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Why Publishing Nude Pictures of Yourself Might Not Have the Effect You Intend

Perhaps, if you have heard of “revenge porn,” you have also heard of Emma Holten, a Danish woman who had nude pictures of herself sold to a website by an ex-boyfriend when she was seventeen. Last September she released an article for Friktion magazine about her fight against a system intent on shaming women for their sexuality, accompanied by a number of new nude photographs, in an effort to re-claim agency over her body. Four months later, in an interview about the more recent photographs, Holten said that “even though I did the pictures and so heavily in the article tried to radically subjectify myself and challenge the picture of what a person like me could be, [people] still didn’t really get it” (One Woman Army). Here is why I think this happened:

Linda Rugg, author of Picturing Ourselves, claims that we call photographing someone “taking” a picture because “we naturally assume at some level that images of us belong to us” (3). Even though Holten authorized her second set of photographs, which is the most important part of retaining agency over one’s image, a text is always open to interpretation. We always want the final word on ourselves, but that cannot be the case with photos once they have been published.

One must always must recognize the “dangerously objectifying power of photographs” (Rugg 7), because reading is necessarily an intrusive act. The ideology of photography can only be questioned in the absence of actual photographs, I argue, for if the “reading” is done for us and we are not provided with the photograph, we must take the reader of the photo at her or his word.

Rugg writes that Alan Trachtenberg’s analysis of photographs of black slaves taken in 1850 asserts that in looking at photographs of others, we objectify them, but we also allow them agency (19). My rather significant issue with this is that we, the readers of the photograph, must give agency to the photographed in our reading of the image. There is nothing the photographer or the photographed can do to guarantee the subjectivity of the photographed.

What Holten’s project is trying to do is extremely laudable, no questions asked. Why publishing nude photographs of herself, even explicitly authorized ones, did not combat female objectification as she intended is another story. Even despite her attempts to “write” the photographs in the attached article and dictate how they ought to be interpreted, the photos were published as well, and therefore are open to the ever-intrusive act of reading.  The photos certainly may be read as a deconstruction of female objectification, but my point is that Holten cannot even begin to prevent them from being read otherwise as long as they accompany her article.

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O’Connor, Samantha. “Danish Activist Emma Holten Has Released Her Own Naked Pictures In A Fight Against Objectification.” One Woman Army: A Force in Media. One Woman Army, 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.

Rugg, Linda Haverty. Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997. 1-27. Print.

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