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:!: This article contains sexual topic and images

The power of images



Way more earlier than the invention of writing and way more earlier than the invention of printing press humanity was using images to express themselves and communicate. We can go back as far as The Cave of Altamira or we can go trough all the avant-garde movements in art to understand that the context is always important to understand what are we talking about. With my research I intend to make some relations between art in the past and in the present with sports and relate it with high culture and popular culture.


1. Artists working with sports and sexuality

1.1 In the beginning...

The ancient Greeks did not conceive of sexual orientation as a social identifier as modern Western societies have done. Greek society did not distinguish sexual desire or behaviour by the gender of the participants, but rather by the role that each participant played in the sex act, that of active penetrator or passive penetrated. In ancient Rome the conquest mentality and “cult of virility” shaped same-sex relations. Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role. It was expected and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the penetrative role1 The morality of the behavior depended on the social standing of the partner, not gender per se. It is incredible interesting to see how these ideas from the Greek and specially Roman times are really close to the ideas of actual philosophers like Judith Butler, who points that masculine and feminine roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed in her famous book “Gender Trouble”

After understanding all this we could see all the old sculptures in a completely different way, like the famous “The Wrestlers”, a representation of two fighters that might be extremely sexualized.



1.2 Now

Artist Ben McNutt has been exploring the relationship between wrestling and homosexuality for the past few years. For this he hasn't only been taking pictures of wrestlers but also taking classes on wrestling and going to the gym as well.

At the beginning he started the project only to feel the power as a photographer to control people and make them stage different type of situations, but then it followed into an investigation related with the forms of representation since the Greek culture.

He points out his interest in “these weird exceptions in society when you can be really close with other males in some situations, but it's not OK in others”2 and he works not only with images photographed by himself but also decontextualizing found footage, stamps related with wrestling and the clothing and items of wrestling itself.


We cal also look at Collier Schorr images of wrestlers that probably will not ever illustrate an article in any sports mass media newspaper:


In this decontextualization trough the order and use of images we can find interesting also the work of Henrik Olesen and his book “Some Faggy Gestures”, where through the appropriation of source images and contextual shifts not dissimilar to the method invented by Aby Warburg for his “Mnemosyne Atlas,” Olesen probes the associations between homosexuality and its criminalization in the past, as well as in the present. His archival work sheds light on the enduring existence of spaces for Others, and inscribes homosexual subculture once more into the history of art and culture.


Following in the path of decontextualization of images is something that we can also see in the work of Juan Carlos Martinez. Within the medium of photography he has been investigating the relation of sports and sexuality. From an homosexual position he gathers a number of situations where the inseparable binomial between admirer and sportsperson is given a platform of consideration. A voyeuristic vision of sports from a sportsperson that not only care about the techniques or the movements, but also gets interested in the male young figure in most of the cases. In the same way that the athlete´s figure has been considered since the Classical antiquity the symbol of masculine beauty, vigor and virility, Martinez intent to approach through the documentary photography the popular acclaim of this particular and subjective performance.


His interest in this voyeuristic approach to image making has lead him to his latest project, "Secret Photography", an archive constantly updated by photos taken by him with his phone in different contexts like the street, gyms, the underground… This project is not only about sports, but is interesting to see because of the context of this images we see it as homosexual pictures, but they could work also in forums about sports or body-building.


Other artists working with sport related topics is also the Spanish David Crespo. We can dig in several of his projects, but the one that most might interest us is Pentatlón, a project that is closely related with the concept of Olympics in the past and the actual view of it. The Pentathlon was an original discipline of the Ancient Olympic Games. Combination of five tests (fight, race, long jump, discus and javelin), in the heyday of Ancient Greece was the discipline that led these games. From this start point he has worked of a new view of the Olympics because of the new situation of Greece. With this combination of disciplines, is intended create a dialogue between modern Greece and the former, on their social context. For example, fight from the past and basket from the present:

The artists whose I would like to close the research (even I could talk about others like Gustavo di Mario, Marie-Jo Lafontaine, Paul Pfeiffer, Pierre and Gilles…) are Anderson and Low. Even they come from a really photographic background is interesting how with they imaginary they break the rules of classic representation by playing with classic representation. The figure of the hero as it was understood in the beginning of the olympics is now taken by them and, surprisingly, they got appointed to take photos of US athletes.


It is interesting how politics change the discourse and adapt themselves really easy to “what is trendy” and did not have any problem with commissioning this photos while their politics against same sex marriage was not that open.

2. Sports and the power of images

2.1 High culture

Now still focused on a point of view related with voyeurism and the power of images we can connect it with the work of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait”.

The film is a documentary that follows the Real Madrid player with 17 cameras during the whole match. The film bears a similarity to Football As Never Before, a documentary made in 1970 by acclaimed German filmmaker Hellmuth Costard about Manchester United footballer George Best.The result is a concentrated and absorbing study which offers a unique perspective on the player's contribution to the match, contrasting bursts of furious activity with long periods of intense mental and emotional focus. Presented as a double projection, the viewpoint of the audience is altered emphasizing both artists’ interest in new ways of looking at something that may seem familiar.

2.2 Low culture

An interesting case to reflect on the power and use of images happened in Spain during the encounter between Michel and Valderrama that ended up like this:


Within the context of the first match of the season 91-92 Real Madrid (Michel) played against Valladolid (Valderrama). Michael says that during all the game Valderrama was disturbing him so he tried to do the same in a “hidden” way. Sadly, the photographer was there. Because of this Michel has been holding the screams of hooligans saying “Michel, Michel, Michel maricooooon” (Michel gay) during all his career, as player but also as coach. He has a wife and 2 child. It is interesting also what the president of Valladolid FC said in that time: “I don't understand Michel's attitude, because if he likes “the other” he should go away to do it, not in front of thousands of people”

How images can be sometimes more strong than words is something we can easily see in the last example. The match was on Sunday, but the image wasn't released until Tuesday. What if this image was never take? What if this is not a homosexual behavior but a childish game? At the end is all about the context, not only the context of the images but also the context where the pictures arrived, for example, in this case, the 90's in Spain and mostly macho newspapers.

This raises many questions in the way sport images are not only used in media but also photographed, probably most of those are thought for a heterosexual public and it have to be as straight and simple as possible for mass media.

I want to end appointing that nowadays the creators (photographers, artists, writers) have the power to transmit their messages, but are the curators, editors or producers the ones that can really shape their ideas and can even change the context of those. An easy example can be how unfortunately is this fashion image in this context but how beautiful would be in a fashion magazine.


In sports we can think that in TV broadcasts the ones that have the power are the producers, who choose when to show us a slow motion highlight or a beautiful girl from the audience, playing with our emotions and never allowing us to enjoy an objective view of the event.

Contributor: Diego Diez (Work in Progress…)

1Amy Richlin, The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor (Oxford University Press, 1983, 1992), p. 225.


artistic_practice_of_sports.txt · Last modified: 24/11/2015 19:47 (external edit)