A comment on the last post by Lauren prompted me to visit yesterday's edition of East Bay Express where there is a wonderful article about Oakland photographer Frank Cordelle by Lauren Gard. The article offers some insight into why it was so difficult to find a publisher for the book. The article is excellent and there are examples of the very moving photos found in the Century Project. Gard writes,
His photos, although profoundly moving to some viewers, come as a shock to many, particularly when viewed out of context. Nude depictions of children and seniors are by nature taboo in a culture rooted in Puritanism. And most, although not all, of his subjects bear physical or mental scars, or struggle with their body image. Some are obese, anorexic, or bulimic. Some have been raped or abused. Some are afflicted with disease, while others have inflicted pain upon themselves. Desiree, nineteen, poses against a white cinderblock wall, a massive T-shaped scar dominating her chest. A year earlier, her uncle slashed her with a knife after she refused to let him have sex with her any longer. Kerry, 41, sits in profile, laughing, her unattached prosthetic legs resting beside her on the couch. Durga, 66, was given a hysterectomy in a Harlem hospital at age 31 without her consent.
According to the article, five or six women editors who considered his book were deeply moved by it and although they did not explain why they turned it down, Cordelle believes the work was too controversial. He cites the problems Barnes & Noble had in Alabama for selling Jock Sturges books. In 1998, Barnes and Noble was indicted by a grand jury for selling what they identified as "child porn." Cordelle believes this incident "fire[d] a warning shot across the bow to publishers."
Fortunately that wasn't the end of the story. In 1999, Paul Rapoport, a music professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario saw the Century Project at a conference and was so moved by it that he invited Cordelle to do a show at McMaster University. Rapoport joked that he would start his own publishing company in order to see the project in print following the response that he saw.
My goodness, all kinds of things happened. People were crying. One student came across the sixteen-year-old, Katie, the anorexic, and was just bawling her eyes out and then ran from the room. The next day she came back with her parents and a couple of friends....It's not unusual for someone to take two to three hours going around the exhibit, reading everything, and then going again.
In 2002, Rapoport got serious about his joke and began Heureka Productions which publishes naturist titles. Bodies and Souls, is their fourth book.
And incidently Barnes and Noble apparently has ordered only one copy.
I have had a day to think about the impact this publication has had so far and I find that I have been quite moved not only by the intent of the project to show the woman's body over the course of almost 100 years but also by the real people and real stories that are portrayed. Each women is one of us. These are not models whose bodies are being exploited in publications like Playboy and Penthouse. It is ironic that publishers will continue to publish these types of magazines and not the Century Project and not even see the discrepency. The women are not models whose imperfections have been photoshopped out for the sake of superficial beauty. Their bodies are not a perfect 10. They are not the bodies of people one might see nude and they evoke a strong response especially when we see the wounds of disease and the natural changes we can expect from aging. But these are obviously women who are comfortable in their bodies.
Read the story, then visit the Century Project web page.