A few weeks ago, I opened up a story in Apple News, which reprinted an article from Esquire magazine, called Why Photographer Russell James Decided to Do His New ‘Angels’ Book.
I should have picked up on subtle clues, such as it was from a men’s magazine and the fact that the word ‘Angels’ was in quotes. Sherlock Holmes would have seen this coming. Let’s blame my cluelessness on the still-lingering turkey stupor from Thanksgiving. You see, what I really love are photographs of stone angels on graves. I have taken many photographs of cemetery angels, and I’m a sap for anything angelic as part of a headstone — from crying cherubs to maidens with outspread wings to avenging angels with swords and shields.
But this article wasn’t about those stone angels at all! It was about the Victoria Secret’s ‘Angels’ and the Australian photographer who photographs them in the nude.
These are beautiful naked women. These are tastefully done photographs of beautiful naked women. These women work on their bodies. I’m sure they work out . . . a lot. I’m sure they eat healthy. Their bodies are their livelihoods, and they are gorgeous. I have no issue with the photographs. What got me angry, so angry I’ve decided to write this blog about it, was the article.
This is a follow-up book, the first one having come out four years ago. The article notes the first book was before the #MeToo movement, and the Australian photographer was, justifiably concerned about a follow-up.
“I started to ask myself, am I tone deaf? Should I even be doing a project like this?” James admits. “But as I talked to some of the girls, they were like, to not do it, for them, felt like the opposite of what the social narrative was. They said, this is about us choosing what we’d like to do it, what kind of project we’d like to do it for. Especially Kendall (Jenner) and Cindy (Crawford, who also wrote the book’s foreword) said, ‘If I’m going to do something like this, I want to do it for art — something that feels good to me and not necessarily for selling a product.’”
OK, never mind, for the moment, that a man just called grown women (I do believe that Ms. Crawford is older than 50 years old) “girls.” Maybe in Australia that’s a word for “woman.” (It’s not, but let’s not get bogged down in minutia, shall we?) That is simply the tip of the iceberg.
I assume that the product these models and the photographer are talking about is the book. But I can’t quite hear what they are saying because of the sound of the beeping truck as it’s backing up to drop bags and bags of money at their door. I further assume that a book with beautiful (tastefully done) photographs of beautiful nude women in it will never have trouble selling. State your price. Make it a heavy, thick, coffee table book with glossy pages, and promote the hell out of it. Just for grins and giggles, make the photographer tan and ruggedly handsome as well — this will not hurt the sales, and his sexy, Aussie accent will be a definite plus on the book tour.
Do you want to convince me you’re all doing this project for art’s sake? That’s easy — DONATE ALL THE PROCEEDS FROM THE SALES OF THIS BOOK TO CHARITY. There are wonderful charities out there, something like fighting childhood cancers, mental health issues, helping veterans who need adjusting to society and jobs and housing. There is no dearth of needs, no lack of poor, of hungry, of hurting. Go ahead, establish free health and dental clinics in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta. Create scholarships for the deserving, tithe to churches, donate to eradicate HIV/AIDS, contribute to centers that serve at-risk youths. In other words, do anything and/or everything but line your own pockets.
To be fair, I don’t know the photographer. I don’t know private lives of the models, and other than Ms. Crawford, I couldn’t pick them out of a police line-up. Maybe everybody gives generously to charity, maybe they clawed their way from horrific poverty and abuse and are now touring the country, advocating for victims when they’re not being photographed (tastefully) for books.
But I do know bullshit when I smell it … er, I mean read it or hear it. Like the man who says he only reads Playboy “for the articles,” or how Hooters, the national restaurant chain tried to bill itself as the family restaurant (yup, it’s Hooters, as in owls, not hooters as in boobies?! That’s right). The old, “I’m doing it for art, not money,” hasn’t been true since Van Gogh. And, in the days of the classical composers, the great composers like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven could only create thanks to wealthy or royal patrons, or starve without them.
As for me, if any big publishing house is calling me to publish a book, you can bet your sweet bippee I’m jumping onto that wagon, and then I’m going to do every commercial, every tour, and sell out so fast it’ll make your head spin … tastefully, of course.