It's true that I inhabit the world of erotic photography. But I'll be the first one to admit that "pin-up" culture is not really my scene. I mean, I like the concept of pin-ups - erotic images designed to be displayed like posters - but I have a problem with the glamour industry's detachment from reality. Pin-ups are too constructed, too deliberate - the makeup, the poses, the clothes (when there are clothes). The world is naturally imbued with sensuality - you don't have to try so hard to find it. That's why, rather than making a big production out of it, I like to look for the sexiness in everyday life - and integrate it into my everyday life, instead of keeping it locked away, only to be trotted out in "appropriate" situations in front of "appropriate" audiences.
Nonetheless, I've been thinking about pin-ups lately, in connection with a photo idea that I'm working on (it's not as straightforward as simply shooting pin-ups - you'll see it when I'm finished). Plus I've been hearing a lot about Playboy ever since they made the controversial decision to discontinue the publishing of nudes in their magazine last year, and their more recent conclusion that this was a mistake (to which the world muttered a collective, "duh..."). And then I stumbled upon a tumblr site containing every Playboy Playmate of the Month going back to the very first issue in 1953 (which I hadn't realized featured that iconic image of Marilyn Monroe nude against red velvet).
So I thought it would be fun to browse through the magazine's past centerfolds (try looking up the Playmate for the month in which you were born!), and pick out some of my favorites. Now, this is going to be from the perspective of an artist - not a historian - so I'm focusing on the aesthetic quality of the images themselves (and how the models look), and not their significance, celebrity, or notoriety. Although, it is worth saying that that first image of Marilyn Monroe is easily one of the best centerfolds that has ever graced the pages of Playboy - from what I've seen. You'll find it at the end of the list.
Miss January - Susan Lynn Kiger (1977)
Miss February - P.J. Lansing (1972)
Miss March - Dolores Del Monte (1954)
Miss April - Sandra Settani (1963)
Miss May - Lari Laine (1958)
Miss June - Gail Stanton (1978)
Miss July - Heather Van Every (1971)
Miss August - Arline Hunter (1954)
Miss September - Angela Dorian (1967)
Miss October - Majken Haugedal (1968)
Miss November - Avis Miller (1970)
Miss December - Marilyn Monroe (1953)
Clearly, I favor the centerfolds from the earlier decades - particularly the '50s through the '70s. It's quite fascinating to look through these images and see how styles have changed over the years. The earlier images are more demure - romantic, even - often utilizing the soft focus technique that David Hamilton perfected. Beginning in the '70s, you start to see a lot more pubic hair that had previously been hidden by the model's pose or clothing - likely the result of Penthouse's influence. I had noted that an unusual proportion of the earlier models were topless, but wearing pants, and in hindsight, I suspect it was to avoid the possibility of showing any pubic hair, until such time as that became acceptable.
The centerfolds from the '80s and '90s have a very distinct look - to be blunt, these were not good decades for fashion. There is a lot of "big hair", and - particularly as you progress through the '90s - tan lines (once ubiquitous - as seen here, here, and here) disappear completely (rendering pale bodies exceedingly rare), and breast implants become more common, as the plastic, "porn star look" [regrettably] grows in popularity. Into the new millennium, airbrushing becomes very noticeable, while a large proportion of the models don a "landing strip" - though after about 2008, the clean-shaven look becomes increasingly common. A lot of people complain about that, but honestly, I think it's an improvement over the middle ground. I may be in the minority, but, aesthetically speaking, I don't mind either all or nothing (most people are very polar on this issue). But when you leave that little strip, it just looks tacky and artificial.
Of course, it's not that the models from the later years are unattractive. I just don't find them as appealing. Which is interesting, because it's not as if the women from the '50s and '60s aren't dated, too (and arguably more so). I'd like to say that theirs is a more timeless beauty, but perhaps it's purely subjective. But the more modern models look more like sex dolls than real women to me. Sure, they're designed to be "sexy". But, honestly, I don't think the designers are checking the right boxes. And I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with me - otherwise, these things would never have become so popular.
So maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. But in my humble opinion, if Playboy wants to maintain its reputation, and rebuild their subscriber base, they should rededicate themselves to an artistic approach, instead of this commercialized, glamour industry drivel. They're worried about competing with internet pornography when they shouldn't be in the same business in the first place! And they need to reevaluate what the phrase "girl next door" means. This isn't a euphemism for "plain-looking" - there are a surprising number of beauties out there who aren't industry professionals. But, unless you live in Hollywood, the girl next door isn't going to look like a career model - with the time and money to invest in breast implants, a constant tan, and a personal makeup artist. The girl next door is a beautiful woman, but a beautiful woman you might know - not one you'd see in porn (unless you're watching amateur porn, but let's not open that can of worms right now).
P.S. I'd never given it a whole lot of thought before, but I really like the Playboy logo. The rabbit suggests an enthusiasm for copulation, but the bow tie indicates a certain level of sophistication. It says, "yes, we're animals - we're not trying to hide that fact. But we can still conduct ourselves with dignity." And I'll be damned if that doesn't mirror my own approach to human sexuality.