The slaves look like a bunch of well-groomed boys on a beach whose sun-bathing and chatter has been disturbed by a tall dark stranger, rather than a group of fearful, over-worked, down-trodden victims under the lash. One senses they're more impressed by the guard's nudity than his whip.
There's actually another more interesting picture hidden within this one, comprising the two standing figures only, try visualising it. Of course, either of these interpretations may be exactly what Wright intended the viewer to see, this is the age of 'hidden eroticism' (see label below for more).
There's no explicit detail (well maybe a suggestion) but that hand couldn't get any closer to it and we know that all will be revealed as soon as his wet sponge makes contact with the captive's underpants. It would make a good video passage. The dripping tap on the left makes it clear that the sponge is indeed wet and also suggests general sexual excitement. There is additional significance in it's juxtaposition relative to the sponger's backside, connect that with the faces of the two men which have been given distinctly different, 'fem' and 'butch' slants.
|Wright - Slave Market|