Category Archives: aesthetics

Introducing Alva Bernadine and icon of erotic art #39

Introducing Alva Bernadine and icon of erotic art[1] #39

Back in the day, when I was still editing, I had amassed a list of erotic photographers I thought were important. The list consisted of Alva Bernadine, Gilles Berquet, Guy Bourdin, Steve Diet Goedde, Nan Goldin, David Hamilton, Irina Ionesco, Richard Kern, Doris Kloster, Eric Kroll, David LaChapelle, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Steven Meisel, Carlo Mollino, Helmut Newton, Man Ray , Bettina Rheims, Paolo Roversi, Thomas Ruff, Jan Saudek, Jeanloup Sieff, Romain Slocombe, Roy Stuart, Jock Sturges, Ellen Von Unwerth, Trevor Watson and Theodore Zichy.

Today is the day to introduce Alva Bernadine, a man whose work is a fusion of the erotic and the surreal.

Alva Bernadine (born June 17, 1961) is a British photographer born in Grenada, West Indies, and brought to London at the age of six. He is self-trained and has photographed for Vogue, GQ, Elle and others. Winner of the Vogue/Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Award, he was also twice nominated English “Erotic Photographer of the Year.” His book Bernadinism: How to Dominate Men and Subjugate Women was published by Stemmle in 2001 with text by Nerve cofounder Genevieve Field. His work is self-admittedly inspired by Guy Bourdin, shows influences of the Distortions series [2] by Hungarian photographer André Kertész. Bernadine describes himself as an anti-portrait photographer, since he rarely shows faces, which gives his work that distinct forniphilia/sexual objectification* look. A recurring theme in his work is the mirroring of a female from the waist up/down[3][4].

The Philosopher Illumined by Candlelight – Alva Bernadine (image used with permission of author)

I’ve chosen his work The Philosopher Illumined by Candlelight as the current icon of erotic art. The photo depicts a man in a suit sitting in a darkened bedroom reading by candlelight. The lighted candle is protruding from a woman’s vagina. The picture has elicited comments of sexual objectification and misogyny. Objecters find more “proof” of Bernadine’s “misogyny” over here[5].

On the accusations of misogyny he says:

“I don’t really think about that [accusations of misogyny],” he declares. “Normally, I get an idea for a picture and if I can’t think of a good reason not, I take it. I can’t censor my own stuff.”

“That doesn’t bother me much, … you bring your own experiences to a picture. Sometimes I am surprised at the way they’re interpreted, but every opinion is as valid as mine because I haven’t usually formed an opinion before I’ve taken the shot. It’s only later that I work out the ramification. My work isn’t about subtlety. I need a reaction. It’s better to be a bad influence than no influence at all.”

On his inspiration for Illumined Bernadine commented:

“I once listened to a late night BBC Radio 4 programme called Sex in the Head where people described their sexual fantasies and on it a woman described how she enjoyed her partner reading his newspaper by the light of a candle placed in her vagina.

The image stayed in my head and 2 or 3 years later I was able to find a couple who agreed to model for the picture.”

You can find more by Bernadine at:

*In the forniphilia/sexual objectification/erotic furniture category belong artworks such as Chair, Table and Hat Stand[1] (1969) by Allen Jones and Les Krims‘s Heavy Feminist with Wedding Cake [2] (1970).

John Ruskin @190 and Siegfried Kracauer @120

British cultural critic John Ruskin (18191900), who I’ve mentioned here[1] would have turned 190 today if such a thing were possible.

By the same token, German cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer (18891966), would have celebrated his 120th birthday. I’ve mentioned him here[2] and here[3].

John and Siegfried were both cultural critics. Ruskin largely dealt with pre-industrial society, Kracauer with modern mass culture.

John Ruskin is best known for his work as an art critic and social critic, but is remembered as an author, poet and artist as well. Ruskin’s essays on art and architecture were extremely influential. He is perhaps best-remembered for the books Modern Painters, The Stones of Venice; the speculations surrounding his sexuality; and the art controversy with James Whistler on Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket.

Siegfried Kracauer was a German-American writer, journalist, sociologist, and cultural critic, particularly of media such as film, as well as the urban form. His best-known work is From Caligari to Hitler (1947), which traces the birth of National Socialism via the cinema of the Weimar Republic.

Kracauer analyzed and critiqued the phenomena of modernism‘s mass culture. He built up a general theories based upon dozens of smaller examples. His attention to detail lends itself to an inductive method. He was one of the first to treat the cinema seriously; in it he saw a mirror of social conditions and desires.

He applied his methods in such works as The Detective Novel, The Mass Ornament, The Salaried Masses, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film and Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.

From Caligari to Hitler by Kracauer by you.

German edition of From Caligari to Hitler

I like to imagine that From Caligari to Hitler sheds light on the process of desiring-production by Deleuze and Guattari on the one hand and Wilhelm Reich‘s fundamental question — why did the masses desire fascism? on the other.

Desiring-production is a term coined by the French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their book Anti-Œdipus (1972). They oppose the Freudian conception of unconsciousness as a “theater“, instead favoring a “factory” model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack, but a real, productive force. They describe the mechanistic nature of desire as a kind of “Desiring-Machine” that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger “circuit” of various other machines to which it is connected.

Avant-garde and kitsch in the early 21st century

Today is Clement Greenberg‘s centennial

Crying Boy (?) – Bruno Amadio

Best-known for his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch (1939) he is more of an author to acknowledge rather than to admire. His above mentioned Avant-Garde and Kitsch is one of the first texts to one finds when one researches the two extremeties of the artistic experience: avant-garde and kitsch. Two terms coined during the industrial revolution, the first in Paris, the second in Berlin.

Avant-Garde and Kitsch does not deliver. Much more interesting and related reading are The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Benjamin, 1936), Notes on Camp (Susan Sontag, 1964) and The Aporias of the Avant-Garde (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1962). The intimate connection between avant-garde and popular culture was first celebrated in the 1990 exhibition High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture.

I have a separate entry on death of the avant-garde.

Combat de nègres dans une cave pendant la nuit

Negroes Fighting in a Cellar at Night predates Malevich’s, Black Square on a White Field by 31 years.

As a term avant-garde was replaced by experimental in the 1960s.

Clement Greenberg (19091994) was an American art critic closely associated with the abstract art movement in the United States. In particular, he promoted the Abstract Expressionist movement and had close ties with the painter Jackson Pollock. He is the author of Avant-Garde and Kitsch. Such was Greenberg’s influence as an art critic that Tom Wolfe in his 1975 book The Painted Word identified Greenberg as one of the “kings of cultureburg”, alongside Harold Rosenberg and Leo Steinberg. Wolfe contended that these critics influence was too great on the world of art.

He introduces his essay by juxtaposing forms of popular culture and high art:

“ONE AND THE SAME civilization produces simultaneously two such different things s a poem by T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover. All four are on the order of culture, and ostensibly, parts of the same culture and products of the same society. Here, however, their connection seems to end. A poem by Eliot and a poem by Eddie Guest — what perspective of culture is large enough to enable us to situate them in an enlightening relation to each other? Does the fact that a disparity such as this within the frame of a single cultural tradition, which is and has been taken for granted — does this fact indicate that the disparity is a part of the natural order of things? Or is it something entirely new, and particular to our age?”[1]

In the fourth paragraph he starts his defense of the avant-garde vs Alexandrianism (academicism).

“It is among the hopeful signs in the midst of the decay of our present society that we — some of us — have been unwilling to accept this last phase for our own culture. In seeking to go beyond Alexandrianism, a part of Western bourgeois society has produced something unheard of heretofore: — avant-garde culture. ”

Greenberg is a flawed writer. He uses scare quotes as clarification more than 30 times in this text.

His assessment of kitsch is shortsighted. He explicitly equates academic art with kitsch and vice versa. He is right to connote kitsch with the industrial revolution. Possibly he read The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction written three years earlier, which has the same kitsch/industrial revolution analysis but with much less of the judgementalness.

See also: cultural pessimism and elitism

Art’s Birthday

Fogos Copacabana 2009 - Fireworks over Copacabana 2009 by augusto.froehlich

Click for credits

The highbrow world is excited by “Art’s Birthday” which will take place in two days on January 17. “Art’s Birthday” is an annual event first proposed in 1963 by French artist Robert Filliou.

The lowbrow world already celebrated art’s birthday at midnight December 31 with the various fireworks. Talk about sumptuary excess. And synchronicity. Think about how many mouths can be fed with what went up the air. For entertainment. And yet I totally understand. I enjoy fireworks and consider them a primeval art.

I’ve previously posted[1] about sumptuary excess, expenditure and the general economy.

Filliou is co-responsible for: An Anecdoted Topography of Chance.

An Anecdoted Topography of Chance (1966) – Daniel Spoerri, Roland Topor
[FR] [DE] [UK]

I am the Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul

I am the Dying Gaul

This is my death scene, I was not given a deathbed. I do not represent the most famous death scene. I am outdeathed by Jesus Christ who died on the cross and Jean-Paul Marat , both after me.

I seem to have been born in a culture of death, yet I was not given any last words. This fascination with death in Western culture. Why? Why so pervasive?

Why did Jane write A Death-Scene?

So I knew that he was dying-
Stooped, and raised his languid head;
Felt no breath, and heard no sighing,
So I knew that he was dead.

Why this fasicnation with crime scenes?

Why did Andy Warhol produce The Death and Disaster paintings?

And why is every sensationalist  corner of video-libraries around the world filled with copies of Faces of Death?


Bonnie and Clyde

Why do we enjoy the slow motion death of Bonnie and Clyde and countles other movie death scenes?

Aristotle, had I known him, would have answered me:

Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.Aristotle via the Poetics.

Baldassare Castiglione @530

The Book of the Courtier (1528) – Baldassare Castiglione

Baldassare Castiglione (1478 – 1529) was an Italian diplomat and author, best-known for his book on etiquette, The Book of the Courtier, which came to play a role in the 20th century aesthetics of cool* by having defined the concept of sprezzatura, “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it”. To this day, the Book of the Courtier remains the definitive account of Renaissance court life.

La Cortegiana by Aretino

The Works of Aretino by Samuel Putnam, illustrations by Franz von Bayros

Pietro Aretino‘s (1492 – 1556) La cortigiana is a parody of The Book of the Courtier. Like in so many of Aretino’s books, it gives center stage to a woman rather than a man (courtier is the male form of cortigiana, cortigiana entered French as courtesan and was later appropriated by the English language).

From a Jahsonic point of view La cortigiana deserves just as much attention as The Book of the Courtier.

Le notti peccaminose di Pietro l'Aretino

Le notti peccaminose di Pietro l’Aretino

La cortigiana focuses on the romantic and erotic aspects of Renaissance life, a sensibility explored in the 1970s in the Italian film genre decamerotico, a subgenre of the commedia erotica all’italiana. Notable in this respect is Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights); but more so with regards to Aretino the Italian film Le notti peccaminose di Pietro l’Aretino[1], starring Adriana Asti and Elena Veronese.

While researching La cortegiana, I came across this sublime photo [2] of a female with an hourglass shaped body.

Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude (2000) – Dick Pountain, David Robins [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

*”The aesthetics of cool were most successfully documented” in Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude. –Sholem Stein

Pete the Meat Puppet


Diesel ad “Pete the Meat Puppet

Since very young, I have been an advertising junkie. So much creativity can be found in the medium, and it is not hampered by the egos and pretentions usually found in the art or music worlds. That is probably why I focused on the applied arts between my twenties and thirties.

I’ve featured Diesel previously twice on this blog. A ‘minotaur‘ street ad here[1] and very fun film SFW porn film from earlier this year here[2].

The unkown artist is probably a fan of Zappa and The Residents.

Guy Bourdin @80

Charles Jourdan ad, 1976

French fashion and advertising photographer Guy Bourdin (19281991) would have celebrated his 80th birthday today had he not died of cancer 17 years ago.

I’m not sure when I first consciously came in to contact with his oeuvre, but I am pretty sure it was in the terra cognita that the internet has become by way of this page[1] from the site of music and culture connoisseur Phinn.

Today, a wide selection of his videos is available on YouTube[2]; a large number of his films can be found on Flickr and on the internet at large[3].

However, and although I cannot confirm this, I feel that I had seen the imagery of Bourdin in the pre-internet world, in a Dutch-language magazine called Avenue, which my parents bought during the seventies. It was The Netherlands’ and Flander’s first glossy, and ran from 1965 until 2002. Contributors have included Paul Huf, Eddy Posthuma de Boer, Ed van der Elsken and Inez van Lamsweerde. I distinctly seem to remember the Charles Jourdan shoe photo-ads Bourdin produced during that era. Not coincidentally, Avenue reminds me of that other glossy, Nova magazine, which I covered a couple of weeks ago[4].

To me, Bourdin can only be compared to his contemporary Helmut Newton (although admittedly I’ve also tentavily compared Ralph Gibson [5] to Bourdin) because in the words of Charlotte Cotton and Shelly Verthime he “emphasised fetishism, power relationships, and the potential for sexual violence, as well as the artificiality of the image, its gloss rather than its reality.”[6]

I’ve reported on Bourdin many times, and I am glad that I saw his retrospective at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and was given as a present Luc Sante‘s first monograph on his work: Exhibit A: Guy Bourdin

You can find Bourdin’s work all over the net.

Avenue van A tot Zero

Can anyone ID the photograper of this cover image?

For something different here[7] is a photo of a cover from Avenue.

Introducing Harry/i Peccinotti

penguin75_frontcover by bsjohnson_info.

Penguin Modern Poets 25 also features a photograph of female lips smoking a cigarette, one of his trademark image tropes.

The Woman of Rome by Moravia by you.

Alberto Moravia‘s 1976 Penguin edition of The Woman of Rome

I haven’t properly introduced Harri Peccinotti, the man celebrated in the previous post on Nova magazine.

Harry Peccinotti (born 1938, London, UK) is a photographer and art director. He was Nova magazine‘s first art director and regular photographer throughout. He also did the Pirelli Calendars of 1968 and 1969, with designer Derek Birdsall.

He also provided the cover photograph for Alberto Moravia‘s 1976 Penguin edition of The Woman of Rome and contributed photographs to The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics.

Penguin Modern Poets 25 also features a photograph of female lips smoking a cigarette, one of his trademark image tropes.

He has designed record sleeves for Esquire Records.

He is still working with fashion stylists such as Charlotte Stockdale and Antje Winter.

Nova magazine 1965 – 1975

Nova 1965 - 1975 by Pavillion Books

[FR] [DE] [UK]

Check these prices! Cheapest at €250, most expensive at €800. More on expensive books over at Bookride.

I found out about Nova magazine when researching Harri Peccinotti

Pirelli 1969 – Harri Peccinotti

Nova magazine was a monthly British style magazine of the “Swinging London” era published from March 1965 until October 1975. It foreshadows publications such as The Face and i-D. Molly Parkin was the founder and first fashion editor at Nova, she was succeeded in 1967 by Caroline Baker who collaborated with the likes of Helmut Newton, Harri Peccinotti and Hans Feurer, Byron Newman and Armet Francis.

The book Nova 1965-1975, compiled by David Hillman and Harri Peccinotti, and edited by David Gibbs, was published by Pavilion Books in 1993.

P.S. I’m looking for a scan of Up Tight by Parkin with Harry Peccinotti’s cover shot of a French model wearing see-through knickers. Anyone?

See also: