An installation art project I started working on two months ago has been steadily mutating, and it’s really taken on a life of its own. I began collecting horrid old vintage men’s magazines from obscure publishers active in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and rephotographing them to create more abstract work out of the originally lurid and sometimes clinical images of men and women pretending to have sex for the camera.
The project took on a strange direction when I found my lens gravitating to the words and images that were the least enjoyable, the least evolved in terms of modern attitudes about sexuality and how men and women relate to one another; the most crass and vulgar the text, the more relevant it seemed to be in the collection of images I was growing.
It took me a long time to decipher what this growing collection of abstractions was telling me; as I worked with the images I discovered a glaring contradiction. One one hand you have the attitudes toward the women involved in the creation of the original images and the fact that those women are in fact the backbone of the work–the lurid men’s magazines with their sexist–and occasionally possibly criminal–language (an ad for “knockout pills” was particularly troubling) could not exist if not for the participation of the models.
All at once, these mags showcase their models, while seeming to disdain or at the very least, take for granted, their participation at the same time.
I found that selective re-photographing and re-interpretation of the original work has actually in some cases increased their potential as actual erotic material. Cropping out clinical attention to specific body parts in favor of more suggestive arrangements seemed to enhance the originals, but the power of these re-interpreted images as more abstract impressions of this world are the real goal of the work.
Vintage men’s publications are time capsules that can be studied for clues about where American society has been and where it might be going. They have much to teach us once you get past the content and visual approach.
The show is called Adult Landscapes and I’m currently processing and curating the images I’ve been working with. Once the installation has been finalized I’ll announce show dates and more details.
The video below was one of my early first steps toward this work–I originally had a less focused idea in mind to showcase retro odditites on vinyl and in print, but as I continue to shoot photos in this series, the adult men’s magazine aspect has taken over. Not surprising since this subject matter raises so many questions and creates plenty of opportunity for dialog about the culture of these publications, but also Fair Use, appropriation, and repurposed work.