Monday, November 30, 2009

Centrefold Venus of the Month 6: November Lenna Sjööblom November

Lenna's Centrefold

We are a day late with November's centrefold of the month but wanted to get it on the site, anyway.

Lena Söderberg, to give her her real name, was born on March 31st 1951 in Sweden and she appeared as Playmate of the Month in November 1972.

What a lovely girl!

However, this is not her real claim to fame. In the summer of 1973 a certain Dr William K Pratt, at the University of Southern California Signal and Image Processing Institute, needed a good picture for a book he was writing on image processing. It needed to have a glossy finish and feature a human face.

The Lena
Very quickly this image, which beame known as the Lena (ironically, accidentally correcting her first name), or smaller sections of it, became the standard test image for the industry until its origins were forgotten. However, with the approaching 50th anniversary conference of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology looming in Boston in 1997, Jeff Seideman, chairman of the Boston chapter of the Society wanted to track down the person featured in what he called the most important picture in the history of imaging and electronic communications.
Eventually after a long search he got her address in Sweden and Lena agreed to attend the anniversary event in May 1997. "They must be so tired of me ... looking at the same picture for all these years!" said Lena before she attended the conference. She had never even seen the internet at the time and had been completely unaware of the fact that she had been christened the "First Lady of the Internet".

Lena checks herself out

Not everyone was happy with the widespread use of the Lena image with some women involved in the industry objecting to the source of the picture. Interestingly, since the source of the image became well known scientists were going back to Playboy to get more information on the type of camera, film and exposure (!) used to help in the use of the image in their research.

Being the most scanned woman in history was not the only claim to fame of this particular centrefold either.
Woody checks out Lena in Sleeper (1973)
In the 1973 Woody Allen film Sleeper Allen's character awakes, after being frozen in suspended animation, in the year 2173. A scientist researching images from the past passes Allen a number of photographs, such as General de Gaulle and Stalin to identify. The last picture he is given is Lena's centrefold which Allen's character then keeps "for further research".

Agent Triple P thinks that Lena is one of the loveliest Playmates of the Seventies and her natural Scandinavian beauty gives her a timeless quality.

Lena's centrefold, even outside her use as a scanning image, has probably be seen by more people than any other as this particular issue of Playboy was their best selling ever issue at 7,161,561 copies!

Agent DVD will no doubt appreciate her tan lines!

Gorgeous eyes!

Lena has a particularly fine posterior, as her centrefold photograph by Dwight Hooker sensibly showcases.

A Swede in a sauna; naturally

Another fine study provides an appropriate end

She was 5'6" tall and 34-26-36 at the time the pictures were taken. She was also married and was a young mother.

Originally Playboy were annoyed about the unauthorised use of the image; writing a stiff letter to Optical Engineering magazine in 1991. By the time of the conference in 1997 they had obviously realised that the publicity was worth it and have made an allowance for this image, calling it a "phenomenon". Lena with Jeff Seideman

Someone in the lab had a copy of the November 1973 Playboy and so they tore off the top third and attached it to the scanner drum. The scanner they were using had a resolution of 100 lines per inch and they needed a 512 × 512 image, so they only scanned the top 5.12 inches of the picture which resulted in the cropped image seen below.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Venus asleep: Slumbering Woman by Johann Baptist Reiter

Schlummernde Frau (Die erste Gemahlin des Künstlers) 1849

Here is a gorgeously sensual nude from Austrian painter Johann Baptist Reiter (1813-1890). The translation of the title is Slumbering Woman (The first wife of the artist). In fact, when the picture was painted in 1849 Reiter was still married to Maria Anna Hofstötter who he had wed ten years before at the age of 26. His wife, like Reiter, was from Linz but she left him in 1850 and it wasn't until 16 years later that he married again; to Anna Josefa Theresia Brayer. Unfortunately for Reiter, his second wife was one of those creatures who was so extravagant that he have to work flat out for the rest of his life just to keep up. Not just painting his own pictures but also having to do copies of old masters just to keep her in the style to which she had become accustomed to.

Johann Baptist Reiter: Self Portrait (1842)

Reiter was the son of a carpenter and started his artistic career painting furniture, ships' figureheads and even cemetery crosses. Encouraged by the art dealer Josef Hafner he went to Vienna and studied at the Academy under Kupelwieser, Ender and Petter. In 1830 he studied engraving and earned a living from painting porcelain. He started to exhibit his paintings and in 1836 won the Lampi prize (named after the Austrian painter whose first names were also, co-incidentally, Johann Baptist). His career took off and enabled him to buy a large house in Vienna.

This nude is unusual in his output which indicates that it was a private work painted for his own benefit. It is certainly a wonderfully intimate study with nothing whatsoever of the sort of classicism expected of a nude in this period. It has an erotic quality that is almost post-coital. Most of his pictures (after an unsuccessful attempt to produce religious pictures) were portraits (especially children and miniatures) or genre paintings of workers. As he got older he refused to be influenced by movements such as Impressionism but carried on painting in the same technically fine style that he had adopted from studying the Dutch Masters.

Betrachtung im Neglige (1847)

There is certainly a lot of the Dutch School in this study which is probably also his first wife. So Reiter's Slumbering Woman is a one off and, for that reason, we respond to it even more as a portrait of a young woman the artist obviously desired.

Agent Triple P saw this picture in the splendid Belvedere Palace Gallery in Vienna. The Upper Belvedere (there are two buildings) houses a wonderful collection of Austrian art including the largest collection of pictures by Gustav Klimt anywhere. Well worth a visit next time you are in Vienna.

Thanks to B for her help in translating the only piece I could find on Reiter.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Venus Revealed - The Pubic Wars 3; 1971 Part 1

January 1971. The Wars begin in earnest

The end of 1970 saw Playboy magazine being drawn into a battle with the newly arrived upstart from London, Penthouse. The war between them focussed, largely, on the extent to which they could show their models' pubic hair, something that had not really been possible during the sixties. However, in 1970 both Penthouse and then Playboy had decided to challenge what was acceptable on the newsstands of America.
In the next two episodes of the Pubic Wars we examine in detail the first full Pubic War year, 1971.

December 1970 had seen Playboy making a very positive move on the pubic front with their photographs of actress Paula Pritchett but she was not, of course, a Playmate. Over in London Guccione had put together a January issue that would continue to push at the envelope a little more.

Viva Helziger from January 1971

In the past, Penthouse (and Playboy) photographers had often concealed the Pet's charms behind strategically placed bunches of flowers or other foliage. January's Penthouse Pet, Swiss watch technician (really!) Viva Helziger, finds that her typically out of focus foreground Alpine wild flowers don't quite do the job!

The Swiss miss was even bolder in this shot, especially as this, like the flowery one, was a full page picture, at a time when most of the pubic pictures in both magazines were still quite small.

Most of the pubic photos shown in the magazine so far had been smaller ones, such as the candid one in Viva's pictorial shown above. It was almost as if the editors though that legal challenges might come based on area and that small pictures would be easier to sneak in. In fact, Viva's three pubic shots in one pictorial equalled Stephanie McLean's total from her taboo busting shoot from April the previous year. intervening Pets who had shown their fluff (and by no means did they all) only had one pubic picture per pictorial until his date.  Guccione must have felt that he had a lead over Playboy at the beginning of 1971 and Viva's pictorial was well at the cutting edge of what was being shown.

In addition, that month, Penthouse included an article on the Californian Miss Nude Cosomos pageant (which incidentally confirmed that pictures of naked girls and sexy pictures of naked girls are quite different things). Although Penthouse Pet pictorials had more pages than their Playboy equivalents, at this point, the London-based magazine was limiting itself to two pictorials whereas Playboy usually had three.

Hefner was not to be outdone, however, and Guccione must have had a shock when he opened his rival's January edition. Like Penthouse, Playboy had gone for a European girl (there was a sense, perhaps, in America at the time, that European girls were just naughtier!), in this case Norway's Liv Lindeland.

Carrie Enwright, from July 1963, is undone

The first picture in her pictorial showed a much used Playboy pose: the girl with her trousers undone. Playboy had been using this rather curious pose for years to show, perhaps, that the girls weren't wearing any knickers or to show as much as groin as possible without showing anything else. Either that or the wardrobe department was underestimating the hip measurements of their models and they just couldn't get them done up! These shots only worked because most of the models of this time shaved themselves.

Liv's image was similar but eagle-eyed viewers might have caught the top of Liv's blonde bush in the back lit picture. If not they would certainly have gone back and checked it again once they saw Liv's centrefold.

Liv catches the light

Guccione must have had a shock when he saw the Playboy centrefold: a big bold image, covering, as it did, the equivalent of three pages. In a brilliantly composed photograph by Alexas Urba a ray of light catches Liv's blonde bush; effectively making a few tufts the visual centre of the photograph, depite the distractions of her awesome bust. Urba later claimed that this was an accident and he hadn't noticed the highlighted wisps until he developed the film. Hefner and Urba pored over the picture wondering what to do. The main concern was what the advertisers might think. Urba thought that perhaps he could take the highlights off the offending wisps and right up until the time that the picture was due off to the printers there were two versions of the centrefold ready to go. Much to Urba's surprise Hefner gave the go-ahead for the original version to be published as the centrefold. The Playmate was going pubic! Interestingly Urba, the photographer of this iconic image, later left Playboy objecting to the magazine's increasing explicitness in its war with Penthouse. After nearly twenty years of showing photographs of naked women Playboy had actually shown a naked woman! If Hefner was expecting a big fuss then he was disappointed. Reaction to what all at Playboy saw as a bold departure was almost non-existent.

Playboy had always feigned indifference to Penthouse's arrival in the US but Hefner was starting to get concerned. He started to count the number of pubic pictures in Penthouse every month. Guccione was delighted with Playboy's decision to follow him down the bushy path as he now felt that Playboy worried enough about him to start chasing him. Guccione felt that he had taken the lead in the battle. Vince Tajiri, Playboy's photo editor, agreed and felt that Playboy shouldn't be pursuing this upstart. But Penthouse was now an upstart with a circulation of over 1,500,000 a month and still climbing. Playboy's market share was larger but static.

Linda Forsythe (February 1970) in her Playmate review picture from January 1971

It wasn't just Liv either. Having made the decision, Playboy really went for it. Further on in the issue Playboy had it's usual January review of the previous 12 months worth of Playmates. No less than five out of the twelve were showing some strands of what they couldn't show in their original pictorials.

In particular, the photograph of July 1970 Playmate Carol Willis (above) was not only the most full frontal seen in Playboy to date it was more explicit than anything seen in Penthouse so far either. Sadly, part Cherokee, Carol was killed in a car accident later that year.

Carol Imhof shows a touch of fluff

Hefner was questioned on this ground breaking move for Playboy and responded that "it's time that society grew up and recognised that pubic hair exists." He sent a staff memo which said "Remember, pubic hair is no longer a taboo at Playboy-as long as it is handled in good taste."

Interestingly, when Penthouse had shown Stephanie McLean's pubic hair the previous year they had published a number of letters from readers applauding the move.

“Heartfelt congratulations...on giving us Stephanie. A delectable creature, who is not afraid to let us know that she is a real woman, complete with pubic hair. Surely no sane person could take offence at such natural beauty?”

“Thank you Stephanie for being the second Pet (after Ada Grootenboer in the UK -she wasn’t a Pet in the US edition) with enough courage to show us your pubic hair. I sincerely hope other Pets will be as “daring”."

Although there was also a letter saying that such things should be left to the imagination and it was all too much. What next, the reader wondered: the depiction of labia? Surely not?

In Playboy, however, which regularly printed letters from readers appreciating the Playmates charms, there was no direct mention of crossing this milestone at all.  Were they embarrassed by it or did they just not want to make a fuss and draw attention to it?

Fran Jeffries

No doubt readers were eagerly awaiting what Playboy would come up with in February and the magazine's first pictorial featured singer Fran Jeffries (much appreciated by Triple P for her turn in The Pink Panther) in an enticingly see through dress.

Willi: first  full frontal Playmate

Although Playmate Willi Rey presented the first full frontal photograph (Liv's photograph had been shot from the side) in a Playmate pictorial she coyly kept her arm between her groin and the camera for the centrefold.

Not just fluff but ethnic fluff!

There was also quite a bit of fluff on view in a pictorial about ethnic jewellery so Playboy were demostrating quite clearly that January had not been a one-off (although there were those working for the magazine who wished it had been and hoped they could put the genie back in the box).

Penthouse, meanwhile, who only had the one (albeit effective) picture of their Pet, Cassandra Harrington, sans knickers ran a poor second to Playboy again.

Cassandra Harrington stretches for Penthouse

The Sexploiters

February's also Penthouse ran an article called The Sexploiters about the exploitation film genre.  This gave  Penthouse an excuse to print a page of (admittedly small) pictures depicting threesomes, orgies in the bath, lesbian clinches, fetish and several pubic shots.

March's Playmate kept her nether regions covered and it was left to a couple of models in a feature on the Girls of Holland (one of whom, ironically, was Dutch model Maureen Renzen who would become the Penthouse Pet of the Month in September), particularly the magnificently bushy Marian de Vree, to fly the furry flag.

Marian de Vree: Bushy in the grass

Cherie Latimer displayed

In addition, a piece on actress Cherie Latimer (who was due to apear in a film called Alex in Wonderland, starring Donald Sutherland, only to find her part cut) also had this fine, rather classical, study.

A racy cover for the time

Lottie Gunthart, over at Penthouse, posed for a record four pubic pictures (although she kept herself covered for the centrefold) in March but Penthouse had an advantage in that their Pet sets usually featured over a dozen colour pictures plus the centrefold. Playboy was restricting itself to the centrefold plus three or four more colour photographs, only one of which would be full page. Most of the Playboy pictures were black and white pictures showing the girls going about their girl-next-door type lives.

Lottie Gunthart for Penthouse in March 1971. This typical natural light shot is in stark contrast to what Guccione felt were the over-produced efforts of the Playboy team.

Their second pictorial featured Pet of the Year, Kelly McQueen, but she didn't show her fluff, however, having been photographed in pre-pubic days.

The April Playmate kept herself covered and so did starlet Lana Wood but this didn't mean that Playboy had gone back to being a fur free zone.

Margaret Markov: the sole example for April

A pictorial on French film director Roger Vadim and his actresses gave us this defiantly fluffy full page picture of Yugoslavian starlet Margaret Markov. Still, only the one picture that month.

In Penthouse, the April 1971 Pet of the month was the rather posh British girl Jacqui Simmons-Jude, whose pictorial contained a lot of pictures of her horse riding (fully dressed).

April 1971's Jacqui: feeling floral

Three fluff shots (on a rather alarming burnt orange carpet) and then her centrefold shot saw her posed with some daffodils. Now, as we have seen, Guccione had often used flowers to cover his models' groin but a few daffodil stalks aren't really going to work. Possibly he was being ironic. Jacqui is showing a lot more than Liv Lindeland did and the choice of the centrefold as her only fully nude shot must have been quite deliberate. We can probably give her the prize, therefore, for the first really full frontal centrefold (stems not withstanding). Another victory to Penthouse in the Pubic Wars.

Groovy on Ibiza

Also in that issue was an article about the newly hip and grrovy Island of Ibiza. Four random and anonymous lovelies let the Mediterranean sun get to their bushes.

May's Playmate, Janice Pennington, was, again, not showing her fur. This was rather ironic, given that when her sister, Ann, became a Playmate in March 1976 it would be in a pictorial that constituted Playboy's last big salvo in the Pubic Wars.

Sarah Kennedy catches the light

However there was fluff on display in a pictorial about actress Sarah Kennedy and her new film, The Telephone Book.

Candace Bajada May 1971

At the Playboy Mansion in Chicago Hefner had started to get annoyed. "Why can't we take photos like this?" he had demanded of his team, holding up a copy of Penthouse. No-one dared say that as Hefner selected the Playmates and Hefner chose the pictures to go into the pictorials then of course, therefore, the look of the photos was down to Hefner alone. But by the May edition, Playboy seemed to be responding. In a pictorial on the Bunnies of New York Candace Bajada is presented in a very Penthouse like picture: natural light, gauzy curtains and even a Guccione-type signature flower.

May's Penthouse not only saw a very racy cover featuring a girl in a very see through shirt but Pet of the Month, French Canadian Billie Rainbird had no less than a record five pubic pictures in her pictorial.

Billie: not a natural blonde!

Unlike previous Penthouse photographs there was no soft focus or diffused lighting; just Billie in bright light on the beach showing her engagingly fluffy bush.

Given Billie's full on assault in May it was somewhet surprising to find that June's Pet, Josee Troyat, kept covered. in fact she was the first Pet for six months not to flash wheras Playboy had only had two Playmates display themselves in the first half of 1971. The June issue of Penthouse, in fact had no pubic shots at all. Playboy had managed at least one for all six months.

June Playmate, Leiko English, had flashed her fur in the Bunny feature the previous year but didn't, oddly, as a Playmate.

Sharon Clarke: First pubic Playmate of the Year

Bullet-nippled Sharon Clarke, however, became the first Playmate of the Year to show everything in the June issue of Playboy.

Probably the most significant pubic development in the first half of 1971 was the appearance, in the June edition of Playboy, of the first pubic Vargas girl. The venerable pin-up artist had been producing pin ups, accompanied by excruciating little bon mots, for years. We have to say that his floss rendering was excellent!

So, if we copy an anxious Hugh Hefner, sitting on his round bed in the Playboy mansion in Chicago counting his competitors pubic shots,and do a pubic picture count for the first six months of 1971 we get this.

Centrefolds 1
Other pubic pictures of the Playmates 1
Other pubic pictures 20

Centrefolds 1
Other pubic pictures of Pets 16
Other pubic pictures 11

So Penthouse win by 28 to 22 but it isn't a convincing win by any means. Many of the Playboy pictures had been large ones of Playmates or models. Many of the Penthouse shots were small reportage ones from film sets and the like. Penthouse were handicaped by only having the two pictorials per issue to Playboy's three. The war would continue into the second half of the year.