Masturbation. It seems odd sometimes; the way things we all do are those we seek to avoid discussing or even thinking about. Everywhere we look we see people lauded and storied for conquering "fear," challenging "the unknown." Jumping off of this, leaping into that -- The fashionable heroism of artificial risk. All the while, away from the bright lights, cameras and water cooler cheers, a different courage is found. I Am My Lover: Women Pleasure Themselves is the sweet and nourishing fruit of people brave enough to journey into the known, to conquer the fear of oneself and one's desire, with we the viewer in tow. Conceived and edited in 1998 by Joani Blank, founder of San Francisco's famed Good Vibrations shop, the anthology presents twelve women and six photographers acting in concert to explore and reveal the lyric beauty, sensual drama and emotional energy that all who indulge in self-pleasuring (i.e.: everyone) know well but rarely speak of. The women captured in the images ranging from 19 to 40 years old, are nothing like the models so often found in even the best erotic art. They could be from anywhere; 12 women from 12 separate worlds, united into a single nationality of expressive intimacy; each a goddess of beautiful imperfection.
The photographers, obviously inspired by their subjects' willingness to share who and what they are, create images that stand with their own best works. Almost all elect to work in the most mundane surroundings - living room sofas and bedrooms are the most frequent - which gives an even more heightened sense of our having "walked in" on each scene we witness. The images are done so elegantly, in black and white or duo tones that dismissing them as "porn," "trash," or "ugly" requires a leap of puritanical proportion. All the photographers bring their own styles to their subjects, but are never heavy-handed or unnecessarily "artsy" in their approach, most electing to use simple daylight or only the most basic artificial lighting. Each portfolio gives rise to wonderful, sweet secrets seen through the eyes of the artists and the bodies of their subjects: a hand grasps into the fabric of a pillow case during an intense moment; a nipple pinched and pulled until it seems ready to burst in a spray of milk and honey; a housecat wanders into the scene to rest at a woman's feet, as if to share in the pleasure of the moment; a belly dips in the light, revealing a faint trail of hairs leading to hungry, desire-slicked lips. With each moment, each detail, we see each woman more clearly, and perhaps our own selves and desires as well.
The artists seem to return the inspiration as each woman contributes their own written introduction to their portfolios. Some write poetry that ripples with the scent and textures of their sex while some offer gentle prose of the feelings that swell in them as they touch themselves. Many offer their own sexual history, clear-eyed and unapologetic, a testimonial to the freedom of body and mind they've come to own and cherish. The more that we're shown; the more we wish to see, share and feel ourselves. In its way, I Am My Lover: Women Pleasure Themselves is like the very act that it reveals to us - a simple but magnificent reward to body, soul and mind, a book we can always open again and again.
NOTE: One of the saddest things I've noticed about the other reviews here is the number of WOMEN who have derided this book, especially the one who claimed to have "laughed with her friends at it" before returning it. I showed my copy to an erotic model that I have worked with and she howled in disgust at the age of some of the women in this book, her position being that anyone "old" shouldn't be sexual in front of her (I won't go into the things she thinks are okay here). I wonder if I'll ever understand the way women police and censure each other.