by JC Gonzo
Marc Blackie, the master behind the pornographic world of Disappointed Virginity has recently released his longest video piece yet, titled “A Special Form of Denial.” Blackie, known for his stark, bleak images of women in various states of bondage, has quickly become recognized for evoking as much arousal as discomfort in his viewers. The often misjudged (and greatly adored) porn auteur explores his unconventional view of sexuality in both photo and video, including animated sequences referencing erotic Mutoscopes.
The film greets us with a woman being fucked from behind as she watches us. The face of the male in the film remains unseen or obscured. Lurid sexual performances and dreamlike juxtapositions ensue as the women of Blackie’s universe look back at the camera and to an audience unknown. With elegant and thoughtful editing, precise cinematography and evocative mise-en-scène, “A Special Form of Denial” can be intriguing to those outside the assumed porn market. I always find it interesting to see how individuals react to visceral sexuality in artwork. Is its blatantly unashamed celebration what causes some to dismiss the work as obscene?
It seems that any erotic stimulation that a piece may ignite and/or portray sends some into a childlike regression, automatically judging the work as either misogynist, offensive, or without merit. While elements of misogyny and degradation are portrayed, it is a tool to further a much larger dialog and examine a subconscious dark side of human sexuality. Much like Richard Kern, Blackie has transcended the genre by exceeding the common expectations associated with “alternative pornography.” His work has been shown in galleries and film festivals across Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and continues to expand borders.
I asked Marc Blackie a few questions concerning the film and his body of work:
When I first viewed your short films, I came with the idea that they would be the next jump from the Mutoscope animations, but upon viewing, I think of all three of your practices as very separate entities with very different intentions. How is your approach to short film different from your other work?
Obviously, a photograph is an enduring split second that can hint at the events that have lead up to the imagined scenario and then allow the view to join the dots in their own minds about the moments yet to unfold. The story telling aspect inherent in my still work presented an immediate challenge when moving into the more narrative based style of film. A lot of the shorts will begin as a series of set pieces in my head, in the same way I might approach a photo shoot with a selection of ideas, and I will write a script (or sometimes improvise whilst shooting) to tie all of these together.
The challenge comes in providing a back story and conclusion to these set pieces that does them justice – for example, a photograph can show someone laughing, but a film has to also tell you the joke…
The mutoscopes came after the films, a step backwards in a way, or a few rungs down the cinemagraphic ladder. When I began shooting video I was frustrated at having to film in a landscape orientation (all my photographs are shot in portrait, one of the little rules for my disappointed virginity universe) and would often frame the shots vertically before begrudgingly turning the camera 90 degrees anti-clockwise. I toyed with the idea of shooting films this way and rotating the resultant video, but this seemed inauthentic somehow and limiting when it comes to screenings outside of a web environment. So I scrapped this and after watching a documentary on the old mutoscope/peepshow machines hit on the idea of these smaller self contained scenes, consisting of 50-100 photographs shot, of course, in portrait.
To me, your work challenges the viewer to explore their sexual psyche, history, and desire. This is coming from someone who’s sexual tastes couldn’t be more opposite of your work, therefore, I find it transcendent. Yet, you often get accused of pornographic misogyny and deemed offensive. While misogyny and objectification may be incorporated elements, I don’t see them as definitive themes, but rather as tools used to explore a much larger subject matter. Why do you feel some refuse to explore deeper and are so dismissive?
Oh I don’t mind – I’m certainly not bothered by not striking gold when it comes to mainstream appeal and if someone doesn’t enjoy what I do then there are countless other works out there that they will no doubt enjoy.
The occasional “hate mail” I get is nearly always from men and it does seem that the majority of my “fans” (based on print sales at least) are female. I will sometimes have a model on shoot trying to psychoanalyse me and the apparent “cruel” way I depict women and I tend to wheel out the famous Monty Python line “After all, what is murder but an extroverted suicide?”
You stated (in reference to your modern Mutoscopes): “As we all seem to spend so much time looking at photographs and other miscellaneous erotica online these days, I think it is only fair that these images get to take a look back at you as well.” How has the development of erotic viewership affected the way you not only create, but distribute your work? There’s a casual element to viewing something like “A Special Form of Denial” on platforms like Vimeo, how do you feel about this?
It does cheapen the experience hugely, there’s no doubt of that and I’ve always thought of the internet as a great blessing/curse. The ease by which anyone can create, share and find an audience is a great opportunity, but as the world wide web gives with one hand it takes with the other…leading to an unprecedented flood of material, reducing much “art” to merely content and robbing each piece of value.
That twinned with the proliferation of pretty harsh sexual imagery smeared all over the internet and I’m left working in a genre of cheapened thrills and undermined endeavour. Everyone’s an artist these days and pretty soon if there isn’t a naked photo of you on the internet somewhere then you’ll be in a minority.
Hopefully I am doing something of interest to others within this little corner I have painted myself into though.
I have sat in at cinema screenings and of course this is the ideal setting – though my work will be seen more times by vimeo users in half a day than people who have seen the films in a proper context. They will probably forget it immediately anyway, but at least they won’t have to worry about night buses home.
Expanding my question above; how does the gallery, magazine, and web presentation affect people’s response to your work, as well as your own? Do you feel the value of context is heightened when dealing with such provocative subject matter?
When I exhibit as part of a group show or have a few photos published in a book or magazine, anywhere that robs them of their context, then I think it is to their detriment. To enjoy my work, I think you need to soak in it for a while – it’s harshness and it’s playfulness. Which isn’t to say that there is an overarching story, of course now, but there is a consistent universe on display. As much as I might rally against the internet as a delivery mechanism, my site does allow me to present all of my images, films, animations and whatever else in a fashion of my choosing, in an appropriate setting, in an illusion of grandeur!
On the other hand, I see my work on sites such as tumblr from time to time, often with ridiculously ill conceived sub titles given to them by the poster, or maybe in an online gallery with other fetish/bondage/”aren’t we bored of the same old tired shit all the time by now?” images and I will get genuinely annoyed at people’s ability to miss the point of my work. Bastards.
In your series The Futile Nature of Eroticism you utilized color. The images are rather alarming in a different way, having stripped away the abstraction and world of fantasy that comes along with black and white presentation. Do you plan on exploring this different mode further?
It’s interesting you saying that, as I consider them as stripping away the abstraction and world of fantasy associated with glamour/erotic photography. I think about the time I started those series I had been shooting a few sets for Suicide Girls type sites as favours for friends or models that I had worked with. Shooting sets like that is kinda fun, I won’t deny that and also a bit of a break for me as I can shrug off the particular trappings and demands of a disappointed virginity shoot and be a little freer.
So I decided to shoot these brief sets as an answer of sorts to sites such as those , originally with the intention of having the models crying whilst undressing and posing but eventually leading to a few other scenarios – presenting ‘hot babes’ in various scenes of mild peril and distress.
They also bring to mind a time I was browsing a pornographic magazine under the influence of hallucinogenic substances. I think there had been some mastabatorial intention going on, but inevitably I found myself fascinated by the dot matrix reproduction that made up the printed image and began imagining what the model was doing at that moment in time, if she was unhappy, if she was ill, if she was any of the things that pornography intends to strip away from the individual for the sake of fantasy.
In hindsight, she was probably asleep, as it was about five in the morning by that stage.
But anyway, my nocturnal habits aside, I will no doubt be exploring the colour realm further. I do sometimes take on commissions that involve working in colour as we all need to pay the bills somehow and have begun work on an as yet untitled colour project which might see the light of day eventually – once I have thought up a suitably nihilistic name for it.
After viewing “A Special Form of Denial,” I felt increasingly aware of a creative dialog occurring between Blackie, the camera, and his models through the exchange of exhibitionism and voyeurism. The confrontational stares from models draw the viewer in, making you self-aware as a voyeuristic participant. While Blackie’s atmosphere is most definitely dark, one cannot dismiss his playful humor, albeit cynical and sinister at times. Blackie is unafraid to toy with expectations. The final shot features the nude violinist performing, the camera placed amongst a silhouetted audience, bringing us into sudden integration with Blackie’s world – always hinting at more beyond the frame.