From Robert Holcombe’s “Ghost Pornography” (1980)

12 Aug

Ghost Pornography XXII (Lilac) [1980]

“I suspect Ghost Pornography began with the observation that the way fabrics were represented shifted noticeably in fashion photographs and advertising at some point during the early 1970s, when rather distinctive kinds of suggestion began to appear in the folds and rumples of clothes and sheets in the pages of magazines. Before this, sex is attached to products in relatively transparent ways: an attractive young woman in a bikini or mini-skirt holds the bottle, or raises her martini glass aboard a flight to New York, or hovers in the background of the casino frequented by the man with the cigarette, or simply looks good in her fashionable dresses. After 1970, a shift occurs, with sexual cues coded into the products themselves.

Was I seeing things, or was this a marketing progression, from the selling of products as mechanisms linked to the achievement of sexual fulfilment in the world, to selling them as things invested with sexual desirability in their own right? From the perspective of today, when the game has moved to another level – from the product as the object of desire to the financial transaction as a quasi-orgasmic fulfilment requiring no object – these 1970s habits of adding labial folds and phallic bulges to clothes and bed-sheets seem almost innocent: the ghost of sexual desire coded into the very fabric used by small children to make the likenesses of ghosts.

Hence, the notion of the ghost in these images as a purposefully animated bed-sheet, as much a matter of Scooby Doo cartoons as the uncanny qualities generated during certain sequences in the BBC adapation of an M.R. James’ Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad, in which Michael Hordern memorably flees a torn bed-sheet on a deserted English beach. These images, taken from an ongoing series of formal and chromatic variations (which are, it should be noted, much less blatantly pornographic than they could have been, given the material, and notwithstanding the absence of bodies) are intended to cut several ways at once, much as the idea of the ghost itself does.

They are simultaneously, I hope, a slightly unsettling joke, uncanny, and perhaps even genuinely, if marginally and a bit perversely, pornographic (even though the true suggestiveness is only ever imagined by the viewer in response to the overall title)…”

[Robert Holcombe: Letter to Cy Albertine, November 1998]

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