Tuesday, July 22 2003

Topless, lifeless

I want to like Page3.com. Viewing attractive young women who are wearing little or no clothing is a hobby of mine, one I’m unlikely to give up any time soon. And, indeed, some of the pictures work just fine for me: pretty girl, nice smile, healthy body, real breasts, no piercings, few or no visible tattoos.

Most of the time, though, I find myself wondering if I’m looking at a woman or a RealDoll. The blank stare! The static pose! The aftermarket accessories! It’s like those giant inflatable liquor bottles: great advertising but no substance.

The model is rarely the one at fault. There’s a magazine out there called Perfect 10 that promotes “natural” beauty with horribly artificial photos. I’ve met and photographed a number of their models, and in every case the woman was more physically attractive in street clothes and normal makeup than half-naked in the pages of this rag.

I can say the same for a number of popular Page 3 models. Most of Beverley Goodway’s work avoids this trap, but even he has occasional lapses. I’d chalk it up to 30+ years of experience if I hadn’t seen how good most of his early work was. Shame he just retired from the business.

I think the problem comes down to two conflicting desires: wanting to appeal to the broadest possible market, and wanting to appeal to a specific targeted demographic.

The mixed bag of pictures on Page 3 leans toward the former. There is no longer a distinct “Page 3 look” because they’re trying to have something for everyone. A dozen variations on “vapid” stirred in with the classic smiling pin-up.

Playboy errs in the other direction. The centerfold shoot is so ruthlessly formulaic that personality and charm are usually the first things to be chainsawed out. I’m still amazed (and gratified) that they let Angela Little smile in almost every shot, and dumbfounded that they somehow managed to force Julia Schultz to stop smiling long enough to shoot her pictures. I suspect the liberal application of an electric cattle prod.

Perfect 10 is just crap. In every issue I’ve examined, the photography is uncredited and most of the models are unidentified. Worse, the photographer is clearly more concerned with demonstrating his technique than with using it to show the model at her best. The fact that the publisher apparently wants to grow up to be Hugh Hefner but ends up looking more like Bob Guccione is just icing on the cake.

Wait, where was I? Page 3, right. Maybe there’s a third component I’ve overlooked above: “lad-mag culture,” or what I think of as Entertainment For Frat Boys. The inconsistent quality of the page 3 pictures may simply be the result of setting their standards just high enough to keep the regulars from complaining, and no higher. The continued presence of Goodway would then be “because somebody upstairs keeps paying him; we don’t really know why.”

It’s certainly common enough in the British nude magazines. The (*cough*) editorial content in Paul Raymond mags like Mayfair and Men’s World has never been what you could call “highbrow.” In the mid-Nineties I was buying these magazines because they were about the only places outside of Playboy that were still publishing decent photos of realistically proportioned nude women whose heads were in the picture, but I couldn’t actually read them. Playboy, you can read the articles in (well, pre-Kaminsky, anyway; it’s sinking fast); Mayfair, not even with most of your brain cells scooped out.

The best American example would be Maxim. The occasional competent cover photo doesn’t compensate for the inevitably-poor photography inside. This is another rag that is more interested in how cool the photographer is than in how attractive the subject could be. The articles are Mayfair-grade at best.

I’m sure I was going somewhere with this, but I kept getting distracted by the tits. Maybe that’s explanation enough.