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Love Lust DesireReview - Love Lust Desire
Masterpieces of Erotic Photography for Couples
by Michelle Olley
Thunder's Mouth Press, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Nov 9th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 45)

Looking through these pictures confirms a dreadful suspicion I have had for years -- I am quite abnormal! Nearly all of these pictures, apparently masterpieces of erotic photography, leave me cold. I'd expect to find them far more appealing, because the premise of the book sounds great. It takes recent photographers from fashion, style, high quality fetish magazines, and glamour. The introduction talks about the recent history of the portrayal of the erotic and at least suggests that the images that the editors chose go beyond the stereotypes and predictability of mainstream eroticism and pornography. Forty photographers and over 150 photographs are selected here for their ability to portray love, lust and desire. It makes a fascinating document of the current range of erotic photography, and some of the images are striking or intriguing, but nearly all are highly staged, artificial, and passionless.

Maybe these pictures are meant to be about sex, rather than be sexy. Maybe this is really an aesthetic enterprise than a turn-on. For example, Michael Childers has one sepia toned black and white high definition image, "Untitled from Hollywood Voyeur," in which a couple sit by a swimming pool. She sits up, with a kind of net over her head and tied behind -- it's a little like a white bridal veil. She is in fact, on close inspection, a good looking store mannequin. He is certainly a real person, or at least, if "studly" male models are real people. He leans back against her, his chest to the camera, turning his head behind him to place his mouth against her breast. It's an odd picture, formal in its pose, humorous, and silly.

In "Oshan and Maria at Twirl," Doris Kloster also uses humor. It's black and white, obviously in a studio. A woman lies on a short leopard-skin sofa immersed in the Financial Times, one shoe off, one shoe on. Kneeling beside her, in a page boy costume, kneels another woman, holding the first woman's bare foot in her hands, extending her tongue to lick the big toe.

I don't get it. I don't know what these two pictures, or many others in this book, are meant to be doing. There are plenty of pictures in this book which don't hide their purpose -- regular pictures of people doing sexual stuff. There's no explicit sex here, no erections, penetration, or anything as explicit as you would find in Hustler, Penthouse, or even Playboy. There's quite a few bodily piercings, tattoos, leather, women kissing, licking, or touching each other, and men and women in sexual positions. But most of them seem unexceptional, clichéd (for example, China Hamilton, whose work has been reviewed elsewhere in Metapsychology), or just plain silly. To be blunt, they are tastefully arty pictures with a sexual theme, with little ability to really provoke viewers to thought or feeling. It's a coffee-table book, for those with coffee-tables in their bedrooms. It compares poorly with Nerve: The New Nude, which avoids most of the mistakes of Love Lust Desire.

Having said that, there were some images and photographers I liked. Especially stylish and humorous is the work of Pierre et Gilles whose gay-themed set pieces have a sense of fun. They are so artificial in their colors, poses, and settings that they seem postmodern without taking themselves seriously. Then there are a couple of images by Leeanne Schmidt of nudes in water, with faces not visible, where the play of light and texture is remarkable. There is a series of photos by Bob Carlos Clarke, called "Black Tie Ball -- London, 1995" which look very real, of young couples, lying on a wooden floor, probably drunk out of their heads, groping each other. It's not a particularly erotic series of pictures, but they are wonderfully evocative and even poignant.

For the images I liked, I want to search out other work by those photographers. If it is possible for photography to count as erotic art, and I don't see why it should not be possible, then one needs to get a sense of the work of the artist: to see just a few pictures from each photographer doesn't tell the viewer enough about what the artist is attempting to do, and makes it impossible to really grasp the full force of the images.

Looking through these pictures confirms a dreadful suspicion I have had for years -- I am quite abnormal! Nearly all of these pictures, apparently masterpieces of erotic photography, leave me cold. I'd expect to find them far more appealing, because the premise of the book sounds great. It takes recent photographers from fashion, style, high quality fetish magazines, and glamour. The introduction talks about the recent history of the portrayal of the erotic and at least suggests that the images that the editors chose go beyond the stereotypes and predictability of mainstream eroticism and pornography. Forty photographers and over 150 photographs are selected here for their ability to portray love, lust and desire. It makes a fascinating document of the current range of erotic photography, and some of the images are striking or intriguing, but nearly all are highly staged, artificial, and passionless.

Maybe these pictures are meant to be about sex, rather than be sexy. Maybe this is really an aesthetic enterprise than a turn-on. For example, Michael Childers has one sepia toned black and white high definition image, "Untitled from Hollywood Voyeur," in which a couple sit by a swimming pool. She sits up, with a kind of net over her head and tied behind -- it's a little like a white bridal veil. She is in fact, on close inspection, a good looking store mannequin. He is certainly a real person, or at least, if "studly" male models are real people. He leans back against her, his chest to the camera, turning his head behind him to place his mouth against her breast. It's an odd picture, formal in its pose, humorous, and silly.

In "Oshan and Maria at Twirl," Doris Kloster also uses humor. It's black and white, obviously in a studio. A woman lies on a short leopard-skin sofa immersed in the Financial Times, one shoe off, one shoe on. Kneeling beside her, in a page boy costume, kneels another woman, holding the first woman's bare foot in her hands, extending her tongue to lick the big toe.

I don't get it. I don't know what these two pictures, or many others in this book, are meant to be doing. There are plenty of pictures in this book which don't hide their purpose -- regular pictures of people doing sexual stuff. There's no explicit sex here, no erections, penetration, or anything as explicit as you would find in Hustler, Penthouse, or even Playboy. There's quite a few bodily piercings, tattoos, leather, women kissing, licking, or touching each other, and men and women in sexual positions. But most of them seem unexceptional, clichéd (for example, China Hamilton, whose work has been reviewed elsewhere in Metapsychology), or just plain silly. To be blunt, they are tastefully arty pictures with a sexual theme, with little ability to really provoke viewers to thought or feeling. It's a coffee-table book, for those with coffee-tables in their bedrooms. It compares poorly with Nerve: The New Nude, which avoids most of the mistakes of Love Lust Desire.

Having said that, there were some images and photographers I liked. Especially stylish and humorous is the work of Pierre et Gilles whose gay-themed set pieces have a sense of fun. They are so artificial in their colors, poses, and settings that they seem postmodern without taking themselves seriously. Then there are a couple of images by Leeanne Schmidt of nudes in water, with faces not visible, where the play of light and texture is remarkable. There is a series of photos by Bob Carlos Clarke, called "Black Tie Ball -- London, 1995" which look very real, of young couples, lying on a wooden floor, probably drunk out of their heads, groping each other. It's not a particularly erotic series of pictures, but they are wonderfully evocative and even poignant.

For the images I liked, I want to search out other work by those photographers. If it is possible for photography to count as erotic art, and I don't see why it should not be possible, then one needs to get a sense of the work of the artist: to see just a few pictures from each photographer doesn't tell the viewer enough about what the artist is attempting to do, and makes it impossible to really grasp the full force of the images.

© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.


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