An interesting article in today's Independent, featuring snippets of an interview with fashion photographer Rankin. A quote caught my eye "Porn objectifies women, but erotica doesn’t". Really? Let's have a little think about that for a moment.
I think that it is misleading to assume that porn is objectifying and erotica isn't because unless you have seen all the porn/erotica in the world (which would take some time) you can't really make that judgement, and moreover, the decision on whether something is or isn't objectifying is rather tricky. There is no set definition on what is and what isn't "objectifying", but the word is bandied around as if somehow everyone knows precisely what it means. Clearly, at some point everyone has gotten together and decided that objectifying women (and men one hopes, though no-one ever really says that) is a bad thing and have had to set definitions up in order to not be doing bad things whilst carrying on doing the things they want to do: look at pictures of beautiful, naked women. I think that this leads down into an incredibly circular argument which boils down to: if it's objectifying then it must be porn, and if it isn't then it's erotica, in other words, porn = bad and erotica = good.
This is a fairly familiar trope amongst those who wish to distance themselves from the murky world of porn. I've always been of the view that erotica is "posh porn". Middle class porn. A "better" standard of porn. Porn for educated people who like tasteful black and white arty shots far removed from the day-glo orange of a Sun page 3 spread. Certainly Wiki (my source of commonly held, though certainly open for argument, definitions) seems to have the dividing line as that of an artistic aspiration, whilst admitting muddy waters. So it appears that "porn / erotica" suffers from the same problem as "objectification" - we aren't really sure where to draw the line.
It's all very well for an artist to say that their work is not objectifying - and whilst they may well have not intended it to be - but the beauty is in the beholder and the artists is not the sole arbitrator of how their work is received. Whether or not one agrees with this is another matter, but the fact is that once a piece has left the studio and is in the public domain the way in which it is perceived is out of the control of the artists. One person can consider a piece to be "disgusting" (porn, one presumes) and another "beautiful" (erotica) yet they are still looking at exactly the same thing. Note that I'm not saying that pictures of beautiful women are or are not in themselves objectifying or bad (that would be rather hypocritical), merely that simply by calling them "erotica" rather than "porn" does not alter the content of the images, nor the impact that they might have on people.