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In an age where the Internet is saturated with sexually provocative and explicit images, the notion of erotic photography seems quite dated. Yet Dian Hanson and Eric Kroll aim to keep it alive with this large format collection of 55 photographers over 418 pages. For each artist, there are a few pages of images with some text. The photographers are both men and women, and they have a wide variety of styles. There are a few of the old standards -- women dressed up in skimpy maids' uniforms -- and the great majority of the models are attractive slender yet buxom young women. Yet these images often have a novelty and freshness of approach that makes them very appealing. There is no explicit sex and no erect males, but there is some apparent sex going on in a few pictures.
Some examples. Alethea Austin captures apparently spontaneous moments with her models looking straight at the camera, with beautifully composed images. Similarly, the images are Tony Stamolis are exuberant, with fresh-faced models smoking or just lying down looking at the camera. In contract, the works by Mariano Vargas are very staged and almost surreal: a nude woman sits on a couch, while above her is a photograph hands with two women on the same couch, getting ready to kiss. The colors are carefully chosen, and the composition is extremely careful. David Perry's work is less consciously artistic, but it pays attention to genre. In a wood paneled hotel room two women dress up in shiny leather and one uses a paddle on the other, while in other picture, a young woman reclines in a 1950s car, wearing heart shaped sunglasses, sucking a lollipop and holding up a worn paperback edition of Lolita. It's all a bit obvious, but it's making some effort. The photographs of Olaf Martens are more ambitious, showing women in a beautiful richly decorated house running around after each other in lacy underwear or playing with some odd looking dogs. The pictures of Naomi Harris show swingers in action: they are more documentary than erotic, and this makes them especially interesting. The major picture is of a nude woman in a specially constructed swing being sexually manipulated by a man and a woman, while 3 other people look on. A woman at the back is brushing her teeth. It is funny and curious. Alla Esipovich has a very unusual collection of black and white photographs of older women, nude or in stockings and bra. These are certainly not erotic by most standards, but her approach shows these women in an unusual setting, and brings out their character.
The disappointments of the book are in the artists who are better known: their representative work shows nothing new. For example, China Hamilton, Ralph Gibson, Petter Hegre, Richard Kern, and especially Natacha Merritt. Given that these artists have published elsewhere, it would have been more interesting to show their more adventurous work. This reflects the editorial approach to this collection of playing it fairly safe. It would have been more interesting to give a wider range of approaches, leaving out some of the more predictable artists and putting more emphasis on those who push the boundaries. Nevertheless, as a sample of current erotic photography, the book does a good job. Doubtless there are some big names they editors left out, and some new artists that others would say should have been included -- that's the burden of any editors trying to give a representative view of an area of art. This is a nicely produced book that will have at least something to please most readers.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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