Members of the Future Femme Collective, plus some hairy dudes. Photos by Sarah Jacobs
If you've spent any time on the internet, you've likely seen a cock shot. Maybe you came across one of a celebrity like failing New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner on a gossip site. Maybe you had some sent to you by random dudes on Grindr or OKCupid or wherever you hang out. Or maybe you even sent one because you thought someone wanted to see your penis (they probably didn't). Most of the time, dick pics are thought of as “harmless,” if they're thought of at all, but they're hardly ever treated seriously.
Four artists interested in feminism, the internet, sex, porn, and power have decided that the dick pics they've gathered are important enough to share with the public. Over 300 men who have engaged in a little harmless online exhibitionism sending this summer may be surprised to learn that their members will mounted, framed, and put on display on August 23 at a Brooklyn gallery space by an artist collective known as Future Femme. The group is hoping to turn the tables on this mind-boggling male habit.
“If a man was ever caught doing this, he’d be publicly shamed and stoned," said Violet, one of the artists. (Because of the sensitive nature of their work—and the potential legal ramifications—the artists requested that their names be withheld. I'll refer to them by the names of flowers.) “And if certain groups were to get ahold of our exhibit, I think there’d be a backlash. Some of the photos definitely cross the line of vulgarity for me.”
Their project started as a conversation about receiving cellphone pictures of penises. Violet, 25, had gotten an unsolicited dick pic from a guy she used to hook up with in college. He’d sent her an occasional drunk text or photo since they ended things, but their back-and-forth had dropped off when she started dating her boyfriend. In any case, his penis on her iPhone screen was a first. But Violet and her friends quickly moved beyond girl talk.
Each of the artists retreated into their own (often dark) cave of dick pics, keeping their methods of solicitation and photo tallies a secret from one another. Getting a barrage of strangers’ penises sent to your inbox is not for the faint of heart. There have been photos of dicks covered in cum and dicks sprinkled with marijuana and ready to be rolled up like joints. There have been dicks so big that the girls were sure they were fake and dicks placed next to items like shaving cream cans for scale. There have even been some flaccid dicks, which seems like the laziest thing anyone has ever done. Looking at all of these photos definitely takes a psychological toll. As Justin Garcia, a research scientist at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, told me, viewing strange cock can be hard on the psyche
“Many people find [these photos] offensive,” he said. “For many women, it is a form of…” he paused. “Well, not quite an assault, but more of a…”
"An affront?" I offered.
“Yes, an affront. I think that part of what happens on technology is that you lose a sense of impact. You don’t know the age, sex, temperament, sensitivity of someone.”
The artists have different levels of sensitivity when it comes to images of male genitals. Nasturtium, who credits herself with the formal idea for the exhibition, has an admitted fascination with dicks—she showed an interest in Craigslist’s missed connections at an early age, and told me she has a propensity for watching gay porn. Tansy, who wrote her thesis on pornography, referred to the show’s opening night as “her baby.”
Queen Anne, on the other hand, called her approach to sex and dating “subtle,” and said she was reluctant to participate at the beginning. She even felt vaguely guilty.
“I’m not usually sexually aggressive as far as saying stuff like, ‘Let me see your cock,'” Queen Anne told me. “I didn’t think that I would be able to do it, even though it’s online.”
A fifth artist who was initially involved with the exhibit dropped out for personal reasons: the project was making her uncomfortable with its nonchalant approach to sex, something she’d struggled with in the past and was working on setting right.
“Taking the time to encourage the ridiculous nature of sending any girl a picture of your fucking penis—what girl finds that to be anything but ridiculous—even if it becomes a public tribute to the silliness, has done nothing for me but focus my energy and interactions specifically in a direction that not too long ago I realized I need to break away from,” she told me in an email.
Dick pics in general represents yet another tired way women get the societal shaft, literally and figuratively, according to Garcia of the Kinsey Institute.
“In a national context in which women are treated less favorably than men—in the workplace, in healthcare legislation, and when it comes to sex and dating, it’s troublesome to me that women are getting flashed in the digital era,” he said. “With these pictures, you’re removing a certain agency from women. I think there’s a larger method of disrespecting women with these photos than we even recognize.”
The artists are pushing past that disrespect, in part by controlling how these penises are viewed and displayed. They’re printing the photos on professional-grade matte paper and mounting them in a gallery setting, and treating their dick pic display as they would any other art exhibit. But Violet’s boyfriend wishes she’d stick to graphic design.
“In my opinion, there's an element of ‘shock value’ to this exhibit that I don't really connect to,” he told me. “I wish the attention this exhibit is getting would translate into people actually becoming interested in who Violet is and her art outside of this, yet sadly I know all too well that most people have no attention span and have no interest in what I consider more traditional, beautiful, ‘real’ art.”
However, the guy Anne recently started dating—as well as a group of her male friends who she told me have been “struggling a bit” with her feminist leanings—have actually rallied behind the project.
“They think it’s so cool,” Anne said. “This person I’m seeing, he loves it. He thinks men are so disgusting with the way they treat women… It’s been really nice to get male support.”
Male support is one thing. Legal support is another. I’d contacted more than ten lawyers in search of some insight into the legality of all this, but attorneys seem particularly squeamish about sexy photos, and even more so about the words “dick” and “pic.” Even when I softened my language, many outright refused to talk to me.
Luckily, Aaron Messing, a privacy attorney at OlenderFeldman in New Jersey, was happy to shed some light on the matter. New York, where the photos will be exhibited, has very limited invasion of privacy statutes, and Messing said the laws wouldn’t do much to protect a guy whose dick pic was used in a way he didn’t intend.
“In order to be able to sue, you will need to be able to prove that the defendant used your image without consent for commercial and business purposes where there is no legitimate public interest,” Messing told me.
Most of the women have gone the straightforward route in collecting dick pics, using versions of their real OKCupid profiles and brief conversations—sometimes just going right for the jugular and straight-up asking for a dick pic, avoiding flirtation and conversation at all costs. One of the artists, however, went a step further by posing as a gay man on Grindr and wound up with 150 photos, which didn’t surprise any of the sex scientists or researchers I spoke to.
Grindr told me that while they don't monitor their users' interactions, they do take privacy seriously.
"We encourage our users to act with honesty and authenticity online and be smart about sharing information and photos with strangers," the hookup site said in a statement. "If a user comes across a profile where someone is impersonating someone else, we urge that they take action by 'flagging' the profile in question or contacting customer support to lodge a complaint."
It’s true that if your dick appears in the show and you were misled about the solicitor’s true identity you have a chance at legal retribution. Because one of the artists posed as someone else, she’s liable to be sued for internet impersonation, a class A demeanor in New York that caries a $1,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
But unless any of these users walk into the Bushwick exhibit and recognize themselves, they’ll never know more than one stranger saw their dicks. But if a dick pic gets shown in a public space and the dick’s owner doesn’t know, is it moral? Is it right?
Peter Gloor, a researcher at MIT who has spent the last 22 years studying internet communities and has devoted significant time to looking at OKCupid called the deceitful nature of the project “problematic.”
“I could never do such an experiment,” he said. “It’s against professional ethics.”
I thought I could detect a hint of envy in his voice; though maybe I was wrong.
“I’m not showing any faces, I’ve made a point in my head not to,” said Tansy when I asked her if she had grappled with the ethics of the project. “No one is going to know anything about any of these people. I would imagine if anyone who has sent me a dick shows up… that would be interesting.”
Show Me More: A Collection of DickPix will open on August 23, 2013 at 8 p.m. as part of the event Explicit at Morgan Avenue Underground Studios, 55 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn, NY, There will also be gallery hours on Saturday, August 24, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For more naughty sex talk: