#10 ‘Tiny Village’ by Tom Morton

Tiny Village (2008), original composite image created by ‘Real Live Dead’, subsequently adapted by ‘Undersquid’.

 

I first encountered this photograph through a Google image search, while I was prepping a slide lecture on the subject of scale. Although the keywords I’d entered were Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Nathan H. Juran’s 1958 film was to feature in my lecture, alongside Jeff Wall’s 1994 shot The Giant, and Charles Ray’s 1992 sculpture Fall ’91), Google’s algorithms seemed minded, on that day, to introduce me to the macrophilia subculture, which is to say people whose sexual fantasies revolve around the figure of the giant or giantess. Given the impossibility of ever encountering, let alone getting amorous with a genuine colossus, this fetish is presumably a pretty tough and lonely gig. It follows that the contemporary macrophile must feel especially grateful for the twin technologies of the Internet and Adobe Photoshop. With these he (and it nearly is always a he, macrophilia being overwhelmingly the province of the heterosexual male) may communicate with others who share his interests, and exchange images of obscure objects of desire that have no counterparts in the real, disappointingly-scaled world.

Most images uploaded to macrophilia sites follow a simple formula: take an existing photograph of an attractive young woman from a lingerie or swimwear campaign, then comp her into a landscape shot so that she appears, say, to be grasping the top of the Empire State Building with one hand, while she adjusts the seam of her stocking with the other, or else to be washing her hair in the roaring waters of the Niagra Falls, as though they were no more powerful than the spray from a shower head. Unsurprisingly, there are also numerous macrophiliac photoshopped images that borrow material from pornographic shoots (these make much predictable use of the size differential between fetishist and fetishised), and a popular subgenre involving gigantic business women bestriding the smoking remains of Wall Street or Canary Wharf, like Godzilla in stilettos and a Donna Karan trouser suit. Tiny Village is different. It’s not an image of sexual submission, or of violent retribution against capital, but of something more elusive. Originally posted on the macrophilia web forum giantesscity.com by a male contributor going by the screen name ‘Real Live Dead’, the work might be understood as an attempt at a kind of macrophiliac pastoral.

Real Live Dead lays his scene in a quiet village, where a smattering of rather Nordic-looking houses sit between steep rocky peaks and a silvery lake. It is spring, or perhaps early summer, at any rate late enough in the year that the last of the winter’s snows have vanished from the mountaintops. From out of a valley emerges a youthful giantess wearing a white skirt, her shapely legs silhouetted against the diaphanous fabric. Five times as tall as the village’s tallest structure, she carries a wicker basket filled with grapes, each one larger than an adult human head. She is East Asian in appearance, and in Real Live Dead’s original she gazes out at the viewer, although in the version of the image I first encountered (which is reproduced here) she glances down at the ground far below, where we see a male figure waving up at her, unperturbed, even pleased, that this gargantuan woman has strode into view. He is the addition of another Giantesscity contributor, ‘Undersquid’, who describes him as ‘the little guy who I imagine owns [the towering woman’s] heart, and who has the terrific job of peeling those grapes’. ‘Undersquid’ is female, and does not self-identify as a macrophile, but rather as a ‘shrunken-man freak’. For her, it seems, Tiny Village might be understood from a human, rather than a giant’s point of view.

A reductive reading presents itself: the powerful male macrophiliac fantasises about experiencing powerlessness, while the powerless female ‘shrunken-man freak’ fantasises about experiencing power. If this is what’s truly at stake for Real Live Dead and Undersquid, then Tiny Village might be said to serve each artist’s purpose simultaneously, but I suspect there’s something a little more complex going on here than just the scratching of an erotic itch. This is an image that foregrounds plenitude – gathered from some hyper-fecund vineyard behind the verdant peaks, those grapes could happily feed the larger female, the smaller male, and a whole host of villagers, ‘shrunken’ or not. It is also an image of a social contract, on the lines of the ‘scientific socialism’ laid out in Karl Marx’s 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program: ‘From each, according to his ability, to each according to his need’. We do not see the man exhaustedly rolling individual fruits across the valley floor in order to serve them up to the idling woman, and neither do we see the villagers presuming on her superior strength to, say, help them transform their modest settlement into a sparkling crescent of lakeside palaces, surely the work of few afternoons when your hands are big enough to peel off the roof of a house in order to take a peek inside. The woman, I suppose, must make her home behind the mountains. There, we might imagine her laying herself down in a bed not much smaller than her neighbours’ whole village, dreaming of her comparatively tiny paramour, or else entertaining him long into the spring night. (It is a measure of this image’s success that such thoughts come more readily to mind than wondering from where, precisely, Real Live Dead snatched the shots of the female figure and the landscape. I think of many things when I look at this image, but ads for Korean greengrocers or Swedish eco tourism are not one of them).

Tiny Village could not have existed in this form without the Internet. This is not only because it functions as a repository for ‘found’ imagery of the type appropriated and modified by Real Live Dead and Undersquid, but also because it operates as a place where such individuals might come together. Macrophiles and ‘shrunken-man freaks’ may very well have existed in the pre-digital era (the latter would certainly have been well-catered for by Jonathan Swift’s 1726-35 novel Gulliver’s Travels, in which the titular hero is used as a sex toy by the land of Brobdingnag’s supersized ladyfolk), but the anonymity and global reach of the web have allowed them to create a community of sorts, and with it a subculture. Tiny Village, it seems to me, is both a reflection of, and a reflection on, this situation. It is an image about how images are negotiated; a photograph about how photography – and crucially its dissemination – might bring people together, however small or large they may feel, or wish to be.

 

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor for frieze magazine, based in London.