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 panting 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 while 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 contravene 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.
©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Time Out 1998
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