Time Out Reviews IV
NOTHING BUT THE GIRL - THE BLATANT LESBIAN IMAGE
Ed. Susie Bright & Jill Posener
It's been five years since the last "photographic art" book was thrown to lesbians hungry for lust-laden imagery. The cry for decent lesbian pornography (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) wells up regularly but is rarely or utterly quelled. Now, for your delectation, there is `Nothing But The Girl', a well-endowed collection of B&W photographs of steamed-up sapphics in seductive, confrontational and feathery poses. It's all here, spread-eagled across page after wipe-clean page: "Pierced Labia! Bulldagger! Black femme! Fat dyke! Giant cunt! Naked old lady! Bimbo in a blonde wig!"
In the introduction, Susie Bright claims that she "could not know what it means to be a lesbian" had she never cast a rheumy eye across these pictures. Surely there's more to living a lesbic life than paÆnting over photos of scantily-clad dykes? But I digress. It took ten years to meld these works into a single compliation, and it could be described as a virtual A-Z of maverick and insubordinate representations of lesbian sex from America, Canada, Europe and the UK. But is it salubrious?
Technically the work is widely variant, from Lola Flash's uninspired negative prints to Tee A. Corrine's superimpositions of cunts on trees, from stylised B&W studio shots to snaps taken on rooftops and in bars. As with any collection there will be photographs that make you go "Hum...", "Ugh!" or "Ooh Aah!" But when portfolios fail to get you hot under the collar, you can point a finger at the fact that while the eye of a camera is truly honest, it can never quite capture the essential sensations of having sex. It's not a fault of the photographers. It is a problem that has plagued virtually every image of sex you'll ever see, even your own Polaroids and camcorder classics.
So whiÕle these photographs are very nice to look at, giving rise to a strange poignant mix of empowerment, arousal and repulsion, are they really "So beautiful and flat-out fearless you might think you'd died and gone to Valhalla"? Could be... if you discard the fact that there are familiar names and heaps of recognisable images: if you don't have the calendar, you've probably got the postcard. Unless, of course, you have spent the last ten years living in a radical feminist collective...
There may be some on the radical fringe who still brandish crowbars while screaming that "Porn is violence against women!" but we no longer have to worry about the vigilant vagaries of the Sisterwrite co-operative (who stridently refused to put such books as Della Grace's `Love Bites' on their shelves) as the infamous bookshop has shut down. Silver Moon also refused to stock Grace's tribute to `Ruff Sex' but solely because of legal advice that certain images in the book would contrav^ene the Obscene Publications Act. "We were nervous about stocking it," says Sue Butterworth, "because, as a middle-sized single outlet, we could not take the risk of expensive legal action." But they are stocking `Nothing But The Girl' despite the fact that the controversial buggering image has been reproduced in all its glory, never mind the pictures of cunts and dildoes left, right and centre. A brief moment of excitement came with the realistion that there may have been a fundamental change in attitudes since `Love Bites' came out. "It's not that we didn't like it," Butterworth asserts. "That had nothing to do with it." The reason Silver Moon has agreed to place `Nothing But The Girl' in the basement is because GMP or Grace weren't dragged into court: the chance of it happening to Freedom Press, Bright or Posener is so slim that it's worth the gamble. And no doubt a tidy little profit into the bargain.
Possibly in order to nip radical feminist criticism (aka censorship) in the bud, Bright and Posener have given ample space to the artists to explain their influences, methods and histories of libidinous endeavour and creative graft. There's even commodious margin space reserved to rebuke those judicious feminists. Adding these two facets together makes for a superb testament to both the S&M and vanilla aspects of lesbian sexuality. And if you think you won't like those portraits which are a tad more "raunchy", then Bright presents an unassailable argument that you'd be "much like little kids who are offered a vegetable they haven't seen before: `That's disgusting!' `But darling, you haven't tried it!' `I don't care, I hate it, I hate it!'" Really, do you want to be so puerile or pious to miss out on such a magnificent book? Thought not. You better clear a space on your coffee table now.
by Suzy McKee Charnas
There has latterly been a dearth of gratifying tales of blood lust and vengeance, stories weaved into a world ravaged by ecological catastrophe and weakened by a barbarous civil war.
`The Furies' charts the fortunes and failures of a draggle-tailed but obstinate group of women (`Free fems') who escape the brutality of their masters and plan to wreck exacting and horrifying revenge. Under their leader Alldera and her lover Daya, the fems journey to the place of their captivity and there, slaughter the men who enslaved them. Once the fems have quenched their appetite for butchery, they attempt to establish an equitable community, while trying to avoid "the very horrors they sought to destroy."
As is the nature of fantastical novels, the language may be a bit florid at times, but Charnas had created a domain where a dark sense of foreboding exists. There are bristling exchanges galore, more than a handful of windswept moments atop a hill, and some nasty death scenes. It would be easy to dismiss it as a kind of swashbuckling romp, but the characters are deeper, the descriptions far more vivid.
`The Furies' is the last part of Suzy McKee Charnas' trilogy which began with the two-volume `Walk To The End Of The World' and `Motherlines' (1989) but the three segments are as truly distinct from each other as they are complimentary.
by Stella Duffy
I opened "Wavewaker" without reading its predecessor, "Calendar Girl" and with the knowledge that the author had originally "meant to write beautiful art but ended up writing a detective book." Given this, I wonder whether I can be truly fair, but I'd only read 40 pages before I started to question whether the author should have stuck to her original premise and simply ditched the dead body and therefore the need for a lady `tec.
There's an adage that says people should write about the things they know. The central bolt of "Wavewalker" is a man who has set up something of a cult in London and San Fransisco under the guise of therapeutic healing but Duffy's frequent references to his actual work are almost half-hearted.
The heroine, Saz, is pretty redundant: you know who the villain is on page one and by page 160, his guilt has been laid bare without much actual probing or proof positive. Inbetween, some of the descriptive work is strangely overstated. Take the opening line: "He looked down at the syringe in his hand. It was shaking. Both his hand and the syringe were shaking." There are thumbnail sketches of the characters (which is insufferable if you haven't read the previous book) and elsewhere, there are clumsy passages which try to bring you up to speed on a blatantly obvious plot.
People pop up, disappear and reappear in a novel which traverses time as if it doesn't exist: I was confused until I realised that there were flashbacks. But for all this, "Wavewalkers" is oddly readable, but I'm still not sure if the fascination was because of the story or because of the way in which it's been written. Ask me again when I've read it twice.
WHAT IS SHE LIKE?
Lesbian Identities from the 1950s to the 1990s
Yet another Cassell title hits the shelves and an extortionately-priced one at that. What Is She Like? is all about identifying ourselves and analysing our experiences; something of an eternal quest in the community and one that many publishers seem eager to cash in on. The idea is to peek at how lesbians view themselves in terms of "politics, leisure pursuits, fashion and affiliation." Wide ranging? In depth?
Ainley (better known as an editor than a writer) has included the list of questions she used on her subjects, from "What influence does your lesbianism have on your life?" and "What does being a lesbian mean to you?" to "Do you see yourself as par of a particular group of lesbians?" There's even a whole chapter devoted to "What do SM dykes wear to work?" and in case you're wondering, it's platform sandals.
Ainley didn't tell all of her subjects that she was a lesbian, but admits (over at least three pages) to feeling "mildly surprised, resigned or annoyed" that other women didn't suss her out. Her appraisal of the lesbian scene is either totally out of date or completely out of whack. It isn't brilliantly written either, swinging between bog-average observations and terribly psuedo-intellectual philosophy.
It's interesting enough if you're into either introspection and retrospection or just like those old dyke tales. Still, you could simply ask your friends what they think being a lesbian is all about. For me, it certainly isn't about spending £14 on two hundred pages that tells me absolutely nothing new.
All © 1993-2001 Megan Radclyffe
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