15 March

Being Naked. The Gift Of Discomfort

by Jon Katz

For me, art – writing and photography, too – is often about making people uncomfortable at times. We are bombarded with sanitized and marketing information, filtered and screened to be inoffensive and not controversial. We are never challenged to think, only to argue and hate people who differ with us.

People call me names all the time because I challenge their public or inappropriate comments, they have lost respect for the idea that a writer like me is supposed to provoke thought, not agreement, and that disagreeing with someone is not the same thing as ferociously attacking them.

Someone named Kenn took offensive at my writing about men, the other day, and I disagreed with him.  He called me a bunch of names – “offensive,” and “patently indefensible,” and suggested I was a babbling idiot. He didn’t want to talk about it or explain his discomfort, he just wanted to huff and puff.

I made him uncomfortable and he was angry about it.

Very often, when I ask people if I can photograph them, they wince or groan or agree slowly and reluctantly. As a reporter, I was constantly making people uncomfortable, it was what I did for a living, nobody really wants to see a reporter or photographer coming.

My photography is my journalism now, and my art, it is very important to me, and that often means making people uncomfortable – with their permission, always. So today the tables were turned, and it’s my turn to be queasy, Maria took a picture of me rushing outside naked to shoot a landscape and put it up on her blog. After a bit of squirming, I put it up.

She asked me if it would make me uncomfortable, and I said  yes, it would a bit, but do it. It’s not a big deal, I’m not running for President, yet it is important in its own way.

But I am shy about my body, especially as I am getting older. Nobody in this world wants to see naked 72-year-old men. Another reason to do it, if I think old people can be ugly, what is everyone else supposed to think?

As a writer, I often feel making people uncomfortable is my job as well. I’m not here to make people comfortable or to win them over to my side, I am here to present life as I see it honestly, and to take it as well as give it.

People constantly tell me they read my blog even though they often disagree with me, and this makes me sad about our world. So many of us now will only read people they know they will agree with, and it’s poisoning our democracy, and dumbing down our own minds.

This is what the great critic Harold Bloom called the Closing Of The American Mind. Young members of Congress are being torn to pieces because they dare to propose bold, and often unrealistic ideas, as if ideas are an enemy to be defeated.

So this morning, it’s my turn to be a little queasy. I looked out the window as I was getting in the shower, and I saw this image below outside of the bathroom window.

I didn’t have any clothes on, and I knew that sun would only be in that position for a few minutes. I didn’t have to think about it, I hopped into a pair of shoes and ran naked – I grabbed my Iphone X camera – and ran outside. Maria was out tending to chores, and she smiled and grabbed her Iphone camera and asked if it was okay to take a few shots. I couldn’t imagine what for, but I said sure, I am not in the business of turning down requests for pictures, it would seem hypocritical to me.

She was careful not to show my body from the waist down, and I could see by the gleam in her eye that she wanted to put this photo of up on her blog. I said I might put it up on mine as well.

She put it up this morning, and send me the image. I couldn’t put it up. I called her (she was in her studio) and said I just couldn’t do it.  She asked me if it bothered me that she did it. A little, I said, but she should do it. It is not offensive, at least not to me.

Apart from the obvious self-esteem issues, I am something of a prude. My mother, whose parents were born in Kiev, was proud of being raised a New Englander, she was horrified by vulgarity or crudeness.

“We are from New England!,” she would say with great pride, embracing what she understood as the Puritan ethos of Providence, Rhode Island.

I never once heard her say “We are from Kiev!” She never mentioned it to me.

I rarely curse, and never in public. I refuse to wear shorts, I think it’s unseemly for someone my age. Same goes for sandals, nobody needs to see my toes.

But despite being from New England,  I’ve learned it’s good to feel uncomfortable once in a while, it stirs the soul and the mind. I mean, isn’t that partly what I do for a living? So I sucked it up and put it up on my blog, too.

I don’t imagine any calendars will try to buy this photo, or that Vogue will be calling for a photo shoot. People can see worse on the Internet any time, and they can surely see better.

I can’t help running out naked once in a while, I know how fickle the sun is – it’s already cloudy. Maria sort of loves that about me, she doesn’t let much get in the way of her art, but I do appreciate her standing behind the Tin Man to get the best angle.

So I take it as a gift.

And I can feel better about pointing cameras at people and brushing aside their discomfort after I ask if I can take their photo.

2 Comments

  1. Another reason why animals don’t have the hang-ups that humans do: they walk around naked all the time and never think a thing about it.

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