I was psyched to see the opening of "Modified Eros: A Photographic Celebration of Body Modification" at Arena Studios this weekend, curated by Audacia Ray and featuring photography from BellaVendetta.com. Tattoos, piercings, erotic photography in a BDSM play space-- sounds like good clean fun to me!
The title piece, circulated in ads for the show, frames a female figure, naked but for a pair of heels and a bit of black electrical tape, licking her knee and showcasing a moderate amount of ink on her arms, legs and ass. It's playful, hot, visually compelling photography, and I couldn't wait to see more.
Upon arrival at the 7th floor Chinatown studio space, by way of the scariest elevator ride this side of the river Styx, I was crammed in among the many enthusiastic fetishists wandering through rooms decorated with glass cases filled with sex toys (they all looked clean, just for the record) and other goofy gadgets including rubber boobs emblazoned with Penthouse.com. Tables and cushioned chairs with built-in restraints lined the walls, and the rest of the space was taken up with the show. Obviously, the brunt of the work was considerably more graphic than the piece used in the ads; it was no surprise to find close-up shots of multi-pierced pussies, on their own or getting licked, alongside an inky-armed girl with her hand down her shorts, gazing up innocently at a photo-within-a-photo of an androgynous heartthrob grinning down on her as she got herself off.
There were also other pieces that were a lot harder for me to unpack, like this one showing a young woman sitting with her legs spread, holding up her gauzy cotton dress with one hand to peer down at her shaved snatch (with a little swatch of hair left in the middle, like a pubic goatee), where the words Lucky You are inked in elegant script a few inches above her clit. I stood grinning at this piece like an idiot, on the verge of breaking into a round of girly giggles, until my eyes landed on the row of long, meticulous slash marks across her inner thigh. And yes, these apparent contradictions are crucial to the work, may even be the point; and yes, the press release does say that the pieces in the show represent not just the photographers’, but also the models’ predilections (which is to say-- this is documentation, not coercion).