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From Poppet on a Swing to Birds on Bikes


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

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From Poppet on a Swing to Birds on Bikes

12 Apr 2021 8:28AM   Views : 630 Unique : 358

Over to Phil Taylor again… And I’m leaving this unillustrated, for two reasons: first, neither Phil nor I have useable ‘glamour night’ shots: in my case, because I don’t have model release forms from the photographers who need to be visible. And second, because if this blog carried an ‘18’ tag, far fewer people would read it. But search in the galleries for ‘glamour’ and you’ll find a few examples: and there’s always the BBC play, Glamour Night to be found on YouTube if you’re so minded.

John’s recent blog on the 1960s film Blow Up and attitudes to models and the like got me wondering if photography, and male photographers have had a sleazy, sexist image.
His mention of ‘Blow Up’ immediately brought to mind the Harry Enfield parody of it, under the title of ‘Poppet on a Swing’ (can be found on YouTube) which distils the original into a few minutes perfectly. Then, for some reason it got me thinking about the impression that non-photographers have about photography’s attitude to women, and where it might come from.

It also gave me fond memories of my love of David Bailey’s early 60s work that inspired what I call my ‘Sooty Period’ in the 1980s, nothing to do with a yellow glove puppet and its nasal Northern keeper, but printing everything on Grade 4 paper with burned in skies and black edges.

Now, I’m 60, straight, and male. That may colour my view of the world where attitudes to gender have changed in my lifetime. Even saying that you are male seems problematic to many nowadays; I was looking at the NHS website yesterday, and I noticed that the term Male had been replaced with the term ‘if you have a penis’. So, on with my rant.

Throughout my formative years, I noticed that Amateur Photographer seemed to delight in putting scantily clad females on the cover, and frequently had advice on ‘glamour photography’ within its covers. There always seemed to be a feisty debate within the letters pages of whether it was appropriate in a magazine about cameras and photography. I suspect that many men possibly saw it as an acceptable form of pornography to bring home. If caught looking at ‘handy tips for snapping buxom babes’ you could always hastily turn to the review of a Pentax Spotmatic or some Soligor lenses. It was certainly viewed that way in popular culture; Sue Townsend’s first Adrian Mole book had him being given some unsold magazines by Mr Singh the newsagent, namely Big and Bouncy, and another one called Amateur Photographer… Of course, it wasn’t just Amateur Photographer, all the photo magazines of the time went for it. The short lived 1980s magazine ‘Photography’ from my hazy recollection shied away from the swimsuit and lingerie covers, but at least treated figure photography as an art form, I remember interviews with Bob Carlos Clarke for example. Now, Amateur Photographer has seen the error of its ways, and is quite happy to point out in their ‘From the Archive’ section that their world has changed.

Photographic books of the time seemed to revel in laddish language, MJ Langford’s 1974 book ‘Professional Photography’ seemed to split photographic careers into those for men and women. It seemed to put men behind a camera, and women in roles such as darkroom work and filing their nails in the studio reception. Of course, when the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act was passed, technically such stuff was supposed to be despatched to the history books, but outside of wedding and portrait photography, women are still very much a minority in the professional field. Then there’s the writing of AP columnist Victor Blackman which on reading it afresh in a copy of his book ‘My Way With A Camera’ that I acquired recently reads more like the adventures of Austin Powers with an SLR. Now, is it me, and these attitudes were prevalent in society in general, or was there a toxic masculinity in photography?

Of course, it would be crazy to say there were no prominent female photographers, and insane to deny the contributions of Sally Soames, Jane Bown, Dorothea Lange, Julia Margaret Cameron, but they don’t seem to have had much influence on the work of the average camera club amateur.

Manufacturers, dealers and distributors seemed to persist in trading on the allure of the female form. I’ve attended pretty much every one of the big annual trade shows over the years from Photography at Work, Focus on Photography, Focus on Imaging and latterly The Photography Show. For some inexplicable reason, exhibitors seemed to think that what everyone wanted to see was ‘a bird on a bike’ to provide something for visitors to photograph. Now some of the gallery contributors who enjoy posting those images of men on motorbikes that would sell well as birthday cards perceived to be attractive to men over 40 might be able to correct me, but a swimsuit might have health and safety issues when riding a powerful machine throbbing between your thighs, not even accounting for the goose pimples from posing in the NEC with snow outside. Strangely in recent years, I don’t recall seeing this kind of ‘photo opportunity’. Maybe the organisers and exhibitors have decided that belatedly attitudes need to change.

The NEC shows seem to bring out something predatory in many of the blokes I see. Why take your camera and long lens to an exhibition about cameras? You rarely see them taking photos of equipment, a fine example of a well lit still life or other visitors, oh no, it’s the opportunity to photograph ‘a woman’. You’ll see it all the time at any demonstration of lighting equipment. The NEC has plenty of daylight, there’s a model posing to demonstrate a softbox and a hairlight or whatever, the ambient light is overpowering any signs of whatever is being shown until the shutter is pressed, and the result from the tethered camera is splashed up on a big screen. Now, to my mind the images they come away with are pointless, unless they were tethered to the same Pocket Wizard channel as the demonstrator. It just seems to be the excitement of photographing a female model. I feel sorry for the women being subjected to this, it’s obvious the men are not taking any notice of the lighting setup, as that’s not being looked at, the modelling lights will be giving funny colour shifts, but these snappers will be happy to post this stuff as ‘all my own work’.

Older readers will remember a St Helens retailer known as Fishwicks, they used to have an annual ‘Fishwicks Fair held at a racecourse outside Liverpool. They are long gone, having gone ‘tits up’ following financial trouble and a slow decline, but the one fair I attended sticks in my mind for two reasons, I was introduced to Fuji Neopan 400 with a free roll that converted me until I got into shooting colour exclusively, and the presence of the ‘Fishwicks Glamour Studio’. Lines of blokes were queuing up for the privilege of photographing a young lady (or ladies) in the novelty attire of matching bra and panties or a swimsuit. I’m told by women that for various reasons having a matching bra and knickers every day is unusual, maybe that was the attraction? It was all a bit schoolboy looking through a knot hole in a fence to watch the girls playing netball. Lighting was provided by high powered tungsten lights that were uncorrected for daylight balanced film. The results would crop up in camera club exhibitions repeatedly. I even remember seeing a camera club prospectus where one evening was devoted to ‘Work From the Fishwicks Glamour Studio’. Probably all had orange casts from the machine prints or transparencies.

Now, I think that people should be free to decide what they see, there’s been a bit of a debate in EPZ about censorship, and what is acceptable to view. Are guns acceptable? I remember a front page I had of a Crimewatch bank raid reconstruction – let me tell you a 24mm lens isn’t what you use close up with blank firing shotguns, is that acceptable? A body in a coffin, following a murder – another front page, or a sheep that had been put down having been eaten away by fly strike – that one was deemed unsuitable for publication. To me, all these things are just representing the fallen, spoiled world about us. Now, years ago at the evangelical church I attend a number of members had little cards issued by the National Viewers and Listeners Association (think Mary Whitehouse), which folded up into something resembling a Toblerone, bearing the complaint numbers of the back then four TV channels. I remember thinking that using the remote, and moving on or reading a book instead of ringing to complain was more logical. So, you might draw a conclusion from my religious background that I’m prudish, but one of the best sermons I ever heard was on the beauty and joy of sex. The story goes that afterwards one of the clergy was visiting an older member of the congregation who was hospitalised after a heart attack. The vicar asked what had happened, and the patient explained that he had been so inspired by the sermon…

So, where are we today in a world where pretty much any variety of pornography can be accessed freely, where people can take photographs of each other in private without having to worry about the censorious eyes of a minilab operator, a rising concern of women about male behaviour, balanced with young women ‘influenced’ so much that they look as if they have been varnished and stuck shrews to their eyebrows, where some claim of being ‘objectified’ but Ann Summers is still trading, and there’s a fascination with ‘celebrity’.

I’m all ears, and keen to see what others have to say, whether they have a penis or not, as we seem to have to say now.

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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
12 Apr 2021 8:30AM
I, also, am all ears... All contributions welcome - and feel free to let your imagination (or, perhaps, memories) roam.
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
12 Apr 2021 3:01PM
Everyone is very quiet today? I always found 'contains graphic images, which may offend' is brilliant clickbait.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
12 Apr 2021 6:18PM
137 views as lockdown eases isn't a bad total so far, Phil.

And the problem with 'potentially-offensive' images is that the whole blog is locked away from non-members of EPZ, as well as members who've chosen the no '18' images option...
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
14 Apr 2021 2:40PM
Well, views have shot up, but oddly no comments. I'm genuinely interested in other viewpoints.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
14 Apr 2021 8:52PM
Me too.

It feels like the people who buy Playboy for the politics and rock music have been passing by...
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
15 Apr 2021 4:08AM
I think that the problem is that fringe groups can hijack things too easily, both now and 'back in the day'. As you say John, the TV viewers and listeners association was pretty much composed of Mary Whitehouse and one other. More recently Nigel Farage managed to get prime time exposure on a daily basis on both sides of the Atlantic despite not actually having any position of authority to justify such exposure. As you say, there always tends to be a large proportion of the population who like to be aroused and, if you recall many years ago, Channel 4 had their Red Triangle adult films on TV at pub closing time on a Friday night and the ratings went though the roof. So I suppose that we photographers and others need to take some degree of responsibility about what we display. Although we should use common sense and shouldn't censor images purely to keep on the right side of those snowflakes who seem to think that everyone has a right to rant to the world about how upset some totally trivial experience has made them!
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
15 Apr 2021 4:36AM
Oh, the good old red triangle. Great marketing device.
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
15 Apr 2021 4:56AM

Quote:Oh, the good old red triangle. Great marketing device.

Definitely, plus I saw things on the Red Triangle films that I've never seen on the TV before or since and that definitely won't ever be shown again. Mind you I wasn't too impressed with the film with people eating toast with upright nail clippings embedded in it - ewww. Definitely not 'tasteful'!
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
16 Apr 2021 2:12PM
Not tasteful. Crunchy, maybe...

We all have our hard limits.

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