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Pretty Pictures

Forbidden Fruit

I have a fascination with the lives of dead people. Or put more appropriately, I am fascinated with the collected story of people’s lives, pieced together from the scattered remains of letters, loose photos and the collected objects of their interests. I usually fantasize about who these people were, how they lived their lives and what they meant to others. Last week I stumbled on an old photo album that had an unusual effect on me. Instead of day-dreaming about the subjects of the photos, I found myself pondering on the life of the person behind the camera.

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Upon first glance, the album itself was unremarkable; a teal cover engraved with a 1940s Japanese motif. However when I opened the cover, I was immediately stunned to find a large collection of crude, minimal black and white photography of both hetero and homosexual hard core group sex from the 1940-50s.

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These photos date back to a time when sex was a subject of taboo, rarely discussed outside the boys room and restricted to whorehouses and skid row theaters. While in film and propaganda, the topic was used to simultaneously both attract and scare young people away from fornication much in the same way “Reefer Madness” targeted the subject of Marijuana use. The “deviant” activities captured in these photographs were not only frowned upon in normal public discourse, but could even earn the participant the scorn of disapproving friends and neighbors and even possibly a felony.

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Aside from the attraction of the subject matter itself, these photos are remarkably not arousing. Instead these stark images seem to portray the curious, carnal nature of sex in a candid and unaffected way. The photographer seems to take a professional approach to his work, as if capturing a human interest story from the second world war rather than an underground sex party. This collection of photos seems to be less about sexuality and more about societies acceptance of it. I wonder if that was his intention, or just my reading of it.

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I wonder what someone will say 50 years from now when my computer’s hard drive is salvaged from a box of scrap and they see the kind of smut I enjoy watching. OK, I guess I’d rather not know.

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