love v globalisation

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13 slides plus narrative.


As I stood in London’s Piccadilly, I wanted to shoot a atmospheric picture of Eros, one of London’s most iconic representations of love, when I realised that it is impossible to do so without a backdrop of globalised corporate branding. Here the idea for this abstract photographic exhibition – love v globalisation – was formed.

I began to think about a combination of global economic interests, people’s insecurities about finding love, their own relationships and their own bodies, their hopes, dreams and desires, clever marketing and branding, all influencing people’s subsequent perceptions of what they think love is or should be, their relationships and their how bodies should be visually represented.

To think that love is not what it once was would be misleading. In its purest form, love is everywhere. It is societies that have evolved, as they should. We live in a globalised world with access to new technologies that have opened up the world to myriad new possibilities for producers and consumers alike.

In this fusion of abstract and photographic subject matter, I explore the notions of love, the body and sex in an increasingly globalised world. It paints a confused picture and touches upon the themes of exploitation, vulnerability and marginality. In many instances love has become a commodity, something for sale, to be consumed. The convergence of love and sex in popular global culture allude to the notion that they are much the same thing. I am inclined to think that they should not be.

This digital exhibition is an exploration into some of the ways in which powerful economic interests influence and shape our real and imagined worlds. It is not intended as a moral commentary on people’s lifestyles and choices. Far from it.

On completing this exhibition, I have become more aware of the economic pressures and social and cultural realities people contend with in their daily lives, how love, sex and the body are powerful and emotive stimulants for people’s consumption behaviours. I am reassured that amidst some difficult subject matter, love exists and remains a beautiful force amongst the darker forces of materialism and greed.

I have deliberately kept the narrative short and hopefully uncomplicated. The artwork featured tells a powerful and emotive story and speaks for itself. After viewing this exhibition, I hope you are less confused (or at least not more confused) than I am. Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you all.

Love v Globalisation Eros v the global corporations. Those clever advertising/branding people have got one over all of us. Or have they? This picture sets the scene for the remainder of Love v Globalisation. It makes one think about how love is sold, how it is consumed, and what influences our thinking, desires and needs/wants.

Girls Two young women flaunt what they’ve got. Often from a background of poverty in rural Thailand, many women move to Bangkok to earn remittances which are sent to family back home. With limited education, their life chances are not good. Earnings in the sex industry dwarf earnings from any other career path available to them. No money, no honey. It’s an often  depressing outcome whichever path they choose.

Room Service During a recent visit to Shanghai, China, several mafia gangs had access to hotel corridors and flyers offering sex for sale were either pushed under doors or inserted between the door and frame. It became an annoyance being disturbed repeatedly. It made me think about the young women who would service the men. They (and their bodies) had become a commodity to be exploited by men on many different levels: by the gangs who control them, often violently; by their customers; and by society. They are victims of poverty, entrapped in a life that they cannot escape from, until their faces and/or bodies are deemed unattractive and worthless, at which point they will be replaced by a younger model, more often than not to live the rest of their lives marginalised by society and returning to the poverty trap that they never really escaped from.

Gender Bender Globalisation, marketing, increased wealth and people’s desire to mirror the lifestyles of celebrities have influenced many people to considering modifying their bodies. It is possible to do so, at a price. Bangkok has become the global epicentre for this industry. Here insecurity and body identity are the commodities. New body parts can be had. Many aspirants work in the sex industry in order to fund their future appearances. As I walked along Soi Cowboy in Bangkok whilst shooting some of the content for this exhibition, I wasn’t sure of the gender of my subjects in many instances. Man or woman? or perhaps the third sex?

Erection Defection Last longer, stay harder. Perhaps not with these brands. I am not sure if bootleg Vigra will satisfy anyone.

Gone mobile New communications technologies – both the devices we use and the plethora of dating options and finding a significant (or insignificant) other – mean that finding that special someone (or sex) has become quicker and easier. Or has it? Digital love for sale is now a global business. It’s never been easier to connect, but will love find a way, or will it be adventure full of instant gratification, broken dreams and false promises?

Stuck in the middle I was stood a long way back with only a short lens when I shot this heavily cropped image. The subject matter made me smile. First of all because of the mural and the woman standing in between a huge pair of implanted silicon breasts, but I also thought about the those pre- and post-operatives, working in a bar next door, who aspire to change their bodies and their gender identities. Stuck in the middle came to mind. I wonder where on their journeys they will end up? Will they be happier or will their journeys of self actualisation never end?

Love on a Bamboo Pole A powerful and simple representation of love in one of its simplest and oldest forms. Despite living in a world full of communications technologies and new opportunities, sometimes traditional forms of expressing love can be so much more meaningful. In this case, a message from the heart carved onto a bamboo pole is both poignant and beautiful

Boys Bangkok. It’s a man’s world, or at least it was. Hetrosexual and same sex sex is openly available to a receptive and uninhibited global audience, but consumption patterns are changing. Increasingly, wealthy women are visiting Bangkok to consume sex services. Desire prevails across all genders; money talks.

Captive Audience As a young woman works the pole, a man sits fixated by her every move. He isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Something else from the bar, Sir? And how about that tip, Sir? Loneliness on a collision course with exploitation. No-one wins in this game, except the bar owner

Hello Kitty Love Motel (see footnote 1). In this piece, I explore the relationship between love, sex, Asia’s predisposition for anything cute and our fantasies. In Japan, a room in a love hotel can be hired from as little as an hour.  These premises are often dressed up as ‘cute’ and and for ‘lovers’ but in reality they are used by many for discreet and/or clandestine affairs and quick relief, populated by sex workers, busy salary men, teenagers with nowhere else to go and incognito housewives. In may cases love hotels offer their clients secret entrances and every accessory that might be required during during their liaisons. Cute is a commodity in Asia. Well, Hello Kitty. 

Phalic symbols have been evoked in rituals and used as metaphors for fertility in many cultures for centuries. The evolution of the phalic symbol, in the case a wooden penis, is represented in its most basic form – a sex toy. Lubricants are handily available at the same stall should you need any.

The lovers A beautifully simple and powerful image. Young lovers, their carefree hearts full of dreams, hopes and love. Love – it’s not that difficult to find, is it?

(1) The Hello Kitty Love Hotel is a work of fiction, an imagined space representing the subject matter. Artwork created using a cat-patterned lens cloth; Mates condom (unused); Canon 7d / 50mm 1.8 lens.

Shot by Martin Lever in London, Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai (2014 – 2015).

Abstract / digital artwork: Martin Lever (2015)

All original works. ©2014/2015 m.lever /martin lever. all rights reserved.