In a society where we are taught that we are individuals and unique in a world so interconnected by technology, social media, the news and just life, there are all of these subgroups that are arising each and every day. And more and more we are asked to cater to the minorities in a manner that they deem acceptable. Now I am not saying that we should not be seeking to help those who need it, or seek to make the world a more equal opportunity place, but is there a proper way to do it?
Is the necessity to challenge the “social norm” and encourage these fringe groups, resulting in making these shock and awe presentations like the one that Nolwen Cifuentes is making with her latest photography series. She is challenging the idea that period sex is somehow bad or gross. This in of itself is good, however the way of social change she is using is where my concern lies. She is making these unnerving pictures of queer women having just engaged in a sexual act during one of their periods. The photos are characterized by the vulnerability of people post-sex and the blood from one of the couples on the skin, face, hands, etc. of the other or both individuals. These pictures are pretty graphic and would be deemed beautiful only in certain contexts and genres. For example such images in support of this lifestyle might only appeal to those actively participating in this lifestyle or those who are supportive of the artist in general
So, the question remains. Is this shock and awe approach to social change conducive to actual change and is it even useful? There have been numerous examples of people using photography to inspire social change with regards to economic inequality. For example, the photographer, William Albert Allard photographed a young boy named Eduardo Ramos, alongside his dead sheep in a small village in Peru, and after the photo went online thousands of dollars were sent to this boy’s family and a water pump was installed in his village. Another example by photographer Lynn Johnson took a picture of an army man and the 22 different meds that kept him alive to show his desperate need for a service dog to keep his mental health and other issues in check. Donations flooded in and now this soldier has Atlas, a companion that he says brings him “A sense of security he hasn’t felt in years”. Both of these examples while somewhat shocking in their content and the material they show do not compare to the really unnerving work of the Cifuentes and her project.
So, we have established that social change can be useful in helping people but what about the world? Let’s look at National Geographic Photographers, the take some of the most beautiful pictures of some of the worlds most endangered animals. These photos are used to showcase the animals to the world and inspire people to be cautious of their own habits and be more mindful of our planet. We could look at the video of the starving polar bear as a result of climate change and feel empathetic and passionate to change the world around us to help fight against climate change. So, imagery works here as well.
But is there a line to be drawn in the sand about how far is too far to take a photo or an image. Is there a limit to what you should share online, as far as content is concerned? Cifuentes is sharing an ideal that exists in a very private place, for the reason that it should be normalized but is the material used the right way to do it?
Personally, I don’t really want to see these pictures showing up in my social media feed, as one, it does not really pertain to me, and two, this is a private practice; if people disagree with it they don’t necessarily need to know about it. This practice is not hurting anyone and, in my eyes, does not require intervention as other practices might so do people need to be subjected to these images. I pose once again, is there a limit to challenging stigma or sparking social change and is this photo project taking it too far?
Final Note: If this story offends you in any way, it was not intended as such. It was only intended as a chance to think about some of the values being brought to the surface in today’s culture.