The Story of Urrrr

Pertaining (related) to the visual.

Many things were raised this first week: visual culture being everything that can be seen, has been seen or may never be seen; whether something is form following function, communicating intent – it’s purpose is to be a building, but it communicates a very different message – and what we perceive popular culture to be.  The context of visual culture came to the forefront, showing that something may seem unusual or pase now (Ernie Wise making the first mobile phone call), but when taking in the context of the time, (Ernie Wise was a huge public star at the time), makes much more sense.  This can be simply put as, when we look back at photos of ourselves, we comment on how bad our haircut was, or how terrible our clothes were, but they were on-trend at the time.  They seem stupid, and outdated now, but were perfectly normal when the photos were taken.  We also have the situation where the events of the time, gave context to the images seen in popular culture: the space race making furniture design look futuristic, movies focusing on space and aliens.  Context is key to understanding the visuals of the past; without delving deeper into the culture of the time, an image can make little sense or just seems old.


The image displayed on screen – The Story of Ohhh – by Helmut Newton, brought up many reactions from the rest of the class, but here is my take on the context of the image and what I think the unlying story is.
The image is called The Story of Ohh, taken in 1975, for Vogue magazine.  It is a riff on the 1954 French Novel The Story of O, which has themes of sadomasochism and domination.  In the image, we see the lady – Lisa Taylor – sat with her eyes staring at the faceless man, her legs spread wide, saying – without saying anything – let’s roll, big boy.  She is taking control of the scene, she is the one dictating how the next moves are going to be made, she is ‘the man’.  My feeling on this, is less a feminist movement – something that seemed to underlie a lot of today’s lecture; I was hoping for a more balanced view on things – but more of a reflection on the photographer himself.  I think that Helmut is obsessed by the female form, judging by his expansive catalogue of women in various states of undress; he loves to intricately plan a scene, where the women is shown ‘in full’ and any male protagonist is shunned to the darkness.  Given the riff on the Story of O / Ohhh, and the dominatrix nature of this book, I think that he likes to be dominated by women; he is trying to capture his own personal fantasies on camera.  In the image, he is the man being dominated by the women; he wants her to take control and dominate him, use him as if he were disposable.  It’s not, in my opinion, a reflection of the feminist movement, it’s about Helmut getting his helmet out…but only when told to do so.


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