts, and wrinkled faces just don’t seem to exist in the world of pornography, except to pleasure the odd connoisseur with a fetish for such physical characteristics.
In truth, people who do not have perfect bodies and (surprise, surprise) may look remarkably like your neighbours or even your aging parents, do indulge in all categories of the sexual arts. For proof, visit La Petite Mort Gallery and view an exhibition of photographs by Belgium’s Gert Jochems.
Jochems has penetrated the bedrooms, living rooms, and dungeons of some of the kinkiest people in Belgium. (Belgium’s French-speaking Walloons can breath a sigh of relief: the photos were taken in the Flemish sector.) We see plump men, well past middle age, posing in black nylons and lingerie. There are people of indeterminate gender swathed from head to toe in leather or plastic. Some subjects are attached to rather painful looking implements.
But these photographs are not pornography. They are not even really about sex. They are photographs of aging moms and dads wearing strange outfits. There are no paroxysms of pain or ecstacy. The outlandish get-ups are not the means to an end – sex, that is – but an end in itself. These people seem quite satisfied just to be wearing a teddy and garters; sex is an afterthought.
The title of the exhibition is About Sex. But there is a subtitle: Even though the author specifies this is not its title. Confused? Well, check out Jochems’s website, www.gertjochems.be. There you will find that all the photos at La Petite Mort were harvested from a much larger body of work called “About SX in Flanders (but this is not a good title).”
Guy Berube, the owner of La Petite Mort, says Jochem sticks to “a documentary approach, not vaguely judging, nor forcedly romantic.” Instead Jochem reveals very ordinary looking people who just happen to have some unusual tastes. And believe me, some of the kinks are unusual, including nude people wearing realistic looking horses’ heads and harnessed to a cart for a gallop in the park. (Where do these people find each other? Are there online dating clubs for wannabe ponies?)
“What are these creatures doing? Jochems seems to ask himself curiously, with a minimal and direct look,” says Berube. “If the question is essentially ambiguous, the answer is simply decided by the observer.”
There is nothing very intimidating about these people, even the ones brandishing clamps and handcuffs. Indeed, they look as harmless as maiden aunts and very comfortable in these intimate settings they have created. They are so comfortable, says Berube, that they seem to beckon the photographer to become the audience in a theatrical performance.
Gochems does not eroticize his subjects. To most eyes, they are not even remotely attractive. They are, despite the outlandish costumes, something incredibly ordinary – banal, actually. You feel you could quite happily sit down for a chat and a cup of tea with any of them, despite the leather corsets and horses’ heads.
Jan. 6-29. La Petite Mort Gallery, 306 Cumberland St., www.lapetitemortgallery.com