Friday, September 09, 2016

Erotic Photography edited by Maxim Jakubowski and Marilyn Jaye Lewis

Gather 'round, children. I'm going to tell you a story of the dark days Before the Internet. Once upon a time, pictures of naked people were difficult to find, and some of us -- particularly those of us who were young and male, as I was in those days -- would go through all sorts of convolutions in order to see naked people. (Preferably attractive female naked people, in most cases. But not always.)

And so there came to be Playboy, which lived in secret places in many homes, hidden or left in plain sight by many Dads and found by many offspring. There also came to be a myriad other magazines of varying levels of smut, some of which those young strivers discovered in their homes, some of which they discovered through older compatriots, and some of which they blushingly bought with their own money and hid away. There also came to be the great Cinemax, particularly late-night Cinemax. And there were nastier, rawer items available on VHS and in remarkably expensive print form from very shady purveyors in disreputable areas usually far from where we lived.

At the same time, there were slightly older young men who thought it would be neat to take pictures of naked young women themselves. (As with so many things: many were called, but few were chosen...most obviously, few were chosen by actual naked female models.) Some did it for the sexual thrill, though they generally were very careful not to emphasize that motivation. Some claimed to be serious photographers, interested in shapes and shadows and the play of long as there was a naked female in the middle of all that stuff. Some had other motivations as well: professional photographers of other genres trying something else, hobbyists getting excited, and the much-rarer-than-claimed boyfriend of a real exhibitionist, among others. Some of their pictures appeared in the smutty magazines, but some aimed at Art -- or, at least, aimed at galleries and publications that claimed the mantle of Art, which is close enough.

Some of those photographers even made a living from it -- I doubt as many do now, in our lesser age, aiming at Art rather than a sequence of fifteen pictures of a particular woman embodying at least two fetishes for niche websites. But, in those days, many of them had big classy Art Books of their work, and some still do, even in our Internet Age.

Erotic Photography is a time-capsule of the moment after the Internet had made sex ubiquitous and open and it still looked like people would continue buying smut that they liked. (Spoiler Alert! They didn't.) It has four pages of artsy black-and-white photos of mostly pale naked young women -- of various body shapes but tending to the slim -- by each of a hundred or so photographers active around fifteen years ago. Some people will be able to make specific artistic judgments among those photographers; for me, they all looked pretty much the same kind of thing.

That's a nice thing, admittedly -- I do like pictures of attractive naked female persons, as I said above -- but I didn't see much difference between the photographers besides obvious choices of props (this set likes B&D equipment, this other set always works in inky black rooms, a smaller group cherishes the great outdoors, and so on) and, in a smaller way, models.

There are some naked men in here, but not many. And a few of the photographers are female, which didn't seem to make much of a difference. This book is older than its years, now, lapped several times by a much quicker mode of communications that is much better at delivering smut at precisely calibrated levels to all of the citizens of the world. That doesn't make it a bad book, but it might make it an entirely superseded commercial product, which is sad enough.

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