Dr. Gloria Brame posted this video of vintage dominatrix photography, going back in the 19th century.
The Seduction of Venus blog has a more detailed discussion of Penthouse magazine’s first BDSM pictorial in the February 1976 issue. It includes some unpublished photos from the same shoot.
Taking a very different approach to the likes of Jeff Dunas’ and Earl Miller’s location-based, soft-focus romanticism he [photographer Stan Malinowski] posed his unnamed models in a studio with just a standard studio backdrop and bright, even harsh, lighting.
The text, as it is, consists of a number of four line verses of poetry (you can see some examples further down) which are very much themed on the idea of one woman inflicting pain on the other. No lovey-dovey “friends who became lovers mush” or, indeed, any suggestion that really the ladies, of course, prefer men, as most of the other girl/girl sets suggested. So the text is as radical for Penthouse, as the pictures.
While it may be a bit of a stretch to associate Penthouse with progressive views of female sexuality, this pictorial and its accompanying text at least breaks with the idea of female-female sex as an adjunct to heterosexuality or associated with pastoralism and coy “friends become lovers” narratives. Despite apparent reader approval, Penthouse did not take a turn to the hardcore after this.
This is obviously a much more professional piece of work than was probably common in BDSM porn of the time, and also in a publication that had a much wider distribution and larger readership than your typical under-the-counter bondage magazine. It may have been the first-encounter for a lot of people.
The Venus Observations blog focuses on the history of American newstand porn magazines, particularly the competition between Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler and their various spin-offs and competitors. In the mid 1970s, the major magazines were in a one-step-forward, one-step-back dance between the softcore, soft-focus, lots of pubic hair, arty aesthetic and the harder, sharp-focus, exposed labia aesthetic of later decades. Fear of alienating advertisers and censors kept editors nervous, but fear of losing market share made them experiment. E.g. a nude pictorial with a 22-year-old, very young looking model wearing a tank top with “12” on it.
In February 1976, Penthouse ran its first fetish-themed pictorial.
The real barrier breaking pictorial for February, however, was one called My Funny Valentine. Penthouse had had a (comparatively) few girl/girl pictorials before but this month they published their first fetish photographs. Dressed up in leather and vinyl the girls were depicted by photographer Stan Malinowski indulging in light bondage and whipping each other.
This pictorial, in the days when this sort of fetish was very underground and not displayed as a matter of course by female pop stars, caused some controversy in the press. Letters to the magazine, however, were universally appreciative (and Penthouse did, as we have seen, publish critical letters at this point) and asked for more.
At the time, mainstream magazines were nervous about showing a woman’s anus or labia in interior pictorials or their nipples on the cover, so this must have been a bold experiment for the publishers to show this kind of underground sexuality. Perhaps they discovered, as Irving Klaw and others had discovered in earlier decades, that fetish pictorials could tap a niche market without being sexually explicit.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m interested in exploring the world of fetishes, even if they don’t have any personal appeal to me. I recently came across OPandER.com, which has a Clips4Sale store.
OP and ER clips are little dramas of jeopardy and salvation. Women get in situations in which they need medical treatment, and there’s a strong emphasis on the medical technologies and on the physical signs of the female’s experience. “Excellent acting with a dramatic breathless scene and seizure, very deep and strong chest compressions, realistic defibrillations, intubation, 12 lead ECG.” “A Nice Surgery Feature film with detailed surgery scene, black rubber mask, CPR, defib, many closeups.” Some of the scenes are apparently shot in a real hospital.
On the most superficial level, this is a way of seeing women naked. Slightly deeper, this is a way of putting women in positions of intense vulnerability and dependence. Digging in even deeper, what’s unique about this fetish scenario is that the “violence” done to the woman (defibbing, intubation, CPR, etc.) is not to hurt or punish her, but to save her. There’s a built-in excuse for getting the fantasizer off the hook for sexual guilt and anxiety.
Vintage Sleaze has a fun tidbit of kink history. Sam Menning, an actor who also worked as a photographer, took fetish pics, including the great Betty Page.
Menning eventually became the “house” photographer of sorts for Gargoyle, a distributor of 4 x 5 nude photos with a fetish bent. Mind you, they were 1950’s photos of a fetish bent…which meant play-acting with rather dim and confused models being asked to look tough…dramatic to this day, but little more than lingerie ads with the models in black. Not MY cup of tea, but someone’s.
Meanwhile, Senator Estes Kefauver was gunning for porn publisher Samuel Roth, particularly for the fetish/kink pictures Kefauver thought were published by Roth.
It turns out that Kefauver and his puritan goons had confused Sam Menning, photographer for Gargoyle Sales Corp, with Samuel Roth, publisher of Gargoyle Books. This mistake wasn’t revealed until Kefauver had Roth on the stand testifying.
The history of obscenity and censorship is the history of drawing and redrawing very fine lines in the ever-shifting sand, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.
Consider the recent case of Michael Peacock in the UK, charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 for distributing allegedly obscene DVDs. (Peacock sold DVDS via Craig’s List and his own website and magazine ads, which seems like an oddly old-school way to do a porn business these days.) The Crown Prosecutor presented two lists, one of things that would probably be prosecuted (“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”, “fisting”, “torture with instruments”) and those that usually would not (“mild bondage”, “fetishes which do not encourage physical abuse”)
UK newspaper the Guardian has a piece on the recent discovery of a bronze token specifically made for spending in Roman brothels in Britain.
While the Putney token has been hailed as a rare discovery from Roman Britain, such artefacts showing similar scenes were actually well known in Renaissance Italy. Scholars in the 16th century didn’t know what they were – maybe something to do with the reputed excesses of the emperor Tiberius? – but they did leap on evidence of ancient Roman erotic art. Anything from antiquity was considered noble in the Renaissance, so these “coins” (as they were misnamed) licensed saucy 16th-century art, including Giulio Romano’s famous series of pornographic illustrations I Modi.
Again, this ties into Howard Bloom’s “strong misreading” idea I talked about earlier, that this misunderstanding of a given text (the token) fertilizes more creativity.
My brief history of erotica has been posted on BDSM Book Reviews:
I would argue that the bulk of what is categorized as erotica today can be traced back to two highly influential books, one from the early twentieth century, the other from the middle, both by women, both with women protagonists being initiated into exotic realms of pleasure, both widely dismissed as sensational, pornographic, misogynistic trash.
Davis, Tracy C. “The Actress in Victorian Pornography” in Garrigan, Kristine Ottesen. Victorian Scandals: Representations of Gender and Class Ohio University Press, 1992
It was a widespread assumption in the 19th century that actresses were whores. The actress was the most common female occupational type in pornography of the period, and some pornographic works explicitly referred to actual actresses. Actresses in turn danced on the edge of decency in see-through white dresses, body stockings and “breeches roles,” i.e. cross-dressing as men.
In the weekly serial magazines, available for as little as one penny and with circulations of hundreds of thousands, actresses were depicted in knee-length skirts, exotic Oriental harem trousers, men’s fencing costumes or breeches, intermixed with nude or semi-nude pictorials included spanking and lesbianism. The sexualization or fetishization of the costume itself is what’s at work here.