Wedding photos; Political speech or creative expression?

The visual culture of politics.  As I mentioned in the last blog post it seems to cover a lot of things really and I’m discovering that this can really go in a lot of different directions.  I’ve looked at using a service like Instagram to communicate a political message (Lance Bass and his recent engagement), the use of comics to reflect issues of sexuality in contemporary culture (Batwoman), and now I’m thinking of looking at the issues of how photography and image making is being used in political speech in a seemingly innocuous way.  Yep, in a nice segue from the last piece, I’m going to carry on talking about marriage but specifically about taking picture of the gays getting hitched.

DandJ

James and I on our wedding day in 2010 in England

There has been a case going on in New Mexico recently about some wedding photographers who refused service to a gay couple having a commitment ceremony.  They cited that this was against their religious beliefs as they believe marriage to be between one man and one woman.  Now you may say that they are within their rights to have that belief, and, much as I disagree with their point of view, I agree that they are entitled to have whatever beliefs they want.  But there are two other important things at play here.

First, they are saying that as photographers, their work is creative expression and that is protected free speech under the first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America.  Secondly, New Mexico has a Human Rights Act that states that couples cannot be discriminated against based on whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex.  Enter the wedding/commitment ceremony image into the realm of politics (you knew I was going to be able to tie it all together didn’t you….). The case was first of all heard by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, who found that the photographers were guilty of discrimination.  Then it was heard by the New Mexico court of appeals who also found the photographers guilty of discrimination.  Then it was heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.  They too upheld the decision that the photographers discriminated against the couple.  Now the photographers have decided to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

I won’t bore you with all the legal details.  For that you can find plenty on the web here, here, and here.  I’d also like to clear up one other thing as well about the way the couple in the original case felt about things.  They probably were not suing to make the photographers do the job.  That would be crazy.  Who would want these people at their ceremony after they have refused to do the work?  They would have found someone who actually WANTED to be there.  They likely reported the discrimination to get the issue raised and fixed, that’s all.  But what it surfaces is the fact that images and their creation are now seen as personal and political expression and also political speech.  The photographers, in their brief to the State Supreme Court, were very clear that they see the images that they make as representative of their beliefs because the images are their “creative expression”.  If they are to be believed then one of their concerns is that people will perhaps consider that they are not being true to their own beliefs on marriage, which, whether they like it or not, are also political as well as religious beliefs due to the current debates on marriage equality across the globe.  Logically it follows that their images can then also be seen as political images.  By refusing to make images of a same-sex commitment ceremony they are making a religious and a political statement, again, whether they like it or not.

Do they really have a choice then as to whether they use their images to make a political statement?  Absolutely they do.  They operate a business that compels them under the law to offer services to everyone and under the current terms of the law they can choose to not offer wedding/commitment photographs to anyone at all.  Whether that is fair or not is up to the courts to decide.  But their seemingly innocuous images are political speech for now, that much is clear.  At least until the US Supreme Court settles the case by either refusing to hear it or ruling on it.

Big love,

DMx

 

Bats, Lesbians, and Comics.

I’m discovering that this visual culture of politics thing is both difficult and interesting.  Or interesting and difficult depending on which way you want to look at it.  As I look around at images I can see lots that have political leanings to them.  Some are overt and some less so.  Most images can be taken to have a meaning of some sort if you are hell-bent on giving them one and want to argue your point hard enough.  But that’s not really where my interest for this particular blog lies.  I’ve had a bit more of a difficult time so far finding images that fit with what I wanted to explore on this blog, mainly images that deal with the LGBTQ political sphere and visual culture.

Well, I found an interesting one today in drifting around online while not feeling 100% (Boo for summer colds).  It’s all about DC comics, marriage equality, comic book writers, and the fact that Batwoman is untitledlesbian.  Yep, you got it.  I didn’t know either.  It seems that I have been living under a comic book rock for a very long while and that Batwoman is the highest profile out female gay character in the comic book world.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.

From an LGBTQ news perspective there is a bit of a kerfuffle going on as the writers of a Batwoman have just resigned from DC comics.  You see awhile back Batwoman got engaged to her girlfriend Maggie, a policewoman in Gotham City, and DC comics were cool with that.  Of course they would be, I hear you say.  Why go to though all the hoopla and criticism of having a lesbian caped crusader if you aren’t going to let them get married, right?  Not so fast….  It now seems that DC comics are not going to let them get married after all.  So the writers say on their blog as to why they are resigning.  But I digress.  I am getting caught up in the politics and this is supposed to be about the visuals, right?

So why mention this at all?  Because comics (and their close relation, cartoons) are an almost eternal part of our SawyerBatwomanculture.  Almost all of us grew up with them in some way or another.  We either bought them as kids, got them out of the newspaper, read them at the dentist/doctors, and some people also read them and collect them as adults too.  Witness the sheer number of people involved in things like Comic-Con, the international corporation that talks about comics for proof of how many people see comics as relevant in our lives today.  They are also a pretty much entirely visual medium.  The fact that they are reflective of some of the social issues of the day shouldn’t be a surprise at all, though it caught me be off guard in this case.  If you are interested you can read the full news story about the writers at this link.

So Batwoman is a lesbian.  With a fiancée.  She has a utility belt and can kick your ass as well, just to prove that stereotypes are alive and well in comics too.  She’s visually dynamic and culturally relevant.  It’s also really political too.

Homos in comics?  Real life my friends.  Personally, my money was always on Spiderman…

Big love,

DMx

Homoworld – The Return

So, Homoworld is back up and running for a bit.  That’s a surprise right?  It was for me too….

You’ll recall that I put the blog on hiatus at the end of 2012 when I finished my yearlong project of self portrait photography and writing about LGBTQ news issues.  The photography side of things fed my MFA thesis at the University of Kentucky (book incoming shortly…) and the writing and news aspect helped to thin out my friends list on Facebook somewhat.  It also helped win me some new friends and also prompted some wonderful comments from other friends and family, some of which were quite unexpected!

So why is this blog back?  Don’t I have enough to do?  Yes, is the answer to THAT question.  I’ve just started my final year back at school, this time in my second Masters degree program.  I completed my Master of Fine Arts (Photography) program in May (Huzzah!) and now I have one year left of my Master of Arts (Art History).  One of the classes I am taking this semester is the “Visual Culture of Politics” and it so happens that there is a blog project involved in the class.  What’s the blog project about?  Well, that’s going to be evolving over the semester but it will be basically discussing imagery in visual culture with a particular leaning toward politics.  There’s a surprise, eh?  Me and politics back together again.  So rather than start a brand new blog off it seemed appropriate to dust off Homoworld once more…this time with a different slant.

This time around then Homoworld won’t be dealing with my images.  It will still be dealing with politics but it will be dealing with politics in relation to images from other people and places.  That may be traditional photographs, film, video, magazines, web, etc.  Who knows?  I guess as the class unfolds and the assignments take shape the blog will unfold too.  It will be interesting to see where it leads this time.  One thing is for sure and that is that I’ll welcome your input as the blog develops, so feel free to chime in as before in the comments section.

So with that, onto the first assignment which was to provide a definition of what politics means to me and to provide an image that relates to that definition as well.  Well, the standard dictionary definition of politics refer to all the usual things like “The science or art of political government”, “The practice or profession of conducting political affairs”, or the “methods or maneuvers” in achieving a goal, etc.  I particularly liked the “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, especially in a business or FullImageuniversity”.  Those all came from dictionary.com by the way.

However, I prefer to use one of the definitions that comes from my trusted source (of course) the Oxford English Dictionary, which is “The assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or activity, especially when concerned with power and status in a society: the politics of gender (or sexuality) [I added the bit about sexuality]”.  That ties in quite nicely with my main point of interest on sexuality and equality.  That also fits in with an area that I’d like to look at some more with regard to politics, imagery, and LGBTQ issues and news.  Of course the term politics can have many definitions and we can pick and choose the term that best fits the purpose that we are looking for but in this case, with regard to LGBTQ issues, I would say that this fits rather nicely, wouldn’t you?

So what of an image that I would consider to be political in this context which was the other part of this opening assignment?  I chose to include this rather cute picture of Lance Bass proposing to his fiancé that he posted on Instagram the other day.  What, I hear you cry?  This is hardly political, you say!  Oh but it is.  Sex is always politics, especially when it comes to dealing with Homos here in North America.  You certainly also don’t get much more political than being one part of a pop group aimed at a young heterosexual audience and then coming out as a big old queer and proposing to your boyfriend on Instagram.  That’s a big bold statement for power and status in a majorly politically and visual way.  So there is my definition and my first example of an image related to Visual Culture and Politics.  From NSYNC, I give you Lance Bass with no “Girlfriend” but a boyfriend via Instagram.  How modern is that?  Welcome to the culturally relevant social media world and “Bye, Bye, Bye” to the old way of doing it.  This image communicated all we needed to know and in a very political way too….

Cheers,

DavidM