Monday, September 21, 2020

"a sort of wholemeal stoneground pornography"

 I was reminded of a post I put up five years ago about Leonard Cohen and David Hamilton this week. I was thinking about it because it was important to me. It probably doesn't matter to anyone else.

My parents had moved us to west Quebec and we lived on the boundary of the Gatineau Park. You could ski out our backyard and into the park. As you traveled up along the boundary there were a whole lot of people living in cottages. The people who lived in these cottages were bohemians. We did not live in a cottage and we were not bohemians. We lived in what was called "an executive home" in the 1970s. This was a very long and low house with what was considered massive amounts of window at the time. If you traveled the other direction, into town, you'd come upon a rather poor section of town and, in the middle of it, St. Joseph Boulevard, which was the strip. There were at least a dozen discos and half that many porn theatres within ten minutes walk of our house.

I was thinking about it because that experience—we lived there from Grade 7 until I finished university—had a profound effect on my moral development. There are certain things that instantly bring those days back to me and Leonard Cohen and David Hamilton unfailingly do.

In the original post, I said something about the many people who had accused Hamilton of being just a cheap pornographer and, worse, a pornographer of girls under the legal age of consent. I was non-committal on the point. Well, things have happened since then.

On October 22, 2016, Hamilton was accused of rape. The alleged rape was said to have happened in 1987. I don't know if it was forced rape. Given the alleged victim's age at the time, I think it would have been rape even if she had consented. The incident is apparently fictionalized in a novel that she, Flavie Flament, wrote. Hamilton denied the charge and accused Flament of seeking publicity. There were other accusations, although these were anonymous. Hamilton continued his denials, threatened to sue and then committed suicide. His body was found on November 25, 2016.

I'm not sure what to make of this. I don't mean Hamilton himself but rather of my own experience. I was introduced to Hamilton's pictures in the 1970s, when I was a high school student. This is an odd thing to say but, compared to the portrayals of sex I saw around me at the time, Hamilton's soft focus photos seemed innocent. The very early ones that I saw were mostly made up of shots of girls in flowing Indian cotton clothing that was occasionally backlit such that you could see through or gaped open so as to give a glimpse. The girls were also posed with fairly obvious homoerotic implications, as if to illustrate a Colette short story. That's hardly innocent but it was a long way from porn films such as Misty Beethoven, which were all easily available to me in those days.

Of course, the girls in the Hamilton photographs were teenagers but so was I. Although there was far less revealed in them, they had a far more profound effect on me. Just leafing through one of his books at a bookstore or when I was left alone in a room with a book while visiting one of our bohemian neighbours would have me hyperventilating with excitement. And this excitement was precisely because nothing happened in the photos just as nothing happened in my life. The daughters of my bohemian neighbours, girls my own age, dressed just like the girls in David Hamilton photographs. You got an inkling of what they looked like without those clothes but only that. The photographs provided just a shade more detail. 

My part was ... not innocent, I couldn't honestly say that but it wasn't culpable either. But now everything around it appears in a different light.

The quote that appears as the title of this post is criticism of Hamilton by photographer Euan Duff. I don't know anything about him. I found the quote on the Wikipedia page about Hamilton. It really resoanted with me because it sums up what the 1970s were for me.

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