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The Transformations of GwenReview - The Transformations of Gwen
Volume 1
by Eric Kroll
NBM Publishing, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Dec 21st 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 51)

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 I would.

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© 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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