Wednesday, May 20, 2009

PART 3A - TECHNOLOGY'S ROLE IN PORN


When you look at the history of modern pornography, you see that the photographic capturing and marketing of the naked human form has had a series of ups and downs, throughout which the realm of the pornographer was very small and covert. Challenges abounded, limiting the acquisition and distribution of pornographic images. It is only very recently that porn has become so easy to produce and access.

The first "camera" came into being in 1827 at the hands of French inventor Nicéphore Niépce, who figured that a metal plate coated in certain chemicals might actually be able to record an image when exposed to light. His first successful photograph was crude and took several hours to expose. But as he was the only man in the world with a camera he was a very exclusive individual. However over the next 30 years, photographic science would take a sufficient number of leaps and bounds that photographers would soon be popping up in every city in every industrialized nation on the planet. And of course, photographers, being artists, began training their new mechanical eyes on the human form in the nude.

In 1841 the invention of the negative allowed photographers to make multiple copies of their images, thereby facilitating mass reproduction and distribution of their work. But the following year the US passed an obscenity law that made it possible for the government to seize pictures it deemed obscene. With the advent of the Victorian era and its accompanying conservative social views, the distribution of nude photos had to be conducted with extreme discretion. And in 1873 the Comstock Act was passed prohibiting the distribution of obscene materials through the mail. This would be a major roadblock for the would-be pornographer for a century to come.

In 1900, Kodak released the first commercial camera for the everyday man. One would think that the market for amateur porn would have opened wide up. But, as the film – in fact the entire camera – had to be sent back to Kodak for processing and the prints then had to be mailed back to the customer, taking nude photos was a very risky pastime for the amateur photographer. Eventually, darkroom supplies would become available to the amateur photographer, allowing him to process his own risqué photographs at home. But that pesky Comstock Act still got in the way of allowing him to distribute his nude photos. Despite demand, the porn business remained very much underground.

In the 1920’s Kodak introduced the 16mm Cine-Kodak home movie camera. But again, as the film needed to be mailed to Kodak for processing, the Comstock Act made amateur porn an undertaking for only the most brazen.

In 1948 Edwin Land marketed a camera that used a proprietary new film that needed no darkroom or outsourced processing to produce photographs. He called it the Polaroid. Now anyone who could afford a Polaroid camera could take his own porn pics. One still couldn’t distribute them easily. But the middleman and expensive darkroom equipment were cut out of the equation, and underground personal porn was finally available to the average consumer. The Polaroid enthusiast would enjoy this new artistic and technological freedom for the next 60 years.

During the Second World War, in order to keep the morale of soldiers high, the Pin-Up Girl made a debut. With the Victorian mores fading in the distant past, not too many eyebrows were raised (although a number of soldiers’ members were) as painted images of dames with their skirts hiked up made the rounds throughout the military barracks. Following the war, a more relaxed atmosphere toward nude images led to a number of photographers, largely in Southern California, taking "professional" pin-up photos. Female models, mostly. But a few bold souls entered the realm by taking beefcake photos of the influx of strapping young men coming to Hollywood for a chance in the motion picture industry.

While all but the most prudish among the public could accept the existence of the pin-up girl, the pin-up guy was another story. A few photographers such as Bob Mizer, Bruce of LA, and Lon of New York were arrested on obscenity charges (under, you guessed it, the Comstock Act). Some, like Mizer, argued in court that their photos were artistic representations of the human form. And to circumvent the Comstock Act, Mizer added literary and educational content to his Physique Pictorial magazine which he marketed at newsstands and by subscription through the mail. Hugh Hefner would follow Mizer’s lead and incorporate articles and nude photography on glossy paper stock that would ultimately make Playboy the leading men’s magazine of its day and garner Hefner a publishing empire.

Mizer and others also began making films of naked men… sometimes the subjects did nothing more than pose in the nude, or lounge around in posing straps. Other times, Mizer had his models act out silly and strange little stories that, through various plot devices, culminated in the models getting naked and wiggling around to rock and roll music. They were tame and goofy films by today’s standards, but they were risqué little shorts in their time. And of course, these movies were shot on 16mm film – which required processing at a lab. Mizer and his contemproaries located kindred spirits in the film processing business who would develop their films and reproduce them on the sly. Because of the stigma against gay porn and the nature of film to degrade over time, few examples of these early gayporn films exist today.

(Part 3B will examine the next phase of technology and how it made porn a common form of entertainment)

Footnote: The current owner of Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild (AMG), Dennis Bell, has been re-releasing Mizer's erotic films on DVD. To order, or for further information, go to http://www.athleticmodelguild.com/

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