The Lolita Affair
"Lolita is a slang term for a seductive, sexually attractive, or sexually precocious young girl".
The photograph above appeared on this site's Home Page in mid-May, 2007. It is part of an Amazon Portfolio shot there in April, 2007. As can be seen, it shows a very young woman (girl) posing provocatively. It was a candid photograph taken in a moment that passed all too quickly. She knew that she was being photographed and her expression and pose was clearly deliberate.
Because of her pose and expression I titled the photograph Lolita, having in mind the definition pretty much as provided by Wikipedia –" Lolita is a slang term for a seductive, sexually attractive, or sexually precocious young girl". Seemed appropriate to me.
But, to my complete astonishment a minor tempest has arisen on some web photography discussion forums. Most curiously, it isn't the photograph itself that has anyone upset, it's my use of the title Lolita.
I won't give the forums where this preposterous debate is taking place any greater currency that they deserve (which in my opinion is none), but I will make the following comment....
This photograph is not documentary, nor a reportage image. It is art (or at least that's its intention). It has no social, political or moral message. But as art sometimes is, it is intended to be provocative. It is intended to make the viewer think, ponder, wonder, be amused, be aroused, be confused, be challenged. Many pieces of art, photography or otherwise, have titles. This sometimes helps differentiate them from other pieces by the same artist, but sometimes the title is an intrinsic part of the objet d'art, sometimes giving it context , sometimes to guide the viewer, and occasionally to be enigmatic.
In this case I titled a photograph of a clearly sexually provocative young woman with a word in the popular vernacular that, I believe, adds to its overall effect. It is not an editorial statement. it is the title of an art work.
But, apparently members of the morality police that, regrettably, have gained so much sway in certain countries in recent years (ie: both the US and several middle eastern countries) seem to permit even the titling of a photograph to raise their ire.
Frankly – it's depressing. Colossally so. In a world filled with so many intractable social, political, and ethical problems, to spend even a ounce of energy on such nonsense is to my mind a bigger moral failing than any imagined of me by my critics.
So, to those that think me immoral, or worse for titling this photograph Lolita – all I can say is – you have me shaking my head in both annoyance and wonderment. Try pulling your heads out of that dark place where they are so obviously stuck.
End of discussion (at least on my part).
Michael – May 15, 2007
Update – May 17
Thank you to everone who bothered to write about the above. The final tally after two days (please – no more!!) is about 200 e-mails supportive, and 6 against. One subscription cancellation.
Semiotics was never really my bag (and that's all this really is about). So, let's move on, shall we?
One final comment....
I received an e-mail this morning from an academic who went into some detail about how Lolita has become a word in the pedophile underground for their "prey". (As some others here have recently noted).
That indeed seems to be the core of the issue. I was (and am) totally unaware of that usage. My mental framework for the word is the 1954 Nabokov novel (which I'm old enough to have read when it was new), and that's how I used it. A sexually provocative young girl/woman.
So it seems that this is primarily about language and the way in which words change. We no longer says black or negro, we say African American (though not in Canada). We no longer say Indian, we say Native American (though not in Canada). We no longer say Oriental, we say Asian, though the train is still the Orient Express and we buy oriental carpets.
Words change. If I am guilty of anything, apparently in this case it's not keeping up with underground pedophile jargon.