Visual Art News - Criticism: March 2009 Archives
*Playboy*, the magazine, used to say something, because it used to say something about the female body, something that was erotic, not just sexual. What's the difference? Erotic, in my mind, is fleeting, ineffable, hard to pin down, tantalizingly elusive, and pleasurable for it. Sexual is fine, but it's concrete. The difference between them, you might say, is the difference between faith and knowledge. *Playboy* these days, as [Molly Young rightly describes it](http://www.nplusonemag.com/playboy-hugh-hefner-story) in this insightful essay for *N1BR*, the online book review of the annual *n+1* magazine: "*Playboy* ceases to be about the erotic everyday encounter. Flesh and blood women turn to images; the "girl next door" becomes distinctly mediated."
The bunnies were always mediated, of course, but something about the earlier photographs made you forget the medium and feel as though you were staring straight into the eyes of a luscious partner. Enthusiastic photoshopping has aided the transformation. Gone are the freckles and downy arm hairs of the predecessors. Breasts are surgically standardized; gym routines and spray tans produce identically toned and tinted bodies. Girls of all ethnicities blend together into one latte-colored woman, and the result looks computer-generated. When you try to imagine how the models might feel and smell, things like rubber come to mind.I happened to read Young's piece before [interviewing Ed Coyle](http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A65512), a photographer of [black-and-white nudes](http://www.egcoyle.com) here in Charleston who loves women the way Hugh Hefner loves women. The difference is that Coyle's nudes do not blend together into "one latte-colored woman." Coyle's nudes are of course mediated through his lens and his eye, but they are not blurred into a composite ideal of sensual femininity. Instead, he seeks out what makes an individual women distinct (most of them in their 30s and 40s, many of them having borne children) and therefore what makes her beautiful. Beauty is in the freckles and curves and appearance of comfort. It was charming to discuss the craft of man so clearly enamored of women, especially older women, he says, who "get it," but also so clearly in love with the discovery of their beauty.