Vulvas in Times Square
Digital Photographs, 2013
   

Boarding the crosstown M23 bus in Manhattan, I am about to take a journey that is both familiar and unrecognizable. This road is one of my earliest introductions to New York. I came here on my first trip to New York so that I could visit the School of Visual Arts. A year later, I did a summer art program and stayed in a room on 25th Street and 2nd Avenue, walking down 23rd street to catch the subway as I navigated my new city. On this day, I would allow the route of the Gray Line tour bus guide my path along 23rd as a ventured a highly contested political act in New York City, that of the tourist stopping to pay attention to surroundings and taking photographs.

Allowing myself to ride the bus from 3rd avenue to 6th avenue, I got off to board a different route, continuing north of the Avenue of the Americas on a different bus in order to maintain the route created by Gray Line. Traffic was heavy and the bus moved at a snails pace. This was conducive for taking your time to view your surroundings, but not for taking photographs. At 36th Street I departed the bus in order to continue on foot because moment was right to enter inside the street.

The Avenue was renamed officially from 6th, to the Avenue of the Americas. The new name never caught on with locals, but it does give the visitor a sense that their path along this route is some how more grand, inclusive, and frankly American. This avenue is also the home to some of the largest buildings in Midtown Manhattan, and at times, such as Herald Square, the Avenue stretches far and wide along this middle artery, enforcing it's power on the grid of the city. It's a very aggressive road. An overbearing road, in deed.

My goal was to submit to the will of the tour route as I went in search of vagina shapes as a tourist in the streets of Midtown. I walked around Herald Square as I glanced in shops, examined scaffolding, and looked into patterns of garbage on the street. My hope was that a large, monumental building would open itself up to me and allow for a vision of the vulva to form in its architecture. This was not happening, and it became frustrating. I realized, it was not the building's fault for being considered a product of design in a world that clearly defines its labels of acceptable forms. Buildings are strong, they are bold, and in Manhattan at least, soar high into the sky, penetrating the skyline with its force. I was systematically trained by culture not to find feminine form in materials of rock, steel, and sediment.

Vaginas are complicated. A Penis is not. Well, a penis is quite complicated, but as an American male it is familiar and easily digestible as a concept. Anything tall, piercing, sturdy, and fierce can be a penis. It is useless questioning if the form truly meets the illustrated representation of the penis if someone claims that it does. Anything can be a penis. A vagina is not held to the same standards. Where claiming a shape resembles the penis can be simple, often even cliché, the vulva is not brought to mind when looking at any slit, line, opening, or oval, anymore than any other orifice would. The same goes for roles assigned to femininity that can be translated to raw material. Something can not merely be soft, smooth, or light, and be a vagina.

In order to locate these shapes, I had to allow myself to strip notions of how to define a female body. I had to give the vulva the same universality of the penis. In other words, I had to give the vagina the same power that is constructed in the penis as a form and concept. This opened up my trip as a tourist, and all of a sudden I was able to see sightings of vaginas everywhere I looked. I took pictures of over 100 different vaginas as I made my way north on 6th Avenue and turned west onto 42nd Street. Times Square had many vaginas. This location was probably even more powerful than the experience on 6th Avenue, because the literal and metaphorical energy increased exponentially. Now many of my photographs had vaginas within other vaginas. The power held in the form of the vulva was inserted into Times Square and produced a life into my journey along the other contentious souls photographing in Times Square. I couldn't help but wonder if the other photographers surrounding me thought about all the vaginas that were prevalent in the images they were making. Was the peace sign "v" made by the fingers of the man being photographed by his family an ode to the vagina?