Armitage vertigo, part 1

[Warning: I write about heterosexual female sexual response below. Or rather, I discuss my heterosexual female sexual response. I try to be tactful. But if you experience your Armitagemania as an amor platonicus, or prefer to think of it that way for practical reasons, just skip this post. Or try to think about it as if this post is really a sort of update of Greek mythology, as if I’m Pygmalion falling in love with a naked statue of Aphrodite and describing in that aesthetic and analytical terms. ‘Cause that’ll make the arousal so much more elevated and artistic. Cough.]


Not sexy: Richard Armitage in the spoof video shot for the Rise Up Christchurch / Te Kotahitanga global telethon, broadcast May 22, 2011. He probably looks so pleased because he knows he’s practically unrecognizable — until he opens his mouth. Or is he pretending to be a contented dwarf with a full belly? Source:

I. Preface

I meant to mention this yesterday and forgot: bccmee‘s doing a graphic a day based on the POD at These are totally SCRUMPTIOUS! AND, she explains HOW she makes them. I know I’m going to go back to this eventually, this summer when I start to learn how to exploit my new laptop more fully. Yum.

Sometimes he’s so ridiculous sexy that I can’t keep my reactions in check. I gotta rush out into the stairwell and scream. Gah!! I try to do this only after hours, of course. We’re in intersession now, so a lot fewer people are in the building.

Those fake dwarf pictures from the weekend practically hid his whole face! So it was a blessing that we had this beautiful picture of him to look at,  courtesy of via Recycled Vinyl:

Richard Armitage as Lucas North / John Bateman, promo photo for Spooks 8.8 published in the Sydney Herald, May 17, 2011, with Laila Rouass as Maya Lahan. You may tend to see her presence here as accidental to our perception of the image, but I think it’s not. More below.

I’ve gotten so many emails and comments about this photo and, as in the case of at least one regular here who wrote me to discuss her stunned reaction to it, it’s been in my mind ever since I saw it. It’s the kind of photo that makes you wonder if you are losing your sanity. A friend told me sometimes she has the impulse to reach out to her computer screen and caress the photos of him that appear here. So even those who do not suffer from Armitagemania are not unaffected by the charms of these photos. How does he DO that?

II. Reaction

How did I see it? I sat down at my desk and shook my mouse to wake the computer up. I logged on. I went to And after that the reactions are programmed. I get a big grin on my face. Then I squirm just a little in my chair. Then I squirm some more. The squirm moves out from my core to my thighs and into the muscles of my seat, through my back, and into my shoulders. I clench my thighs together a few times to reduce the tension. I have to shake my shoulders slightly, as they’re getting tense. My heart starts beating a little faster, and my face flushes. I have to breathe more deeply, and my mouth opens just slightly, involuntarily. I swallow. I swallow again. I keep swallowing. The flush travels down my front, right straight back to the place that the squirm started, and now I have to discipline myself to stop squirming or I’m going to have to go to the ladies’ and splash water on my face and neck. Not that that always helps. Not with the thoughts that started it all, anyway. If I flip back to it during the day, I sense instantly that “my pelvic floor is dropping out of my body” feeling that you get on rollercoasters, and I have to stop and catch my breath before a pleasurable vertigo unwomans me. Or maybe overwomans me.

Photos like this could kill a girl, Mr. Armitage. You should be glad I have a healthy heart!

Lucas North / John Bateman (Richard Armitage) reassures Maya Lahan (Laila Rouass) that they’re going to be fine, just as soon as he goes out and does a couple of things, in Spooks 9.8. My cap.

III. Argument

After a brief detour through the structural features of the photo, I will later argue that the vertigo comes from the stance of the viewer at the intersection of a number of different lines. For the Armitage initiate, some lines that we usually use to interpret photos of actors in their roles are blurred in this photo. In consequence, when we look, it’s not always entirely clear where the line between acting and actor is, or between reality and fantasy. This uncertainty of position as viewer enhances the aesthetic charm of the photo, potentiating a feeling of sinking into something that’s both frighteningly real and at the same time not quite real. The status of this experience as fantasy makes its content, which might be disturbing if it were real, safe. The inclusion of “real” elements in the fantasy gives it a frisson of reality that enhances its potency. These apparent contradictions meet in the appreciation of the image because the photo is clearly made in the context of a role that Armitage plays, but clues in it suggest that the subject of the photo is both Lucas North / John Bateman and Richard Armitage. Thus, apart from the structural felicity of the photo, for the Armitage watcher this blurring is enhanced by her awareness of the storyline of Spooks 9 and her knowledge of Mr. Armitage himself and the visual conventions of photographing him that remain in her mind from previous viewing(s). Because of this background knowledge, this sort of viewer (a category in which I put myself as well as the average reader of this blog), she makes numerous visual associations that intensify the experience of viewing the photo. This is a great photo in lots of ways, but I suspect that specific associations the Armitage viewer is likely to draw make it a much better photo for the Armitage fan than for the average admirer of the male form. And even for that viewer, the promo photo is a better image than the screencap below, though one might argue that it’s the same actors and the same interaction. This is the puzzle that needs to be solved.

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) and Maya Lahan (Laila Rouass) in Spooks 8.8. Source:

Note: I am not arguing that the male body in the promo photo is not beautiful or sexy in this photo. I think it’s the kind of photo that speaks quite openly to certain moments in the average western, twenty-first century heterosexual female psyche. Moreover, I’m also not arguing something that I think Armitageskeptics would be likely to say about our reaction to this picture: that we’re infatuated so we can’t judge. (This kind of dismissive statement annoys the heck out of me. One can be infatuated and still find certain photos of Armitage dissatisfying; most Armitage fans like some of his roles more or less based not only on personal preference but also on their discrimination and judgments about the success of these projects.) Rather, I’m trying to account for something a lot of people say about Armitage — that their interest wanes, and they stop looking or watching, and then they see a photo again somewhere, accidentally, and Armitagemania is back in full intensity. I suspect what is happening in such situations is that the glimpse of Armitage calls to mind a whole series of past associations the fan has made and which persist in memory and experience. In the case of this photo, those memories are called to mind immediately when you see the photo. In other words, the appreciation of Armitage follows generic conventions of Armitage photography that this photo exemplifies especially well. If you need more background for this type of claim, I talked a little bit about Armitage photos in the context of a frequent trope of western art, in a post I wrote about a year ago entitled Armitage pudens. Shortly thereafter I discussed how this trope applied in a particular case to John Porter. Of course, the photo above is definitely not an example of pudens photography. On the contrary.

IV. Detour: Structural aesthetics

I do want to note right from the beginning that this photo involves a number of visually pleasing elements that might cause someone’s eyes to be drawn to it even if they didn’t know who Richard Armitage or Lucas North / John Bateman was. The architectural features of the photo become more clear if we overexpose it quite a bit to show how the shadows around the male form create structure for the image. The over exposure shows us which shadows are most pronounced in the original image, because they can’t be completely eradicated.

Looking at the photo this way makes clear how shadow pulls the photo together and concentrates our attention in particular places. Where are your eyes drawn when you look at this photo? Some of the main pieces of it are clear from this edited version that emphasizes its strong lines. (The colors of the arrows have no significance — I just tried to outline the colors I thought would be most visible against the shadows and overexposure.)

Look at the way that the strong vertical lines of the curtain and the arrangement of Lahan’s elbow here interact with the gentle curves of the male body as posed here. In particular, you should see here that Lahan’s elbow practically functions as an arrow to point at the male figure’s chest. The very thick, dark belt he wears (of this more below) also functions as a structural element that contrasts to the line of his lower abdomen and draws our attention right straight to his groin. This effect is supported by the band tattoo on the right arm. Everything structural in this photo begs us to look at the sloping mound of his genitals underneath the jeans — neither ridiculously prominent nor overly compressed — and the slight incurve of his chest at the point where his rounded pectorals meet the upper abdomen. (So if you, like me, look at the picture and find your eyes glued suddenly to his package, you don’t need to feel bad. The image is arranged to create just that effect.)

Or: here’s another little arrow to a significant piece of physiology. Look at how the lines of the Urizen tattoo extend toward and point at the male figure’s right nipple. The “moving tattoos” on this figure complicate this; if you look at other pictures you can see the positioning is different, but here, again, the lines of the photo point our eyes very subtly to secondary sex characteristics.

Next, look at how the shadows on the figure’s face create an effect that underlines the angularity of the face and thus enhances an expression of determination and/or cruelty. In particular, the contrast of the eyes with the darkness that falls across the face serves as a sort of highlight to that shadow. At this moment in the photo the triangular motif of intersecting shadow and line becomes quite intensive and busy, which also attracts visual attention. Both the structure and the highlighting of his eyebrows and nose and cheekbones direct our attention to the figure’s thin mouth and the subtly defiant jaw.

Beyond the structural elements of the photo, of course, the male figure here displays many elements of the male form that we consider objectively beautiful at present — a toned physique in chest and abdomen that is trim but not musclebound; a clearly defined, high posterior; a smooth chest that adds definition to the toned physique but contrasted with the furry forearms that indicate masculinity; and the classic contrast of pale skin complexion with dark hair of the traditional romantic hero, combined with the stubble on the jaw and disarray of the bangs that signal masculinity as well. We might add to this the pronounced jaw, and the relatively bulky shoulders. All of this works to legitimate our aestheticization and then objectification of the male figure.

But there’s one final piece of this aesthetic question that I think is essential, even if it’s somewhat ambiguous (again, on the ambituity, more below), and that is that the presence of a female figure in the photo and the possibility that she is looking at the male figure. Look at a possible eyeline from the female to the male:

We’ve already talked about the way that the crook of the female figure’s elbow points directly at the chest as the male figure’s site of power. Here, I think, one possible interpretation of the female figure’s gaze is a symbol of legitimating female desire. If she is looking at the male’s chest, we as spectators are drawn to do so as well.

You’ll have been asking yourself why I haven’t been writing “Armitage” and “Lahan” or “Lucas / John” and “Maya,” and there’s a specific reason. There’s another aspect to this photo that you may or may not have consciously noticed that I think plays a role in our perception of it. I’m going to leave this as a teaser because I have to get a little sleep.

But I will ask you questions, starting with the basic Bloom’s taxonomy question: what is this a photo of? What is the equipment in the lower left? What does it suggest about the identities of these figures? And who are the figures looking at? In this case, the presence of these niggling issues suggests that the answer to the question “what is this a photo of?” is not immediately obvious, and this state of affairs leads to a creative misunderstanding that benefits the Armitage fan.

There will be more discussion tomorrow. Till then I’ll leave you with some enticing cutouts that I made for this post, which got too long, and thus want to discuss then:

~ by Servetus on May 25, 2011.

42 Responses to “Armitage vertigo, part 1”

  1. Thank you for this, Servetus. Fascinating as always! Truthfully, I was so busy admiring Mr. Armitage’s masculine beauty that I failed to take in the items in the background. But it certainly appears this is actually a “behind the scenes” shot of RA and Laila preparing to do a scene in S9 . . . and he is looking at the photographer/director? Very, very imteresting . . . looking forward to more!


    • my suspicion is that for most viewers the effect of those thing son the right is subconscious; they don’t look closer until they see that Maya’s gaze is a bit strange.


  2. Sadly don’t have time to read all your post right now, just time to look at it quickly, on my way to work, but have to say that since I saw the pic, even in the not so great quality with the Spooks review, I can’t get it out of my mind! Now even more so! I’m at work and what am I thinking about…not work I can tell you- LOL

    That photo should come with a warning!


  3. It all began with Gisborne – amor platonicus? Don’t think so. 😀
    (Preface II: para I second to last line pretty much describes reaction…)

    Some of us might be shy to express reactions in “plain language”. So, if this commenter waxes on about art, feel free to read between the lines…


  4. If this is indeed a behind the scenes shot, I find it interesting where the actress’ eyes are focused. Can’t say I blame her, that’s where my focus would be also


    • Thanks for the comment, cindy. I’m sure if I were in a room with a topless Richard Armitage, I’d have a hard time controlling my gaze, too. But maybe Laila Rouass sees handsome man in the near alltogether more often than we do 🙂


  5. Thank you, Servetus, for your analysis and the revealing step-by-step aspects of fan-reaction to RA pictures ;o)
    With your two examples, I somehow have problems to fully enjoy them. I looked at them repeatedly and cannot really put my finger on the cause, why I do not enjoy them. They send a kind of message to me, that something is wrong. I first thought, it is the posture of Maya, but that is not the case, as you pointed out as well. Even when I blend her out, I still get the message that not all is well. So it must lie in the posture of RA himself, though I cannot tell, what it is.

    When in Spooks 7.1 he for the first time presents his tattoos, he invites the viewer to see and discover his body together with his tattoos. But here, I do not know what holds me back. I watch him, but do not feel comfortable with it. He definitely does present his body to be viewed, but something is not right for me to admire him here. He does not give me permission to admire, but just to analyze the situation he is in.
    I am not sure if I made my reaction to this sequence clear. But I think it is also why I do not feel the combination Lucas – Maya in any way sexy. His picture with her at the window gives me an impression of clinging to her, not so much comforting her. It is what RA intends to do, so nothing is wrong with that, it only makes me uncomfortable to watch it.

    Sorry for my long comment. I am not sure if I made my reaction to those two pictures in any way understandable.


    • Regarding the direction of their views, I have the impression, that someone tripped over a cable or dropped something, so both are looking there, a bit annoyed if not angry. I do not have the impression Maya is looking at RA, at the utmost at his left arm, but I think she is looking further away. Sorry for being so down to earth or, how do you say, a ‘spoilsport’?


      • I actually think she’s looking behind his back. I’ll present some evidence for this shortly. But you can’t really tell from the photo the way it was printed in the paper.


        • Thank you, Servetus, for assuring me that I am not alone. I feared I would take out all the fun, when not believing that she looked at the object of our admiration ;o)


  6. Ah, to be back and finding new Servetus posts, what joy! 🙂

    This is a wonderful analysis and I am looking forward to the next part, but still…I am not really enjoying this picture, for all its obvious attractions. That’s because I know what will follow, who this man is or at least, who the writers told us he was, ie not the heroic, damaged, loyal Lucas of series 7 and 8. I can only think that he will be dead soon and start crying again. I suppose I’ll never be able to watch series 9 again – or any new Spooks.

    Anyway, I am looking forward to the next part of your analysis, especially of the belt and the neck! 🙂


    • I think a lot of how one interprets this photo depends on her attitude to the Bateman storyline, since that’s what the people who printed it want us to think it concerns.


  7. Is there copy with this post? Because all I can focus on is the pictures. 🙂


  8. We all define the photo as being Lucas North, but if it is a set photo, is the man looking at us from the photo both Lucas North/John Bateman and Richard Armitage?


    • That’s how I interpreted it. This is the actor Richard Armitage about to play a scene as Lucas North/John Bateman.He’s getting into the character; that’s the reason for expression on his face that isn’t typical RA in RL. So things do get a bit more complicated.


      • I too think he is getting into character here while being directed but how hard that must have been to get his head around when he is famed for coming up with his own back-story to any character he plays. In the case of Spooks 9 that story was effectively demolished by the writers and he had to be someone that to his mind he wasn’t – ever. So it is little wonder we see a very unfamiliar expression! In spite of that I have to confess he does it brilliantly. The picture itself renders me quite overcome by many, and varied emotions 🙂


        • There were moments in S9 when Richard seemed slightly strained to me–don’t get me wrong, he was brilliant, essentially playing two roles in one series. But I felt this very intelligent, intuitive and talented actor who, as you said, is known for developing full back stories, really seemed just a little bit blind-sided at times this series. “Does anybody believe this?? I don’t believe this . . .”

          He had to feel a lot of this Bateman storyline was improbable/impossible and downright soap opera-ish.


          • I agree! He is definitely in character here. But there is something going on behind the scene. This photo must have been taken as a candid. It doesn’t seem posed to me. Otherwise, why the equipment in the background?


          • When I read that last sentence Angie, for some reason I read BATMAN not Bateman. Lol! It made me giggle but the Bateman story was almost as far-fetched. I still have a bit of a weird head after a migraine earlier – at least that’s my excuse!

            I’m actually very impressed at how Richard managed to play the two roles. After all he had in effect “been” this fantastic character, Lucas North, for two years and then be told “Sorry! You’re NOT Lucas but some cold-blooded murderer called John”! It must have felt like a physical blow to him for a moment. I’d like to think he said something a bit more forceful than the, “What!! What are you talking about?” comment that he quoted on his “Lorraine” GMTV interview on May 4th 2010. I know a lot of us who were a lot less polite than that!!!


            • That man can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and a sumptuous feast out of a dog’s dinner.

              I just wish the scriptwriters had shown him more respect as a dedicated actor–and some respect for the scriptors from earlier series and what they had established about Lucas. These guys did a slash and burn.

              The only thing that kept me watching the wretched series was Richard’s bravura performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t at least want to say something along the lines of “Robin Hood’s series 2 finale was effin’ bad enough–what the &*$%#@ are you doing to Lucas?”


  9. CDoart and Nietzsche, what you’re both describing as diverse reactions relate to different kinds of intertextuality that emerge from this photo. Of course we don’t see it without having seen it before, so we process the image in a particular visual / emotional context.

    Musa: yup. An additional intertextuality created by the appearance of features of the set in the frame adds our Richard Armitage vocabulary to what we use to interpret and / or react to the photo.


  10. Musa’s comment regarding who we are really looking at is interesting. Lucas, Bateman or the acttor? The facial expression is disturbing. It is one of suspicion and unease. While this can be explained by the context of the script, it can actually distract from appreciation of the body. Lucas, Bateman or the actor?


    • IMO it’s the actors we are looking at. They are preparing to film the scene, looking around at the set, maybe recalling their lines.


    • The actor preparing for the scene? We know he gets into the head of his characters. And it couldn’t have been very pleasant inside John Bateman’s mind (mind you, I still don’t accept that he ever existed . . .)


    • So interesting that we have different perceptions and feelings about what’s going on in the photo.

      I thought that the contrast between Maya’s more relaxed pose and LN/RA’s tense body makes me wonder what is really happening. I agree with Angie. Seemed to me that maybe RA was ready or in the midst of a tense scene, and someone interrupted the moment.

      Fitzg: Agree facial expression is disturbing, but also intense and emotional and even element of anger/violence…but he’s also listening intensely or observing intensely but what or who is on the other side of the camera?


  11. You probably already realize that I’m going to argue (as soon as I finish doing some packing) that the picture is powerful because it is not “either / or” but “both / and.” The direction of Maya’s gaze is ambiguous — she could be looking at at least three places — and that’s part of what makes it so effective here.


  12. When I look at the picture and think of RA, I think he looks incredible – the body, the tattoos, that fierce look on his face. The furrow between his brows and the divot in his upper lip. He is turned so that his eyes could shift and meet the viewer’s gaze in a split second and he could look at us with that passion. Exciting.

    But as John Bateman, it loses something for me too.


    • Thanks for the comment! There are a number of classical Armitage tropes in there that almost ask you to see it as Richard Armitage (even if you haven’t noticed the other clues in the photo that suggest it’s not a scene from the show)


  13. I just have to block out the whole John Bateman concept, which was so bloody ridiculous to begin with.

    I remember when someone wrote they knew someone who had blundered into the middle of a Spooks shoot and almost smacked into Richard doing a scene talking on his mobile. Richard looked annoyed then, too, as I recall. It broke his concentration, I am sure. This reminds me a bit of something along that order.


  14. Hmm, you guys are making me do a lot more looking than I’m used to. Reading the comments, I look again and it seems like Lucas/Richard and Maya/Laila are communicating very different things. He looks tense, annoyed, even angry. She, on the other hand, looks detached, tired, a little annoyed and kind of bored. Maybe the director is giving a note to RA and she’s not involved. She’s waiting for the discussion to finish. It’s strange to realize that what I thought I was looking at, Lucas and Maya in a stressful moment in the Spooks story, is actually 2 actors and (probably) a director working on a scene.


  15. […] severtus at Me + Armitage is doing a thorough analysis of this image. […]


  16. Armitage viewing always makes me have to change my panties. At 70 years of age I thought I was way past the passing of whatever it is comes from an over-wet vagina. One look at him doing anything, looking at anybody and I’m a swamp. Armitage = Fountain of Youth.


  17. @Musa, Bateman is on the other side of the camera. Or is Lucas on the other side of the camera?


  18. […] haven’t abandoned vertigo, part 2, I promise. Still working on it, and still packing. Today was an awful day, so I think that […]


  19. […] discussed this dynamic a bit in the post I made on the photo that Judiang posted (and of which I didn’t ever finish writing the second part. Oh well, I can always hope), and […]


  20. […] human to me and thus more intense. It seems weird that it was left in, although we’ve seen other images of this scene that failed to remove important details. I assume the detail is still there because at the level of resolution at which these photos are […]


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