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  • The seen, the scene and the obscene: eroticism in photographically illustrated magazines in France, 1931-1939

Agret, Alix, 2019, Thesis, The seen, the scene and the obscene: eroticism in photographically illustrated magazines in France, 1931-1939 PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

Paris magazine and its derivatives – Paris Sex Appeal, Pages Folles, Pour lire à deux and Scandale – were published in France from 1931 to around 1939. Academic studies of nudes, candid humanist
photographs and pin ups with artistic overtones were juxtaposed in these monthly illustrated magazines.
Used by surrealist artists for their collages, they associate photographs by the greatest artists of the time
(Brassaï, Kertesz, Man Ray, Germaine Krull) and the works of less famous photographers (Jean Moral,Pierre Boucher, Roger Schall, Nora Dumas…). Forming a genre yet untapped by historians, these
magazines feature both a real taste for erotic fantasies and a remarkable sophistication in composition and conception. They are to be inscribed in the context of the interwar years which they reflect through a bawdy style, audacious and multifaceted aesthetics – from kitsch to modernism – and a permeability
to technological reproducibility.
This project proposes to draw a panorama of the 1930s and of its underside through the study of a material which is at the crossroads of the history of photography, ideas of the body and the question
of artistic appropriation. The magazines are to be dissected as indicative of the ambivalent emancipation of the ‘modern woman’, a photographic and graphic modernity but also of a colonial unconscious surfacing in a racist fascination for a pseudo (Far)-East. Claiming that the magazines are watched as much as read, I analyse the magazine’s formal ‘desire’
for cinema as a guarantee of glamour and as a decisive element of its layout’s plasticity. Nudes, landscapes and urban sceneries are linked or dissociated as the reader leafs through it, the poetic flicker
of its images relating to the mechanics of editing. Cinema’s influence is also to be found in the magazine’s special relationship to the night as a site of criminal and sexual transgressions where the
prostitute stands as a key figure of the city’s margins.
Dealing with the return of the repressed expressed in the collective imaginary transpiring through this kind of publication, I research the different types of interrelations established between texts and images as well as the bad taste which is integral to its saucy descriptions of sex scene. An analysis of its plain and clichéd literature sheds light on its relation to vulgarity and its depiction of the reading woman, an iconographic motif through which it equates female reading with masturbation. The magazine’s margins and side issues – including small ads, advertisements and photographic contests organised every month to elect the most beautiful readers –, are given a special status within the thesis as as many ‘finds’ which allow for a more intimate and subjective interpretation of this archive.
The plastic attractiveness of these magazines makes it indispensable to show them in an exhibition which is the visual continuation of the written thesis. The ‘gesture of exhibiting’ these
publications is integral to the research process as it will allow me to reimagine an archive and keep it alive.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W630 History of Cinematics and Photography
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2019 10:17
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2019 10:17
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3847

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