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My name is Tony Comstock and I am a thought criminal.

Hello and welcome to the website for The Intent to Arouse: A Concise History of Sex, Shame, and the Moving Image. My name is Tony Comstock and I’d like to tell you a little about myself.

I am 43 years old. I have been married for coming on 13 years. My wife Peggy and I have two children.

I used to say that I split my time between New York City and the East End of Long Island, but that’s less and less true with each passing year. Mostly I am in our home, writing, working on our films, taking care of our children and fixing up the “handy-man’s special” that we bought more than 10 years ago.

I began pursuing photography at the age of 19, when I took an evening session of Photography 101 at Southern Oregon State College from Doug Smith. 

I count this as one of the great happy accidents of my life. Not only did I find that the camera suited my temperament, but I was also very simpatico with Doug’s teaching style. This was doubling serendipitous, because Doug was substituting that year for a professor who was on sabbatical. Doug’s class changed the course of my life, and by 25 I was a working commercial photographer with my own studio.

I have alway been interested in the erotic photographic image. I made my first erotic photo, a casual snap-shot of my girlfriend, just weeks into that first course, and have made thousand more in the 25 years since then. The unique evidentiary quality of photography lends a quality of provocation to sexually explicit photographs that is absent in writing or painting. The only thing that comes close are images of food or violence.

In the course of my professional life have made images of all three -food, violence and sex – but it is only in that last case that I have to consider anything beyond my own or my clients’ agenda in the creation of the images. My ongoing erotic documentary series “Real People, Real Life, Real Sex” is made and marketed under the ever-present threat that we will be cut off from legitimate markets, or subject government censorship and prosecution.

The title The Intent to Arouse: A Concise History of Sex, Shame, and the Moving Image is drawn from the 1934 court case The United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses. In that court case, Justice John M. Woolsey rule that the 1922 James Joyce novel Ulysses was not obscene for the following reason:

“[W]hilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.”

This ruling by Woolsey has gone on to become foundational in both the legal and commercial regulation of sexual expression. In the US and elsewhere, the “intent to arouse” is the dividing line between work that is considered  serious inquiry into the human condition, worthy of legal protection and a place at the “grown-up” table of commerce; and work that is subject to marginalization, socially,  legally and economically.

This blog will explore those forces – social, legal, economic – and how they effect the erotic images we see, most especially in cinema; and in turn, how the images we see effect how we see ourselves.

This blog will also serve as an adjunct resource for a lecture I will be giving throughout the next year to film schools, university sexuality departments, professional and academic conferences, and to anyone else who will listen. A calender of dates will be posted soon.

Thank you for reading. I hope you’ll return, and perhaps leave a comment now and then.

– Tony Comstock  June 17, 2009

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4 Responses

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  1. Very nice.

  2. This topic is also a passion of mine. I look forward to keeping up with you on this.

  3. Nio said

    This blog is off to an excellent start. I look forward to the next installment.

  4. Tony Comstock said

    Goose, Alexa, Nio, thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting. Going all academic is a very new direction for me. Thanks for your support!

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