Male art: the hidden talent of the conch

(There will be discussion of penises and vaginas, some of it using street language, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Having discovered and posted about a vintage photograph of three young men displaying their swimmer’s bodies (which I bought and mounted on a bookend, to make a free-standing portable photo display), I was led by Etsy to other sources of somewhat similar photographs, in particular the trove of photographic male art offered by The Male Image Art Shop (dba TheMaleImageArtShop), among which this photo caught my eye:

(#1) “Dmitry and Matteo”, as advertised on-line: the more Slavic-looking bodybuilder type on the left is presumably Dmitry, and the more Mediterranean-looking swimmer type on the right Matteo; their gazes are fixed on us, the viewers, with no expression; Dmitry has a friendly, or perhaps a proprietary, arm on Matteo’s shoulder

Other than this, we know nothing. But we struggle to extract a story that it’s telling us, some story about the relationship between the two men (and possibly about why they’re posing for us), so we ask: when was this photo taken? where are they?  why are they naked? what are their lives like? what does that arm on the shoulder mean? is this photo a slice of these men’s lives, or are the men random male models posed to create a puzzle for us?

We can look at the photo as a doorway into a story. We can look at it as a formal composition, a carefully balanced 2-shot that’s “about” the faces, the muscles of the men’s bodies, and the alignment of their limbs. We can look at it as an aesthetically satisfying object, for the pleasure we derive from the arrangement of its parts and from the richness of the story they tell. We can also look at it as utilitarian art, valuable for the desire it can provoke; I unapologetically cop to finding Matteo, in face and body, smokin’ hot. (Others will have a similar response to Dmitry; chacun à son goût.) These are potentially complementary, rather than conflicting, responses.

So I ordered a crisp well-made reproduction of D&M, 5×7, just the right size for my small metal bookends. And I had a fortune cookie fortune to add as a kind of caption:

You will soon discover your hidden talent

On Monday the photo arrived.

Surprise! The picture includes their penises — nice everyday dicks, on the small side of normal for Dmitry, on the high side for Matteo. But if there are dicks on view in a scene, they vie with faces as the focus (as a slogan: Cocks Rule), so, suddenly, “Dmitry and Matteo” became an adventure in phallicity. And couldn’t be displayed in the public areas of my condo. (My bedroom is a virtual forest of images of and simulacra of penises, but elsewhere in the house they’re concealed. My living room is scarcely a woodland of innocence, but I draw the line at confronting visitors with dicks on display and penises on parade.)

Solution 1: consign the mounted photo to the X-rated bedroom. There’s not much horizontal surface left there for such things, and I was hoping to put D&M in context with photos of other men displaying their bodies (and sometimes their affections as well), like the three-swimmers shot from 10/2:

(#2) From my posting “Swimmer’s bodies”: from an Etsy supplier, a 1952 black and white photo featuring three male competitive swimmers with their trophies

Solution 2: conceal the dicks. I regularly do this with the images from the Tom of Finland calendar hanging in the public space, some of which go so far as to show ToF’s supersized male organs — which I hide with little Post-It strips that can be easily lifted for the sake of the curious. I was preparing to do this for D&M when my eyes lit upon a bowl of attractive seashells next to my work table. Oh, those conch shells — the shells of large sea snails — would do the trick very nicely; just hold them in place with some rubber cement.

And the conch shells come with a double symbolism. One side of which you’ll appreciate from my finished art project:

(#3) Bonuses in the photo: on the table, a rainbow Z mousepad; behind it, glimpses of some books for current projects (the series continues with Murray’s Homosexualities, Nussbaum’s Hiding from Humanity (on shame), an anthology on Critical Race Theory, and Tobia’s Sissies)

What you see here is the top side of a conch shell, the phallic side. But turn it over, and you get a sexcavital side — vaginal or anal or oral in symbolism. In a Philadelphia Tribune piece “Caribbean Current – Conch shells offer an earful and mouthful of joy” (about conchs as food) by dscott on 2/28/2020, this image of the sexcavital side:

(#3) Urban Dictionary reports a use of conch as a colloquialism for the vagina (among a number of other uses); similarly (but in more widespread use) for Spanish concha; meanwhile, it occurs to me that getting conched /kaŋkt/ would be a fine playful slang substitute for getting fucked, combining the insertive and the receptive images in one package

Conchiana. From NOAD:

noun conch: 1 [a] (also conch shell) a tropical marine mollusk with a spiral shell that may bear long projections and have a flared lip. (Strombus and other genera, family Strombidae, class Gastropoda) [b] a conch shell blown like a trumpet to produce a musical note, often depicted as played by Tritons and other mythological figures.

From the Philadelphia Tribune piece, on conchs as earful as well as mouthful:

Conch shells come in a variety of colors and sizes, but the shape of the shells are usually the same. Once the meat is removed from the shell, it is used for jewelry or sold for its decorative beauty. The shell is also used as a musical instrument known as the seashell horn or shell trumpet.

If you have hear the sound coming from the shell, you would know that it sounds very much like a wind instrument. The seashell horn through the Caribbean region is blown during competitions such as track and field, soccer matches and even during victory parades.

The conch seashell horn is also used as a signal to send messages to rural communities. It often signals a fisherman’s return from the sea with a fresh catch. Upon hearing the unique sound, buyers head to the seaside to purchase fish, conch, lobster etc. You can’t get them any fresher.

And on to the Tritons, who are, in plain terms, really horny (in several senses) mermen. From photographer Andrew Prokos’s site, “Library of Congress Neptune Fountain VI”:

(#4) [text from Prokos:] A black and white fine art photograph featuring the bronze statue of a Triton blowing a conch shell, from the Court of Neptune fountain at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

You’ll notice that this Triton is not only horny, but also hunky; compare him to Dmitry in #1.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: