Full disclosure right off the bat: we thought college was pretty OK, and we liked some of our wise middle-aged professors, but not really enough to take naked or semi-naked pictures with them.
We bring this up because an associate professor at Michigan State University, Danny Guthrie, is now having to defend himself for doing just that. He takes photographs of himself, sometimes nude, with students and faculty, also sometimes nude. His subjects always give consent and approve the final image.
In a statement on MSU’s web site, he defends his photographs, but concludes with what is likely not the best argument to keep angry parents and students off his back:
“In making this work, it would be evasive not to acknowledge that some of my interests are purely personal. I have reached a not entirely pleasant place in life one might call the fulcrum of middle age, with the balance shifting inexorably towards decrepitude. As one ages, it is with no small sense of remorse and regret, that one comes to experience the realm of desire, romance, and carnality as existing more in the past than the future.”
Yes. The ol’ “I’m taking these nude pictures with students because I’m having a mid-life crisis” routine. Mr. Guthrie taught at Ithaca college for 20 years and has been at MSU for 13 years.
Members of the MSU faculty defend the work as art and say that the arguments against the photographs are “puritanical” and “Midwestern,” according to the Detroit News, which broke the story last week.
“I am not trying to be a snob,” one colleague said in a pretty snobbish statement to the Detroit News, “But if you come from any of the coasts or if you have an education in art … you wouldn’t even think twice about it.”
MSU told the News that Mr. Guthrie “does not recruit currently enrolled students.” He is preparing to retire at the end of the year.
Do the boundaries of an appropriate student/teacher relationship put restrictions on creativity, or does Mr. Guthrie’s work justify itself as legitimate and thought-provoking art? Below, read his entire statement on MSU’s web site and decide for yourself.
“My interests in making these pictures are both political and personal. Certainly subject matter such as this is politically charged. In the last couple of decades many female artists have investigated the personal landscape of their sexuality, as a means to seize control of their own representation within a culture milieu whose imaging of women has a long track record of idealization and exploitation. Taking my cue from this work, through direct and indirect references to classical painting and photography, my intent is to acknowledge these various traditions and debates, twisting and blurring the codes of classical aesthetics, contemporary rhetorically motivated art, and even erotica. In particular, I want the viewer to know I am investigating a history and practice of representation where the roles of viewer and viewed, seducer and object of seduction, are examined and perturbed. In short, I hope to move beyond simplistic notions of viewer and victim, exploring the possibility of a complicated exchange of power that informs the way these pictures come about.
“The individuals in these photographs are current and former students, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. They have worked with me to adopt poses and create scenarios with which they have some level of comfort. Such collaboration involves considerable risk-taking and trust. The images do not mean I have this or that fantasy about a particular individual or situation, but they do explore emotions that I––and I assume most others––have felt.
“Finally, in making this work, it would be evasive not to acknowledge that some of my interests are purely personal. I have reached a not entirely pleasant place in life one might call the fulcrum of middle age, with the balance shifting inexorably towards decrepitude. As one ages, it is with no small sense of remorse and regret, that one comes to experience the realm of desire, romance, and carnality as existing more in the past than the future.”