From time to time I receive portfolios or photographs of beautiful women in suggestive poses, clothed or not, fondling a part of their body or that of another woman.
On this occasion, upon opening my mail and seeing the first photograph, I was transported back to the 1970s, and the name of a photographer who produced a series of highly erotic images of young women, slightly foggy or blurry, in a gentle, tender setting, came to my mind… Sometimes the bodies would be tangled, leaving the rest to the imagination. The photographer’s name was David Hamilton and his book was called Bilitis.
I was barely 18, and while I had been exposed to brutal sex in a brothel several years earlier, the Playboy magazine, which in those days featured women showing off only their breasts, their thighs, and their buttocks, would always cover their most intimate parts. While one part of me wanted to see more, another part protested: “No, Leon, let your imagination complete the picture.”
That’s how I grew up, with magazines full of erotic photographs or illustrations. The illustrations were drawings of beautiful women in translucent negligée, whose naked bodies (apart from their intimate parts) were balanced on high heels. Their long legs and their breasts were shaped like projectiles, plump and straight, with even more prominent nipples. We were as one: these breasts and these taut nipples resembled my erections—full of imagination and capable of journeying into any part of the galaxy. Like in The Little Prince, I traveled uncharted territories, dreamed and imagined what it would be like to caress and play with those unreal beings. I couldn’t believe that these “delights” really existed. I still can’t believe it…
The photographs in this exhibition emanate the same aura of elegance, eroticism, fantasy, desire, guilt, satisfaction, and nostalgia for a past that will never return… Buy the latest issue of Playboy showing beautiful naked women—the same magazine that used to print photographs of college girls or the playmate of the year, and where one could find some of that eroticism that infuses Helmut Newton’s photographs or Vargas’s illustrations which had once delighted us and filled us with fantasies. Leaf through it, it’s still pretty classy… But it’s not as it used to be. Playboy, too, has succumbed to the digital monster which thrives on cheap pornography (not that I have anything against pornography or prostitutes, whom I find charming). But why kill off what has always delighted us in painting, sculpture, and elegant and delectable images, namely Eroticism?
Note: Although I don’t know their names, I would like to thank the authors of the above images for their taste and their understanding of beauty and eroticism.
– Leon Constantiner
Leon Constantiner has been the most proeminent Helmut Newton collector’s and one of the major collectors of fashion photography. He sold part of his collection in december 2009 at Christies New York.