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The aesthetics of the Smut Stand, aka a philosophical treatise on not giving a fuck about “photogenic”

Submissive? Seated comfortably? Or COILED AND WAITING TO POUNCE ON YOUR SEXUAL INSECURITIES? (Sidewalk Smut in Brick Lane, London. Photo by Daniel Wood.)

Submissive? Seated comfortably? Or COILED AND WAITING TO POUNCE ON YOUR SEXUAL INSECURITIES?
(Sidewalk Smut in Brick Lane, London. Photo by Daniel Wood.)

So I got a note from a Facebook acquaintance a few days ago:

Weird observation: all your smut stand pics are you sitting down. It makes you look... underpowered? Submissive? Schlubby? I wonder if being on a barstool, having a standing desk, would be more photogenic <smile emoticon>

I hope that is helpful in some way, and keep up the rad work. You are lovely, creative and inspiring!

I didn't recognize this person's name, nor could I remember when or why I had added him. As it transpired, he had seen Phone Whore some years ago, in a town I hadn't returned to since. He has been following along online, where it is not hard to find those smut stand pics.

These pictures are all pretty standard: me, sitting behind a typewriter on a folding table, with the signs. I am rarely looking at the camera in these pictures. People like to try to sneak photographs of me, catching me in the wild, I guess. I know they're there, are you fucking kidding? Five years of Sidewalk Smut has sharpened my peripheral awareness into a sixth sense. But I ignore the photographers, if they don't ask me for permission. Fuck it. I have work to do out there. So I'm always sitting, and almost always typing or thinking.

And I'm certainly not thinking about being "photogenic."

I have a devil of a time being the subject of still photography. I grin widely or not at all. I never know how to relax my eyes or rest my hands. I know a lot of people have problems like this, especially with non-candid or studio shots, but I have to get those done at least once a year for new shows, so this awkwardness is a double curse for me <shakes fist at the sky>. Skilled indeed are the photographers who can coax a reasonably compelling posed shot out of me. When we're going for candids, I always feel like my body has greater capacity for awkward shapes and poses, and more often than not, the photographic proof bears me out.

And my body… let us agree that it is not photogenic by conventional standards, and certainly not when I am sitting down. My body changes shape then, with the fat around my belly thickening. I have wide sturdy upper arms, and they are on display when I wear my favorite babygirl dresses. My double chin is particularly noticeable from side profile. When I am typing away or thinking hard, I forget to pay attention to good posture vis à vis my spine, and my shoulders start to round and slump.

So, that's the way it is. Two things I want my unsolicited adviser and my other readers to know:

  1. I like to look and feel good according to my own standards, and I have worked long and hard to weed notions of conventional beauty out of my head. They're poisonous and come in many guises, including concern or someone's thoughts about marketing or whatever, and so as soon as I hear the word "photogenic," I know that's not something I need to worry about or spend any time on at all.
  2. Out on the Smut Stand, being photogenic is not the point. I know it seems hard to believe, when I set out such outrageously attention-getting signs, and make such a big deal out of where I'm going to be with the Smut Stand, but honestly, people taking photographs of me are not my primary audience.

At best, their surreptitiously snapped pictures are a useful by-product of me being out on the street; when those photos make it up online, the response can be enormous and is usually positive. At worst, those people are an annoyance. But I don't care to worry about what they capture in their smart phones, because I am not there to decorate or enliven their worlds, to shock or amuse them. I am there for the people who are curious enough to come up and look me in the face and ask. I am there for the people who are intrigued or in love or need this rare, strange thing that I offer, this short conversation about What They Really Really Like to Do in Sex. I am there to give them my full attention, during the interview and during the writing, and during the out-loud reading afterward.

So I need to be approachable, not up on a high stool looking down on people. I need to be … normal-looking, not glamorous or overtly sexual. I need to be welcoming and non-threatening, because what we are going to be talking about is already threatening enough, to most people. My Facebook acquaintance reads my posture in those photos as submissive, but no one who has experienced my interview process, or witnessed it, could say that I was not in control at any point during these interactions. I have to control it, keep those boundaries clear, contain the chaos that can surge within people when they are being asked by a stranger to dig through some weird, uncomfortable, sometimes scary shit.

More than anything, I have to be my authentic true self, because that is what I ask of my clients, and that's where I draw my strength from in the first place.

Anyway, whatever "schlubby" vibe I've got going on seems to work just fine, for getting the kind of clients that I want, and as many as I can handle, most shifts. The standard chair and table are eminently workable for me, for long periods of time, and they are portable in a way that a bar stool or a standing desk would not be. As far as being more photogenic, well, that is a standard that does not apply to Sidewalk Smut. The people who I'm doing it for—the ones who are not hiding behind a camera, but are looking me in the eye—they obviously see something that they like and trust, and that is all I need.

*****

The outdoor Sidewalk Smut season has ended! 🙁 Help support me through the lean winter, by becoming a patron of mine over on Patreon.

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