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Esther Haase is a high-fashion
photographer who makes images for international glossy magazines. Her
photographs exemplify a sense of elegant yet decadent exuberance. SexyBook
feels like a document of a fantasy lifestyle, where you are surrounded by
supermodels who dress up, undress, and kiss everyone they like. What's more,
in this fantasy world, everyone can be a supermodel. About half the pictures
seem to be taken in a lavishly furnished country manor house, with statues,
huge fireplaces, and old furniture. Breathtakingly beautiful models chase each
other around in their skimpy underwear, or wearing parts of fabulous dresses,
and tease each other with riding crops. Occasionally they entertain men: a
handsome unshaven man wearing a top hat and leather gloves runs away from them,
but then in another image stares intensely at a reclining topless girl while
she looks away. All these pictures are in sepia tones, and yet are energetic
and fun. The pace changes a little at pages 42 and 43, which has a double page
photograph of a blond model walking with a dwarf wearing a glittery top hat and
a dark suit along a garden path lined with similar top hats. It's a cheerful
and arresting picture. Turning the page, we get another double page spread
with a young nude woman holding flowers in front of her at hip level, staring
straight into the camera, while an older man wearing a straw hat seems to be
concentrating on painting a picture of her. Here the picture looks monochrome,
until we notice that in fact it is in muted color. Next we have a double page
spread of two older women dressed up playfully, having fun, sitting outdoors.
And so it goes. We see people of all ages, including children and babies, dogs
and ducks. Some of the photographs start to include deep vibrant colors, while
others go back to monochrome. They venture out into the town, and then back to
the house. Occasionally the girls stare into the camera looking sulky or
distant, but that just makes them more attractive. There is nearly always a
sense of capturing a moment, giving the viewer a glimpse of a spontaneous
moment of joy or reflection. Haase shows lots of skin, and it is nearly always
erotic, while never being pornographic. The people in her pictures are mostly
conventionally beautiful, but even those who are old or large look beautiful
It is initially tempting to dismiss
SexyBook as just a piece of fun, not worthy of or asking for serious
consideration. After all, Haase's commercial work aims at selling clothes --
she says on her website that she has the new Guess campaign. That sort of
work is all about getting people to think that the advertised product will make
them happy or cool. There's no doubt that Haase's commercial skills come into
play in this non-commercial work. Not only is the quality of the production
extremely high, but Haase also shows an uncanny ability to frame images, to
know what colors to include, what to keep in focus and what to make blurred.
These skills must make her a sought-after photographer, because few others are
able to do it quite as well. The question for SexyBook however is
whether it does more than her commercial work. It obviously doesn't provide
any social commentary, and it is a frivolous work. Yet it is very distinctive
in its style and makes no pretentious claims. Haase may be guilty of
glamorizing some aspects of the upper class European lifestyle, or indeed clichéd
erotic depictions of women, but her work is so playful that it is hard to see
this as a serious flaw. It helps a lot that she includes models who are not
conventionally attractive, giving the sense that everyone can be part of her
dream. Some of the pictures are so odd as to suggest not so much a stylish
fantasy but a hedonistic surrealism. SexyBook is an impressive
© 2006 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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