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Is This Wrong?

So there is this photography book by David LaChapelle that’s been sitting on one of our side tables for a few years. I can’t remember how exactly my husband and I acquired the book. Maybe it was a Christmas gift, maybe we picked it up at some yard sale, I am not sure, but we have had the book longer than we have had Andrei. Both Michael and I open the book occasionally, rather rarely, leaf through a few pages when we happen to sit in the purple chair next to that specific side table that houses the book (some old army munitions box from my husband’s family).

David LaChapelle may not be my or my husband’s favorite photographer, but we like his work. With my underdeveloped facial recognition abilities, I don’t even recognize half of the stars, nor do I care who the subjects are. But, I am definitely attracted to certain qualities in his photographs. The surreal, slightly bizarre world he creates  in his photographs definitely attracts me the way the fiction of Aimee Bender attracts me. I don’t mind the nudity, I don’t mind the “strong sexual content,” I feel like they are definitely used only as the means of one’s artistic expression.

But here is the potential problem: my two-year-old son likes the book too. He pulls the book off the side table onto the floor and he leafs through it. He particularly likes the very first photograph: a woman and a young girl in bright purple dresses holding hands. If I happen to come by, he might point to the woman and say, Mama. Then he continues to leaf through the book. Quite a few semi-nude (or practically nude) bodies. But at the same time, dazzling bright colors, interesting objects, strong facial expressions.

Most of the time, he doesn’t even have a strong desire to interact with me or my husband while leafing through the book. It’s usually while we are making dinner in the kitchen that we walk over to the living room to see what Andrei is doing (because he has been quiet for a few minutes) and we find him engrossed in the book.

Last night was the first time that Andrei asked me to “read” him the book. So I started (I think in Serbian, but I can’t quite remember)…This is a mummy wearing a pink dress, and this is her daughter wearing also a pink dress. These are houses behind them, and (flip the page) this is a violin, and this is a spoon and a fork and a woman wrapped in spaghetti, and (flip the page) this is a fish, and this is a torch, and this is someone’s face, and this is a naked woman, and these, what are these? Glasses, says Andrei, and I add, They are scissors, too. So this is the strategy I used: focus on the objects, and then, if there are really no objects that he would recognize, say matter-of-factly, This is a naked woman…or man.

I was fine with this. I am fine with my son facing “R-rated” photography. I don’t think this could damage him in any way, this is what my maternal instinct says. I wouldn’t want him to leaf through a porn magazine (at this age anyway), but I am fine with him facing nudity in photography. I also think this doesn’t differ much from visiting galleries, which my husband, Andrei, and I frequently do. At times Andrei is only interested in running around in the empty space of a gallery and snacking on cookies, but at some point I usually pick him up and we walk around and look at the art together. I  tend to point to the objects that are familiar to him (occasionally the objects accompany a naked body), yet presented under a veil of someone’s imagination. And I hope that someone’s artistic vision will affect him in a way that’s not exactly the same but comparable to the way that it affects me. Ultimately a good way. Feed him. Push his mind in a new direction. Leave him wondering.

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