Today (on Tumblr) I came across what was clearly intended as an erotic photo. I’m not sure whether it’s an old photo, or a recent one emulating an old one . . . Anyway it features a woman in her underwear, standing next to a harp. Her head is resting on the against the top part of the harp, and her hand on what should be the pillar (I think that’s the correct terminology). One shoulder strap is half way down her upper arm. Her bare thighs and upper chest and neck are highlighted by the pose. The harp has nice curves. So does she.

But several things bother me about the photo—probably not helped by the fact that I’m heavily involved in music:

  • Something is wrong with the column or pillar. To be precise, what’s wrong is that most of it is missing. What we’re seeing is basically part of a dismembered harp.
  • It appears not to have any strings, except for a few of the long ones at the bass end. They are hanging loose, adding to the sense that what we’re looking at is not a musical instrument, but the remains of one.
  • She looks as though she’s never had anything to do with a harp in her life.

Basically I look at the photo and think “Oh my God—what has happened to that instrument?!” For me, this is not an erotic thought.

But the most puzzling thing for me is the choice of pose. I think the photographer intended the way she’s standing, and touching the ex-harp, to be sensuously suggestive and erotic. Because if she were merely playing the harp, she wouldn’t touch it like that. And she’d almost certainly be wearing more clothes. Clearly we’re meant to think that she’s imagining touching something else . . .

The only thing is: the normal playing position for a harp is far sexier than the pose in the photo. So if you’re used to seeing someone play a harp, the photo feels as though she’s carefully trying to avoid the sexiness by just standing there and keeping her distance from it.

Was this intentional—was the photo taken at a time when the photographer felt that the combination of underwear and a normal playing position would be too risqué? Were the photographer and model simply clueless about musical instruments? Or just unconcerned about the possibility of anyone with a music background seeing the photo? Whatever the reason, the result is a photo which at first sight seems as though I ought to find it erotic, but which actually . . . feels like somone standing awkwardly with a piece of wreckage.

So, what do we learn? An unexpected message, maybe:

  • there are actually situations in which reality is sexier than fantasy
  • real music is sexier than fantasy music.

. . . well, perhaps.