Mayfair magazine

I wasn’t sure about posting an article about Mayfair magazine. A big part of me wants to ignore this top shelf publication. On the other hand, it is a reflection of UK culture. And on balance, even though it is past its heyday, the significance of the magazine cannot be ignored.

The magazine is of greatest interest to me in the time period before it was taken over by the Paul Raymond brand in 1991. It was in these editions that carried full page and double page advertisements for alcohol, car, technology and tobacco brands from that era.

There was even a public health advert.

It was this that gave the magazine a degree of respectability. But as the 80s turned into the 90s the advertising nose dived. A typical late-70s/early-80s edition would have a dozen or so adverts. Just before the publishers sold the magazine, there were only three or four.

So, was the drop in advertising revenue due to a lack of readership? Handily, the magazine published the circulation figures on the contents page for me to easily collate. Here they are from the December edition of each year except 1984.

1972 271,042
1973 409,442
1974 462,841
1975 472,208
1976 400,981
1977 448,146
1978 419,791
1979 445,992
1980 389,889
1981 327,369
1982 340,669
1983 346,133
1984 354,898
1985 342,797
1986 345,411
1987 345,411
1988 318,053
1989 331,760
1990 295,646

For whatever reason the December 1984 copy did not print the figures, so that number is from August that year. And as you can see there is a decline in readership but not a drop that would explain the rapid exit by advertisers.

I can only speculate that there was a change in attitude towards the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s. Evidence of which is the Miss World contest and The Benny Hill Show being dropped from UK television schedules around this time too.

It is easy to forget how few media outlets there were in the UK back then. Channel 4 only launched in 1982 and Sky started broadcasting in 1989. So, the dropping of these programmes would have been a big decision.

Maybe the brands felt that they no longer wanted to be associated with this type of content.

The question I asked of the Lads Mags is the same one I ask of these magazines, have attitudes changed since these were printed?

Thirty years ago, the only way to view these type of images, you would have had to go to a newsagent and pay money for the magazine. Today they are just a free click away from the comfort of your own home.

Hair and fashion styles may have changed but the posing of the women, locations and storylines have a very similar look and feel to the pictures of today. Maybe there was more honesty in the photography from these magazines. Taken from a time before Photoshop and cosmetic surgery were common, there is certainly less Barbie doll perfection to the images. But I don’t want you going away thinking that everything is all rosy.

Some of the content is really embarrassing in how they viewed women. There are cartoons and jokes in which harassment and assault is seen as a compliment. Poking fun at women in sports, driving cars or working was an acceptable form of amusement to the editors of the magazine.

It will be no surprise to say that, just like the Lads Mags, the women featured are predominately white and young. If there is a woman of colour or an older woman there is a feeling of fetishizing that demographic. Their inclusion is an oddity rather than on an equal platform.

This video on YouTube suggests that the use of a colour chart featuring a white woman as the reference point created a bias towards that skin colour during the development of film technology.

Not being able to accurately reproduce different skin tones in the magazine would have given the editors an easy excuse to exclude. However, this is no defence for the language used in the magazines from the 70s about race that is not acceptable today. Still shocks me to read those types of words in print.

With hindsight, it is easy to spot the repetitiveness of the photo sets. Different models would pose in the same setting dressed in a similar way. There are even sets in which they shared the same clothing. The choice of pictures would be near identical in different editions of the magazine. There is almost a laziness in making each model an individual.

There is no way of me knowing for sure if the biographical text that accompanied the sets of pictures are a work of fiction. It is possible that what was written about the models is true. I have no way of checking. I also don’t know if the models were paid a fair wage for their work.

What I have found fascinating is how over time the publication has become a collectors item. At the time of writing, eBay allows Mayfair, Playboy, Playgirl, and Penthouse to be sold on their site. They have managed to retain their respectability after all these years.

Were the 1960s and 70s the age when women were starting to be depicted in this way? I would argue that these magazines gave more access to the middle class market for this type of photography. They also paved the way for the lads mags to come down from the top shelf to become more mainstream.

Unknown sitter
probably after Thomas Charles Wageman
stipple engraving, after 1800
NPG D42546 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Looking at the National Portrait Gallery online archive it struck me that this engraving from the 1800s has a certain style that is hard not to compare with some of the images in the magazine.

What is the future for these types of images? If over the last century or so you can find increasingly more material, it is difficult to imagine that the snowball will stop rolling down the hill.

Representing Women

Back in August 2019 I posted an article on Representing Women by Linda Nochlin. Reading that post recently, I realised what a load of drivel it was. It made no sense, so I thought I would give it another go.

In my first attempt, I said that there was a lot to take in. Having read the book again, it occurred to me that one of these reasons is the number of cross references that I needed to look up. I’m still doing this research and it is hard work. The academic level these series of essays are primarily aimed at meant it would never be a walk in the park.

To offer a summary or paraphrase Nochlin’s analysis of the art and artists in this book would be doing her a disservice. What I can say is that the work chosen to feature in the book illustrates perfectly the points she is making. It is not a complete historical record and there is no way a book of this size could cover everything. But the end result makes the reader reassess the narrative of the imagery they see around them and to question what that says about women.

This book does not include Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, the essay Nochlin is most well known for. In my opinion it is worth reading this in conjunction with this book.

Representing Women is a reminder of the pioneering work by Linda Nochlin in this academic field. Looking back, I wonder why the likes of Kenneth Clark and John Berger came across my path a lot earlier than her. Maybe I was looking in the wrong section or maybe it is just the patriarchy in play. Whatever the reason, I do hope there are plenty of students today and in the future that have at the top of their reading list one of Nochlin’s publications.

Linda Nochlin 1931-2017

Stay at home V

Spending time at home allowed me to discover two projects by a couple of photographers. Age Cannot Wither Her by James Hall assisted by Mischkah Scott and the Naked Truth: Plymouth Unveiled by Jojo.

I want to start by saying that the intention here is not to put down these projects. I am certain that the photographers worked hard to make them come to life. And I want to be clear that any negative thoughts, on my part, is not aimed at the sitters who decided to participate. Without these people no project would ever get off the ground and they have my full admiration.

Best way to describe these works are portraits of women not wearing any clothes. They also share their relationship with their own body in the accompanying text.

As far as I can tell, there is no connection between the two photographers. Naked Truth is a collection of black & white images taken in the Plymouth area of the UK back in 2017. Age Cannot Wither Her is of older women in colour images. With no date in the book I can’t say when it was produced. But what these two projects have in common is the intellectual justification for the work – giving a voice to the women in the photographs.

Jojo acknowledges in the introduction to his book the issue of the male gaze. He dismisses this criticism by explaining his work flow used to mitigate the problem. Therefore, being a male photographer, according to him, is irrelevant. To be fair, he does say that he intended to produce a male version in 2018. But this misses the point. It is generally acknowledged that there is an imbalance with men as creators and women as the unclothed subject. I mean, why did Jojo not create the male version first and then following up with the female?

As a side note, I am aware that he has previously produced a similar portrait project with a mix of men and women. But my point is still valid, what is the bias for producing images of women?

James Hall, in his introduction, quotes from the books The Nude by Kenneth Clark and The History Of The Nude in Photography by Peter Lacey. Hall says he wanted to challenge what he read in these publications.

It has been a long time since I read The Nude and I don’t have a copy of The History Of The Nude in Photography, so without knowing what it contains I can’t say too much about it.

The emphasis of the female nude in Hall’s analysis of the Kenneth Clark book is my main issue. You would think that Kenneth Clark’s book was only about young female nudes reading what Hall wrote. But checking my copy of The Nude, roughly half of it is about the male nude.

The predominance of the female nude over the male, of which Raphael’s Judgement of Paris is the first example, was to increase during the next 200 years till by the 19th century it was absolute.

The Nude, Kenneth Clark (Chapter IX – The Nude as an End in Itself)

It could be argued that the photographs produced by Hall only adds to that predominance.

I also need to take issue with Hall saying that the subtitle of Clark’s book is A Study of Ideal Form. My copy of The Nude says it is A Study of Ideal Art. It might seem minor but the difference between the two words is, to me, major.

My reading of Clark’s book has always been that the nude is seen as the pinnacle of any artist’s portfolio. With the artists who produce nude pieces being at the top of the class. So it is not a surprise that so many artists want to join this club. To say that the book is about body perfection is not how I read the book.

Having said that, it may not be Hall’s fault if his version of the book uses this revised subtitle.

I assumed that The History Of The Nude in Photography was a recent book. So was a bit surprised to discover that I was wrong and the paperback edition had been published in 1969. I do wonder how relevant is the book if it doesn’t cover the explosion of photographic images over the last fifty years.

Have these two projects succeeded in giving a voice to the women in the photographs? In my opinion, a minute speaking into the microphone is not the same as a permanent seat at the table.

I can’t help but think that the rational being put forward by Hall and Jojo is a way for them to clear their consciences to carry out this work. Which, if I am right, says more about the photographers than the platform given to the sitters.

When I look in the mirror, I have to ask the question, have I been doing anything different with my project?