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If psychology has much to say about sexuality that is both plausible
and insightful, I have yet to see it, although I have to confess,
I have not search very carefully. But then, sexuality is a difficult
topic. Not just because we get embarrassed talking about our most
intimate sides and ashamed of our episodes of stupidity, failure,
and cruelty, but because we lack a vocabulary to adequately capture
our feelings. We may turn to visual portrayals of sex simply because
they excite us, but it may also be in the search for the expression
of feelings and ideas that resonate with our own personal experience.
At least, that's what I say when explaining my interest in sexually
explicit photography to my peers. Most pornography is pretty basic,
relying on predictable and often sexist symbols and messages that
has been the subject of a great deal of feminist criticism. It's
very difficult to find innovative approaches to portraying sexuality.
Eric Kroll is a well-known fetish photographer - leather, PVC,
high heels, thigh-high leather, masks, and so on. It's associated
with sadomasochistic iconography. Obviously plenty of people are
into that, and plenty of other people find it shocking or disgusting.
His books Fetish Girls and Beauty Parade sell well,
I suspect. I can't say I see a great deal of interest in those
books, mainly because they seem to rely so much on tired formulae
of S/M pornography.
The Transformations of Gwen is a rather different project
for Kroll. In the Foreword he says that he and his girlfriend
Gwen reached an agreement, based on their mutual interests: he
wanted to take sexually explicit photos and she wanted to explore
her sexuality. So this 80-page book features selections of pictures
he took in their first 8 sessions; he says that they have done
over 100 sessions. Although we know very little about Gwen - she
is an attractive woman in her twenties - the fact that these pictures
are of real encounters makes quite a difference, even if they
are highly staged. They come with text that mostly describes that
happened in the sessions, making some sense of what the reader
sees in the pictures.
1. Messy Play: A tattooed naked man pours and rubs various kinds
of food over Gwen and eats some of it off her.
2. Portland Dogs: Gwen, dressed in long gloves, lacy bra, and
stockings, takes two leashed men for a walk on their hands and
knees on a country path. One licks her shiny leather shoes, and
she spanks him.
3. Jessica: Gwen is naked and blindfolded, while Jessica, in PVC,
touches and kisses her, and then whips her a little. At the end
Gwen goes down on Jessica.
4. Homage to Eric Stanton: Gwen has a "husband," Brandon,
who is disciplined by a third person, Natasha, to be obedient.
Natasha then shows Gwen how to discipline him. Later, alone, Gwen
uses her ability get her man do what she wants: Brandon goes down
on Gwen (although she is standing on the kitchen counter, so he
is facing up). Then she climbs on his shoulders, and whips him,
while the sunlight streams in through he window. Finally, with
Brandon wearing a blindfold, strapped into a gothic looking contraption,
Gwen has her way with him.
5. Mr. Boots. A bearded visitor dressed from full facemask to
high-heeled shoe in black leather visits Gwen. He lightly whips
her, and makes Gwen go out and buy him a new leather outfit, with
even shinier boots and a lacy top. This clearly excites him.
6. Ivy and Gwen 'Play." Two women play on a bed and spank
each other and try to make each other say "UNCLE." Before
it ends, the male host lays his belt across Gwen's bottom, but
she will not say UNCLE. Her bottom becomes very red.
7. Gwen Trains Her New Stepmother: Gwen disciplines an older woman,
trims her pubic hair, and pees on her.
8. Ivy Goes For A Ride: Ivy is dressed up as a horse rider, and
laces Gwen into a white corset. Brandon does Gwen doggie-style,
while Ivy puts a saddle over him and rides on top. They go at
it for half an hour. Later, Ivy trains both her 'ponies.'
What makes these images more interesting than most S/M imagery
is their spontaneity and honesty. The photographs are arranged
casually on a page, and are of various different sizes. Sometimes
there is just one image to a page, sometimes up to nine. It also
looks like there was a sense of playfulness and fun during these
sessions, rather than being utterly serious all the time. Even
though there was use of power and control, humiliation was not
the main feature of the interactions.
This book does not necessarily give great insight into the psychodynamics
of fetishism, but it at least approaches it with a fresh sense
of exploration and imagination. The pictures are sexually explicit,
but many of them are also quite funny - I've never thought of
cooked spaghetti in tomato sauce as an erotic food item, and seeing
it used her has not changed my mind. None of the images here are
intense or striking in the way that Natasha Merritt's digital photography is;
the images are relaxed in style rather than self-consciously artistic,
and quite a few of them simply look like well-lit amateur shots.
To some, that might be a weakness, but I'd suggest it makes the
book unpretentious, and makes me admire it more than I expected
© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
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.