Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Love Exposure

Currently, there's a major graffiti exhibition on at one of Los Angeles's contemporary art museums. As usual, the exhibition has been criticized by morons for glorifying vandalism.  The show's focus is on the art itself. Much of it is striking, and the artists are clearly talented.

Legally speaking, painting on a wall without permission is a form of vandalism, but would painting on a wall with permission still be graffiti art, or does the art form require the illegal canvas in order to serve its original function? My point is: Don't dismiss the art just because its commission is a crime. Crime may be necessary for it to exist.

In the past, graffiti would not have been afforded any serious consideration as "art" (meaning: something that rich and pretentious people will hang in their galleries). Citizen anger at the crime left no room for tolerance or aesthetic contemplation. Times have changed... a bit.

Art featuring sexual subject matter is often dismissed. It's conveniently re-labeled 'pornography', a term loaded with negative connotations for most people, and those who label it as such know that, and count on it. Blanket dismissal is a lazy way to avoid dialog. A little like locking the black kid in the closet when the white friends come to stay.

Rarely is pornography considered "art", especially in America, and that's a shame, because it is art. Personally, I despise the way human beings group creative works into condescending categories. Nothing makes me puke more than an academic wanker deciding what is high art, low art, trash, and pornography.  Fuck off!, it's all "art", and it's either good or bad. My opinion on it is no more correct or important than yours, and yours is no more important or correct than mine.

In Sono Sion's thought-provoking and dynamic Love Exposure, the protagonist gains a modicum of fame by secretly and resourcefully photographing the pleasant view up a woman's skirt. Known as "Upskirt Photography" or "Panty Peeking", this brand of fetish photography has been ushered in by pure desire, sexual frustration, and technological advancements.

Definitely more prevalent in Japan than in the West (where privacy laws are harsher), perhaps it's the next big thing for modern museums when graffiti art become passe?

Upskirting has much in common with graffiti. The act of practicing it is, technically, criminal behavior. Floating an uninvited camera lens between a woman's thighs represents an invasion of her privacy. A transgressive act. So does photographing a celebrity on a remote island, in my book, but nobody seems concerned about that. Like graffiti, the commission of an illegal act goes hand in hand with the commission of an artistic act.

Some of upskirting's top practitioners are talented individuals who employ complex and artful methods to snap striking panty shots. Cameras on springs. Cameras in walking sticks. Cameras in sunglasses and light shades.

A pro with a camera may discreetly cartwheel behind his target to gain a perfect ground view. A lens may lurk in a garbage bag beneath a stairwell.  A bag pushed under a toilet stall may capture a hundred panty-wrapped treasures. A low level camera at a taxi rank may offer much leg-lifting material for the patient pervert's lens.

Being creative with shooting methods and managing exposure and focus simultaneously are key to the career success of the upskirter.

Perhaps this success will be rewarded one day with serious consideration in a rich man's gallery or museum?
Or is serious consideration and acceptance of the art by folks who are ten years behind the zeitgeist anathema to the art itself?

Does acceptance blunt the needle? Do art forms like graffiti and upskirting require an illegal structure in order to be true? Is a legally sanctioned upskirt still an upskirt? I think not.

Isn't the rush of upskirting based on the belief that the virtual voyeur is getting a private, clandestine view of a woman's panties, and, by extrapolation, her vagina? If you know that she's doesn't know the cameraman was there, that's the sizzle, right? You're seeing the forbidden. That's the picture's power. If the picture is posed, it's just another picture. The transgressive element is no more.

The scenes of active upskirting in Love Exposure are directed and edited by director Sono with a light, subtle flair. The film doesn't take a hypocritical stand against the material that it portrays with so much glee and fun. It doesn't pretend to speak for "victims", either, and doesn't canonize the proponents of the subculture. The film's primary purpose is to tell a great love story over a swift 237 minutes. Because it does this without detouring into the vile puritanism and pandering moralizing of American TV shows like Law and Order: SVU and CSI, it achieves greatness... and respect.

Upskirting, however, can do without the latter.

For some crazy fucking reason, Love Exposure is not available in the U.S. on DVD. Recently, the U.S. has really dropped the ball on Asian cinema. In a country with close to 300 million living skulls, is the market for this material so diminished as to not justify any release? Perhaps. Returns on past releases fuel future investment. No returns, no investment. Other recent titles MIA Stateside include Bedevilled, Cold Fish, and Confessions. All are available or announced with street dates in the UK.  Over the past couple of years, the UK (and Australia) have become powerhouse markets for foreign/arthouse releases with companies like Third Window Films, Madmen, Eastern Eye, and Eureka. Make sure you have a multi-zone Blu-ray/DVD player. If you don't, you're missing out on a galaxy of wonders.


  1. Are you really defending pornography or did I misunderstand this post?

  2. Do you do this type of photography yourself?

  3. Geezer (bloody anti-British bastard) Bloke.April 20, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    If "Tim Hetherington" can be killed in Libya why cant those other 2 piles of pathetic British filth "Ricky Gervais" and "Russell Brand" be killed there as well ?, the world would be a much more pleasant place without those 2 pieces of worthless garbage.

  4. Storydreamer -- Is pornography not worthy of defense? There is good and bad in everything.


    Anonymous -- no, I don't do Upskirting myself. But I find the phenomenon fascinating

  5. Why DON'T you do this kind of stuff yourself?

  6. Anonymous -- It's illegal. Would that stop you?

  7. Sure panty-peeking can be art, but the guys doing it (for the most part) aren't doing it for the sake of art, but for their own sexual pleasure. Does that mean the criminal act of stealing a TV would also be art? I would be comitting a crime right?
    And the reason they have to employ such artful measures to get their pannty-shots is because their subjects are unwilling. They are doing something against someone elses will.
    For me, that inspires some unease. The thought of someone forcefully taking something from me (my right to privacy), even if I would never find out still makes me kind of angry.
    Really. To me art is something that makes you question yourself or the world. I guess conventional porn and panty-peeking just seem to fit into already tried and true conventions and stereotypes for me.

  8. I read your blog because the movie reviwews are really good. But posts like this make me think you are a sociopath for sure.

  9. Yeah, Phantom, defending pornography? I am shocked.

    Must get my mitts on this. Was unaware of its existence. Ya've caught Cold Fish yet? Taking it you've watched Exit Through the Gift Shop as well?

    I have one burning question--how do you judge "good" upskirts? It doesn't seem that the end-product is really creative--and if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all--whereas the means to getting the shot does require some bit of resourcefulness.

  10. d -- yeah, not like me to defend pornography, is it! I haven't caught COLD FISH. Am waiting for the British Blu-ray. I enjoyed EXIT very much.

    The upskirts in LOVE EXPOSURE are superb, but it is true that most are pretty rank. I think the history behind each photo is what gives it its spark.

  11. Anonymous -- you may have missed my point. Yes, the panty-snappers are doing it for sexual pleasure, but it may be construed as "art" one day, just as scribbling on walls is now construed as "art". Graffiti was just scribbling once, but it has matured because the practitioners of it have matured. So might panty-snapping. I understand anybody's anger (male or female) at being intimately photographed without permission. I assume you're a female? I think taking panty-pics every day would make someone question themselves, so maybe it is "art". I definitely t5hink the practice raises fascinating questions.

  12. Anon again -- if only I were a sociopath!!! I'd sleep so much easier at night.

    If you'd like to list the conditions I have met for said label, I'd be super-excited.

  13. jervaise brooke hamsterApril 22, 2011 at 5:19 AM

    Up-skirting is best done in the summer when most gorgeous young birds dont wear any knickers COR...WOW...WEY-HEY. By the way, the term "sociopath" only exists in our society because we`re all unfortunate enough to be living in the hideously sexually repressed hell-on-earth that we`ve all unfortunately created for ourselves.

  14. I think so-called art like this is interesting as a natural phenomenon. If it were to cease, or if it were not illegal to invade a woman's privacy, or if women began to be too reluctant to care about their "exposure," it wouldn't pain me to see its absence. I can't really justify the art, only understand why it exists, and then admit to myself that as a horny male I still enjoy it, regardless of what I think about it from a moral vantage point. I can't help but ask myself, is up-skirt photography necessary? Same with graffiti. If all building plans in various business or industrial districts involved socially integrated and communal creativity for the exteriors, would it be upsetting if graffiti went the way of the dodo? Or is it better to see society change in such a way where transgressive art forms are no longer even necessary? I find it amusing and incredibly interesting to see human behavior in this way, especially with up-skirt photography. I don't think ill of it, nor like it. It simply exists. Is that important to us? By the way, I would recommend that Jervaise Brooke Hamster do a bit more research to know a bit more of what is meant by "sociopath." You might find yourself being thankful for such terminology.

    And I am very excited to see this film. ;)

  15. here's i film we both agree on. loved it.

    Anon: "It simply exists. Is that important to us?"
    - it exists because it's important to us and because it's necessary. art evolves as a result of it being reinvented by movements outside of the so-called art world.

  16. @ Paul Kell

    Could you do a bit more to explain what it is about the existence of up-skirt panty photography and what makes that important to us, seeing as that is the topic of discussion, no just art in general?

  17. Anon: you'll have to ask an up-skirt fan what the allure is. it's not my particular cup of tea, but i can appreciate it's significance.

  18. Not sure if I would define upskirting as 'art' myself ... although in this movie it became almost a 'martial art'. I'd personally define it more as a sport, as I suspect upskirt enthusiasts would do it at least in part for the adrenaline rush of doing something forbidden. Seems like it would be more of a technical endeavour than a form of self-expression.

    And while the panty shots in this film were pretty damn sexy, the reality of upskirt images themselves ... well, its not the most flattering (or interesting) of angles, so I don't see the attraction myself. But its not hard to understand why ... lingerie brands have built empires based on selectively hiding/revealing the female form.

  19. TWISTED -- very late reply. Sorry. I agree that upskirting has sporting aspects because it requires acute physical skill and discretion, but surely the end product is 'art'. Whether the upskirt image is erotic or not is definitely a subjective thing.