Shy Shamed Secret Shadowed Hidden SSSSH! – Vintage Vernacular Erotic Photography
By Victor Minx with Jim Linderman
Format: paperback or iPhone download. EBOOK DOWNLOAD FOR IPAD ($5.99) HERE
Available from: blurb.com
Alliteration has been used before to describe exposed women. Think “Va Va Voom” from a 1950′s film as a walk-on looker passes by. In this case, it applies and forms an acronym of uncanny relevance. Shy Shamed Secret Shadowed Hidden, or SSSSH! as the collection is known, covers the photos within perfectly. All the photographs are anonymous and from virtually every photographic technique which reached the popular masses. That many were tucked carefully into wallets or hidden safely in a shoebox gives an indication of their importance to the owners. That each and every one depicts a woman hiding herself gives fodder for thought.
Who do we see here? Certainly not glamor photography. Not Bruno of Hollywood or even inept figure studies. When lucky, the studio is a 50 watt bulb on a frayed cord. The spouse on occasion, but those are the “gotcha” shots…in the tub, slamming the door, bent-over at the wrong time. Pratfalls of pulchritude. More often, these are the girl next door who could keep a secret. The paid escort who snuck into the hotel. The b-girl who just didn’t mind, or needed something in return. A woman forced into it by circumstance or need. A woman choosing her own circumstance or need. Someone’s sister, mother, relative, girlfriend, lover, plaything, victim paramour or drinking companion. A human being seeking love, favor, excitement, titillation, rewards. An amateur clutching a shirt to her face, or a former novice wearing a provided mask. Intoxicated, drugged or completely in charge. There is no end to justifications or motivations…just as there is no end to the photographs. We are human, we have needs, we scheme, manipulate, tease and flaunt in equal measure. These photos do not depict games or gamers, they depict life in the most immediate, intimate and possibly, illegal moments. They depict secrecy at the most basic, intimate core.
Hapless models, often as bent and bruised as the photos. “Pristine” applies to neither. But each and every one is real, authentic as the highway is straight. Pretty? Seldom. Alluring? Again, often not. But then, both a certain humanity and glimmers of genuine beauty emerge. An accidental turn, a playful smile, a conspiring laugh. Shared moments of genuine pleasure or quirky partnership, even if fleeting, furtive and gone. The start of a long friendship or lasting love but just as likely a brief moment of social intercourse preserved only in the emulsion on yellowing paper. Strong fodder for thought. Who are these women, these neighbors, these victims or libertines?
Such images are far, far more common now, and slightly less daring. Women and men post similar photos of themselves on dating sites, risque or not, but their features are hidden by digital masks. Young boys call them “sexting” and snatch them in the hallway before sending them along the cyber-trail. But in physical form like these? There may be some at the next estate sale, if the relatives didn’t look too close.
SSSSH! is a historic collection of extraordinary vernacular erotic photographs from the earliest days of photography to the snapshot. Included are struggling camera club models, furtive photos of spouses and one-night stands, amateur Polaroid pictures and more, all displaying the characteristics hinted at by the title. Frequently beautiful but often not even pretty by controlled media standards, what emerges is a collective authenticity and humanity cutting through the artifice of contemporary notions of beauty. The photographs (and on occasion the hapless models) are often worn , but they exhibit a raw authenticity seldom seen in any context. All anonymous and unattributed, the collection is thought provoking, disturbing and ultimately entertaining in a manner never before seen.
It consists of approximately 100 original photographs Assembled by Victor Minx, the pseudonym of a prominent collector and writer. All the photographs pre-date the digital age. That is, all are unique, original, vintage photographs printed on paper and taken at or near their being taken. Most date from the 1920s to the 1960s though a few, for example the Polaroids, may be a bit later. A few may have been taken and “sold under the counter” or from the back pages of men’s magazines by virtual amateurs. They were selected for inclusion on the basis of pathos, artistic quality (or lack of it) historical interest and most of all, their authenticity.
Each photograph has something to say about the relationship between women and men, sexuality, how we define lust, legitimacy, desire, intimacy and allure. In some, the matter of commerce enters the picture.
Each photo depicts an individual, or several on occasion, engaging in behavior which was not intended to be shared in proper company, yet each was taken, preserved and exists nonetheless, regardless of convention and acceptable standards of the time. There was no after shot trickery…what the camera could do was done. If any look professional, it was and accident.
If a part of the picture is missing, it was the photographer's fault, but it might have been a request from the poser. “Hidden” may be created by the model or an inept cameraman. “Don’t worry, I won’t show your face.” Shadowed could be attributed to either. Shy, secret and shamed are complicated human emotions for which we must let the photos speak for themselves. They are so loaded with psychological and even biological implications that the participants and the collector are unqualified to discuss them. Each single picture could create emotions as wide ranging as fear, satisfaction, embarrassment, reluctance…sexual freedom, sexual repression, financial considerations, legal restraints, control or a loss of control, morality or a lack of morality, a fear of exposure or a sexual urge to do so. Who are we to judge?
The earliest photograph in the book is a cartes de visite which dates to 1870 or so. Trust as soon as a camera could take a photograph of a naked woman, it did. The vast majority were taken around the same time as the stag film was invented, short films which were shown in smokers to “gentlemen” and became a right of passage for many a young man in the 1930s and beyond. The pictures here which appear to be “action” shots could have been taken simultaneously while the films were being made. At the time illegal, but no longer, they were distributed in as primitive a manner as they were created. That practice continued into the 1980s, as photographs for the box cover were taken while the film was being made.
The largest haul of illegal erotic photographs prior to 1970 took place in 1957, when oddly enough two women were arrested in New York with some 3,000 plates and 50,000 photos. Even that number seems small when on considers the combined circulation of the top three men’s magazines a few years later topped 10 million.
Today, one adult dating service claims to have some 20 million subscribers. Virtually every one has posted a nude photo of themselves. In many cases, they are hiding their faces.
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Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, historian and author of Camera Club Girls and Shy Shamed Secret Shadowed Hidden. Both books are available from Blurb.com in print form or ebook downloads for iPad. Linderman maintains the noted blog vintage sleaze on a daily basis.