Former Playboy Bunnies Photographed Decades Later In Provocative Portraits

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When the renowned photographer Robyn Twomey visited the Former Playboy Bunny Reunion, she shot simple and engrossing headshots of women who had been Playboy Bunnies decades before, hoping the capture the complex and often contradictory nature of their former field. On one hand the women are mesmerizingly assertive, and yet, traces of vulnerability and self-consciousness mark their wrinkled brows.

Often, the women appear empowered by their sexuality, and their expressions border on the confrontational. Abandoning any show of passive feminine gentleness, a woman spangled in hot pink costume jewelry adopts a laissez-faire posture normally associated with masculinity, pursing her lips into a smirk and tossing her shoulder back with calculated attitude. Another makes an orgasmic facial expression, relaxing her lips around her open mouth, boldly pressing her breasts towards the camera.

Yet within these powerful and stunning individuals lies a poignant anxiety over growing older, one that boarders perhaps on self-doubt, expressed through a turn of the eye, a furrowed brow. A few turn away from the camera, staring into to the corner of Twomey’s tight frame with strained smiles or almost bashful eyes, their features and the passage of time made more noticeable by make-up that glistens under the bright lights.

Each woman is deeply sympathetic and beautiful, but the work calls into question the ethics of societal pressures enforced by brands and magazines like Playboy. When budding sexuality is valued above all, and when young women are both objectified and exalted, where does that leave aging women? The work is far from an indictment of its subjects; instead, it captures the complexities of a controversial industry that toes the line between supposed empowerment and potential degradation. What do you think? (via BUST and Feature Shoot)

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Ryohei Hase’s Hellish Monsters Capture The Beauty And Terror Of Human Experience

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The subjects of the painter Ryohei Hase’s work are, in his view, sadness and gloom; with his mythical paintings, he builds his own bestiary of wolf-man hybrids and skull-faced monsters, weaving tragic narratives in shimmering grays and black-blues. Like religious triptychs, his paneled images seem to narrate a darkly imaginative story of innocence, violence, love, and redemption.

Hase’s use of baby animals is anything but cute; tiny, effeminate rabbit heads are used to convey a sorrowful isolation that centers around the assumed innocence of the young. In contrast to the animal-headed figures who tear at each other’s throats, a young, downy rabbit head sits atop the body of a young woman as she delicately peers at the ground, her breasts barely poking out of a white brassiere; again, we see her as she lays in her lonesomeness, naked on the ground.

As the narrative progresses, these human beasts fall from innocence into experience, now wolf-headed and like hysterical ancient Greek maenads, women lock bodies with one another in battle, breasts jangling and nipples erect. An antlered man claws at the bloodied head of a wolf; a clan of pig-headed humans gaze at a roasted pig, their cannibalism and cruelty seen in their glistening sweaty brows, their gleaming red eyes. As these animalistic men fall into anarchy, they descend into an evermore hellish landscape.

Through the epic series are notes of love and redemption within a fallen world; a gentle wolf head welcomes a collapsed women into his realm, lovingly bracing her fully-human body. Men die, their skulls ripped from the back of their heads, and yet they keep running, peacefully and determinedly looking into the future. In fallenness, there’s color and seduction; a rainbow-encased lioness wears only a pair of barely-there panties, and a dead fish man drifts to the bottom of the ocean, leaving a magnetic fiery glow in his wake. (via Juxtapoz)

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Malika Gaudin-Delrieu’s Touching Photographs Of “A Happy Hermaphrodite Prostitute”

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“Hermaphrodite [sex … is] the sex of the angels,” explains Claudette, an intersex sex worker, to the photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu. The pair began their collaboration after meeting in Claudette’s native Switzerland, where Gaudin-Delrieu was documenting the country’s legalized prostitution. With her recent series of photographs, the artist elegantly dispels stigma around complex gender identities; as seen through her lens, Claudette is a woman, a husband, and a father.

Ideas on prostitution, a field often associated with the abuse and exploitation of women, is also complicated by the work. Here, sex work is seen as a means of self-actualization and joy; “Claudette is the opposite of a victim. She controls her life, makes her choices clearly and knowingly. She does more than just live her life, she loves it,” says Gaudin-Deirieu of her subject. A courageous activist for sex workers’ rights, our protagonist stands before a dark auditorium, bathed in spotlight, silently inhaling, poised to speak.

Laced throughout the work are subtle moments of love and intimacy. The series, romantically titled La vie en rose (presumably after the love song by Edith Piaf, a prolific French singer who was cared for by sex workers), focuses in part on Claudette’s 52 year marriage to her wife Andrée. Claudette’s quiet warmth and affections, seen in her and Andrée’s sleepy embrace, permeates throughout the entire visual narrative; with the same profound care, she counts her earnings, dresses in lingerie, rubs her neck.

Claudette describes her work as “[assuming the role of] ultimate femininity […] with happiness and a sense of relief,” and her nuanced relationship with her sensual yearning shines through in the images. We follow her as stops in the street, seduced by a lingerie shop window, as she dresses herself, fingering the textured fabrics as they cling to her body. Claudette’s life, as seen through streaming sunlight and soft darkness, is magnetic, alluring, and unexpectedly soothing, and viewers are left to ponder an indescribably complex global sexual and political landscape. What do you think? (via Feature Shoot and HuffPost)

Writer’s note: Gaudin-Deirieu’s work and this post are in no way meant to be taken as a generalization of the lives of sex workers; instead, they are meant to highlight the life an individual. As the artist explains, there are as many views on prostitution as there are people practicing it. For many, it’s a form of abuse; for Claudette, it is not.

The word “hermaphrodite” is usually considered to be offensive, and in no way is this post meant to condone or encourage the use of the word under most circumstances. Here, it is used only because Claudette herself identifies with the word. 

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Awkward Family Photos Exhibits Only The Most Embarrassing Childhood Portraits

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The magic of the family photograph lies in its flaws, and the curatorial team at website Awkward Family Photos has reminded us of this fact by collecting and cataloguing all of our charming photographic failings and reminding us that for every perfect chiclet smile, there’s a disgruntled side-eye or a bad haircut. The online collection is a testament to the bonds of family, and each accident betrays the touching vulnerability of each relationship.

The family photo album is a fragile, private thing; when made public, these images constitute a powerful and uncomfortable archive of American tradition and cultural shifts. While a photograph of mother, son, and daughter dressed to the nines in shoulder-padded polka-dots and acid wash jeans might have been swell in the ’80s, it serves now as a painful and permanent reminder of our fleeting coolness and relevance. In one image, a young man seductively holds a live snake; in a similarly embarrassing assertion of power within the family, a father superimposes himself over a cheesy portrait with now-outdated technology.

As family structures and fashion choices continue to shift, Awkward Family Photos is a visual historical narrative worthy of being preserved. And it will have its moment of glory in an upcoming exhibition at Santa Monica’s California Heritage Museum. The collection is to be arranged and hung in accordance with the following categories: “Family Portrait, Siblings, Vacation, Kids, Holidays, Weddings, Dad, Mom, Grandparents, Birthdays, and Family Pet.”

Exhibition goers will be invited to sit for their own portraits, which are to be added to the collection. This refreshing series is about embracing the awkward within us all; through each image, there are clear hints of love, charm, and unabashed playfulness. (via My Modern Met)

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Vintage Porn Transformed Into Poignant And Loving Pieces

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The artist Stephen Irwin’s work reinterprets the erotic; by scratching away and obscuring unnecessary content from found vintage porn imagery, he constructs a more emotionally climactic vision of love making. Like faded, far away memories of sexual encounters, his images only recall the most poetic and visceral sensations: the insertion of a finger, the flicking of a tongue, private moments of masturbation.

Unlike the work of someone like Von Brandis, Irwin’s images challenge the pornographic inclination to objectify the body, evoking moments of mutual bliss that transcend the material form. Irwin’s hands, limbs, and genitalia stand in for individuals, blurring their identities and ultimately pin-pointing a moment of worshipful self-actualization. The point of orgasm is elevated to spiritual heights when mouths cry out to the heavens. In a particularly sensual piece, the careful insertion of fingers into the vagina harkens back to illustrations of the doubting Thomas fingering the wounds of Christ.

These moments of ecstasy, however, are painfully brief; body parts emerge for an infinite blankness, vanishing just as soon as they appear. A deliberately messy black marker erases the figures, leaving only shadows in its wake; again, a shaded limb fades into whiteness, as if pushed down by a firm hand on the buttocks. The artist’s choice to use vintage images operates as yet another reminder of the temporality of climax.

These images are gloriously unstable and unreliable; for many, it’s impossible to tell if the original pornography was a sketch, painting, or photograph. Here, the lines between fantasy and recollection, between the corporeal and the spiritual, are miraculously indistinguishable. (via Juxtapoz)

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Banned Photographs Of Gay Couples Kissing In Catholic Churches

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For the series “Trialogo,” the Catholic photographer Gonzalo Orquin captured images of homosexual couples kissing in centuries-old Italian churches; beneath the ornate ceilings, the lovers’ embrace harmonizes with the architecture, elevating gay love to the religious beauty and devotion normally associated only with heterosexual marriages. By locating each shot within a religious and cultural context that has opposed marriage equality, Orquin courageously asserts the sacred validity of same-sex love.

The artist deliberately positions each pair at the church alter or in the center of the frame, visually uniting them under gilded crosses, vivid paintings of the crucifixion, and engravings of biblical passages. Like the churches themselves, architecturally built around the sacred concept of symmetry, the lovers are powerfully balanced, each assigned equal visual weight. Where one leans in for the kiss, the other braces to accommodate the movement. Heightening this notion of harmony and equilibrium, each couple is linked by similar clothing choices: two leather jackets, two dark suits, two soft cardigans.

Orquin’s lovers are seen as fully realized unit, unified under the Christian ideas of balance and wholeness. They complement and nurture one another as they bask in a golden glow, lit by radiant daylight steaming into the sacred spaces. Upon seeing these moving images, viewers might recognize the virtue and spiritual value that romantic love affords humanity, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Sadly, an exhibit of Orquin’s images, set to open last fall at the Galleria L’Opera, was legally threatened and ultimately shut down by the Vatican on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. In the eyes of the Catholic church, the photographs would “offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.” Orquin has articulated his outrage against the decision, and the work continues to spark passionate debate. What do you think? (via HuffPost)

Orquin’s beautiful photographs will be on display in New York’s at the Leslie+Lohman Museum this May.

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Alicia Martin Lopez’s Nightmarish Paintings Imagine Our Inner Demons, Secret Fears

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The artist Alicia Martin Lopez gives form to her emotional demons through her darkly seen paintings; imagining the shapes and tones of oft-repressed memories and desires, her work dares to plunge into the depths of human fear. With their infinitely cavernous black eyes, Lopez’s disquietingly amorphous characters invite viewers into the nightmarish dreamscape of our own psychological narratives.

Lopez’s frightful beings inhabit a space outside the confines of time; day and night blur together as light pours in and leaks out of the scene without cause. The monsters are wildly unbound, floating in midair, drifting on water, or holding desperately to rock formations, toes clinched with uncertainty. Like thoughts that flood the darkest corners of the human psyche, the beasts may appear at any time in any place, haunting the mind’s eye without warning.

As soon as they rear their heads, however, the creatures are woefully repressed; one octopus-like animal sits confined in a cell, his crooked neck craning to accommodate a sickly grey face. Like our own private demons, Lopez’s creatures are starved of attention and psychic nourishment, kept bottled in the murky depths of subconscious memory. They each stare downward as if collapsed by the space above them, their bodies bracing against the weight of repression. A flying squid’s wings appear as if crushed by exhaustion; sea creatures’ bearded faces droop into impossibly still water, their sorrowful expressions reflected back at them.

These animals are a tangible reminder of memories and sufferings that refuse to stay buried; collapsing in upon themselves, they beg for our recognition. In granting form to formless worries, the artist suggests that our psychological demons are perhaps less fearful than they are beautifully, mournfully sympathetic. Take a look. (via Hi Fructose and Juxtapoz)

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Grotesque Paintings Of Toddlers And Tiaras Are Both Alluring And Revolting

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In “Honey Boo Boo’’s Amurrican Starquest” and “Beautimous,” the painter Ingrid V. Wells creates saturated candy-colored portraits of the young stars of TLC’s reality television series Toddlers And Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The hit show follows the world of child beauty pageants, filming in homes and hotel ballrooms across the country; Wells’s paintings remove these made-up living dolls from this context, hurling them into an unsettling space where dreams and nightmares collide.

In many ways, the work is fantastical and wondrous; painted in watercolors and “girly-girl” tones, the figures are as fanciful as pages of a picture book. In the world of pageantry, the toddlers are shown as princesses, gifted with an endless supply of jewels, unicorns, sunny days, and balloon animal pinkness. The sit enthroned and proud, hoisted to the highest heights by fame and fortune.

Upon closer inspection, though, the pageant girls are seen through a lens of despair and disgust. Their saccharine smiles melt under the sweaty pressure of thick paint, mascara and lipstick desperately oozing from their pores. Wells transforms the medium of watercolor, using the normally delicate, ethereal paint in heavy, unappealing globs. The unicorn is revealed to be a pig, an animal symbolic of excess; her gleaming, swollen utters hang, and she, like the girls who awkwardly bear their midsections, is suddenly cast in a profoundly uncomfortable sexual light.

Here, prettinesss becomes both revolting and dangerous; beneath their bedazzled cupcake dresses, the girls are defeated, their eyes cast down in sorrow, still tragically yearning for a judge’s approval. (via BUST and Huff Post)

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