Whores In The Headlights With The Top Down
by JAMES ELLIOTT
"STREETWALKER BLUES" 1984
"3500 words approx - reading time : 20 minutes
Contains a small amount of strong language (like Shakespeare and The Bible).
The most important word in the English language is 'balance'. Study anything philosophically for long enough and you will always come back to that. Our entire existence depends on it.
Back to balance. Or rather imbalance.
Neither prostitutes nor bluestocking women appeal to me, as both are an unattractive imbalance.
For what is GLAMOUR without intelligence?
Glamour is a form of intelligence.
Jayne Mansfield was a tremendous exponent of glamour. Arguably the best in the movie domain. They each had their angle, Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg and Marilyn Monroe, but Jayne did it best for me. She was like a walking work of art. Dumb blonde? Nope. She had an IQ of 163, which is genius level. Suck on that...... bitches!! Hahahahaha..... She used her powers well in my book. Glamour means you have figured out what is important in life.
Still with me? OK let's balance it.......
'Streetwalker Blues' is one of my early fetish erotica classics created between 1979 and 1986. It has gone on to become one of the most published images in the world, printed in at least 30 countries, including England, America, France, Russia and Germany. Nowadays of course, it has also been seen by millions on the web, in every far flung corner of the globe.
The early part of the canon does not contain any erotic work. Not the first decade. I guess nothing in art ever inspired me. I had never really seen any erotica I could seriously call great art. Or at least, not without laughing. Nothing of any great strength. So really my inspiration ultimately came from the succession of extremely beautiful girls I was fortunate enough to have as girlfriends. They were my inspiration. Art imitating life.
I wanted to create the first real erotic icons because I honestly couldn't see any. Perhaps the status quo in erotic art appealed to others, I don't know. It didn't appeal to me and as I say, there wasn't really much you could call great art. Nothing of any power. I decided that I would apply the same standards of creativity and innovation to my erotica, as I had done with my earlier masterpieces. Surely one should be passionate about passion and create erotic art in earnest. I certainly believe so. Art should never be dumbed down for the average, boring, plebian plonker. Most of it is, I know, but that is wrong.
The early erotica was considered outré for its time. It caused a bit of a scandal. A years worth of 'Letters to the Editor'. 'Disgusted of Mayfair' and so on. This took me by surprise, rather. Everyone had spent 10 years telling me how amazing I was and the minute I do something erotic, I'm in the dog house. Strange country we live in, I thought. No matter, for every critic there were a thousand imitators. And the overall vox pop was still very pro, so I just dismissed the rest as hypocrisy. One magazine editor remarked "There is nothing this interesting going on in photography - or art for that matter". Commenting specifically on 'Streetwalker Blues' another editor said: "One of the very few images I have seen I'll go to my grave with". Praise indeed. It's an interesting thing though, the first time you get criticism. A quarter of a century later all the early erotica is is hugely popular and still looks contemporary.
Few are those who understand art in any real depth. I always knew that to create great art, you must nonchalantly ignore flattery and insults. If you are an innovator, you learn pretty fast to ignore mediocre minds. Opinions are as common as dust and about as useful, and yet, very few people have perspicacity. Powers of discernment are scarcer than gold and a fair bit more valuable. According to Elliottonian philosophy - the search for consensual validation is ipso facto the quest for mediocrity.
In the art world these days, anything goes. Well, almost. Gross out, knee-jerk, freak circus crap........simian, Neanderthal garbage.... gatherings of random detritus....... art by proxy....
People must be easier to please than I am. That's all I can say.
Show the art world something glamorous and gorgeous and you have them all scuttling under the table like frightened cats in a thunder storm. Corrupt values? Clearly. And sheltered lives. Time to get out a bit more. Take a look a what life actually is. That's why the art world needs me. Beauty, gorgeosity, glamour and eroticism, the art world is scared of it all. Too many mediocre people pulling the strings. So there's just not enough of it. And how can we ever get enough of that?
The mediocrity in everything has always been a mystery to me. So much averageness, so little amazingness. The really amazing thing though, is just how many people get so excited about banality and ugliness. That is truly amazing, not to mention egregious. It's just painfully pathetic. Is Art becoming all too interbred? Up its own vortex. Too dumbed down? Too sterilised for the PC crowd? Too spiritually bankrupt? Yes, it is. That's why my trajectory has always been completely in the opposite direction.
Most of what you see masquerading as art, is neither exciting nor inspiring, neither moving nor brilliant. Not even beautiful. A demi-gamut, from boring all the way down to ugly and bad. Sack of potato nudes are de rigeur, rhombus asses and trapezoid tits are welcome, but please, nothing gorgeous, sexy or brilliant.
Beauty, emotion and substance are as crucial to visual art today, as melody, rhythm and harmony are vital to music.
Great art always makes itself immediately apparent. Only idiocy is impenetrable.
Anyway, 'Streetwalker Blues'. Here comes the story.
I had always been fascinated by the way different materials looked on girls. I loved satin and ciré and stuff like that and had heard about latex, but the garments you could buy in the early Eighties were really badly cut and made. The designs were truly awful. Think Julius clad in the toga and you won't be far off. So having done some research, I attempted to make my own latex clothes for the girls. Big mistake. The technical problems were horrendous and I was getting nowhere so I located a supplier in the North of England, prepared to make to my own designs and could also supply colours, which was just unheard of at the time! I measured the models waist, ass and thighs and then designed a pattern one inch smaller, so that it would snap-fit like an elastic band and hug her skin like a glove.
The whole point of Latex is that it is sheer and sleek - anything else is inappropriate and does not show of the girls shape properly. Make it too tight and it flattens her features. Also I wanted everything to be shiny and clean. Remember, there was no electronic retouching back then.
Incidentally, this image is not really about prostitutes, anymore than my picture 'Claustrophobia' is about claustrophobia. A girl can be a whore for one guy. Streetwalker is about the whore that exists in every girl of a certain age, whatever their social or moral mask. 'Claustrophobia' is a visual metaphor for Elliott breaking free from psychological, artistic and societal restrictions.
Contrast that with the girls on the Rue St Denis in Paris, not being at all hypocritical about what they are doing. As I said, prostitution doesn't appeal to me. I'm not moralising, as if they did appeal to me, I'd go and get one. But the point is, I wouldn't ban prostitution or hide it away. So why does the Art Crowd hide the sex away?
The girls in Sussex Gardens would obviously have been an influence on this picture. 99% of my influences come from my life - it's rarely artistic. I look at life, I experience it, I look forward. I am not referencing art history like so many artists, becoming as they do in the process, sycophants to the establishment. Great Artists have inspired me, but I have no wish to emulate them - I would rather create something new and be nothing but Elliott. I find it more exhilarating and satisfying.
Music stole the word "blues" from the visual domain and I thought it would be funny to steal it back. These sort of things amuse me. The first ever erotic image I made was entitled 'Pleasure and Pain' and I created it in 1979. It's a powerful piece and travels well. It still looks edgy three decades on. The use of colour is also very powerful.
Anyway back to 1984. I had just completed "Kiss On Frosted Glass" and after 15 years as an artist, had evolved into an absolute master of colour. This had occurred mostly in an empirical way, but I had also studied colour psychology so I knew about red advancing and blue receding and that this would give an almost three dimensional quality to 'Streetwalker Blues'. I decided in that moment to eliminate all other colour from the image. Other than the girl - as flesh is an unobtrusive colour. So if you look closely you can see that I have painstakingly aerosprayed out the brass fittings on the handbag which would otherwise have ruined the composition.
Another innovation here is the use of colour to focus the viewer on specific components of the composition. I used an identical colour on the elements I wanted the viewer to connect. In this case the red panties (sex) and the red handbag (money) - hence the concept of sex for money.
It was becoming increasingly apparent, that any outdoor location would be too tacky and sleazy. So I started thinking about painting a wall somewhere. Anyone who has ever photographed gorgeous girls outdoors will tell you what an incredible crowd-puller they are. People are convinced that erotic photography is a spectator sport. I find it unbelievably distracting when crowds start staring. They are always on cue, too. I have been in graveyards at midnight and in deserted ruins miles from anywhere and sure enough a crowd always shows. Makes you wonder what the hell they are doing there and of course they are thinking the same. Except, of course, that they are thinking "What the hell is he doing here the lucky bastard?" But that's another story, so I abandoned that line of thinking.
It was becoming increasingly apparent that I would have to build the wall, which was incredibly funny as I didn't even know how to mix cement. You should have seen me, bricks sliding everywhere. Totally hilarious. Finding the right sort of handbag which said "tart" was also difficult. Most looked too boring, bulky or classy.
And then of course the blue stockings were extremely difficult to find, but I was determined to use them for two reasons. First, for the colour harmony and second, because I loved the irony of a bluestocking streetwalker. 'Bluestocking' was a term originally given to rather frumpy women, more interested in the intellectual than the sexual. I love the idea of stocking-tops on display, even if only a glimpse. Stockings are a visual expression of a girl's sexual awareness and confidence, which is immensely attractive. Any girl can wear tights. Only sexy girls wear stockings. The person who invented tights obviously didn't comprehend the concept of eroticism. Or hygiene. Tights are extremely revolting.
To sustain the feeling of "sheer and sleek" I procured a blue patent leather belt and an extraordinary pair of elastomeric velvet gloves. Normal glove creases would have been incongruous in this immaculate composition.
By far the most excruciatingly difficult aspect of the piece was giving the image a dynamic, where it really looked as if there was something going on. 99% of my attempts failed. One of the most frustrating things about photography is that when you are shooting, everything always looks dreadful. The reason for this, is that everything actually is dreadful. Problem is you just never know what the hell is making it look so awful. So you set up a creative dynamic and empirically attempt, observe, adjust and create, until somewhere down the line everything suddenly synergistically synthesizes. But the bit when that isn't happening is like a mood from hell!
I think the idea for "Streetwalker" evolved sometime earlier on, as I am referring to the title in my diary as I begin working on it.
Interestingly, the day after I shot "Kiss On Frosted Glass", I built the wall for "Streetwalker Blues". They are completely different pictures but they are both much loved and share equal popularity and fame. Girls tend to like 'Kiss' and men love 'Streetwalker'. My diary notes that I started the wall on Friday 21st September 1984 and that I am still working on it on 25th September. The shoot did not take place until Thursday 4th October 1984.
I knew I had a great image but I could never have imagined just how much of an impression it would make. The image first appeared in the influential large format magazine 'Camera' alongside all the new fetish erotic work. Incredibly innovative. As I mentioned it caused a bit of a scandal but there was a very positive upside. Who would have thought that decades later the fetish craze would be sweeping the world and that the early fetish imagery would have launched a zillion imitators?
My collectors hotly dispute which are my finest works. In the process of describing themselves, they often think they are describing me. They are not of course, as I am actually all of it, not a selection. The thing is all my work is up there, because anything which isn't somewhere between superlative and a masterpiece goes unceremoniously in the bin. But you don't have to like it all. I'd be surprised if you did, given the degree of innovation, diversity and originality in my work. I know what I like and what I am trying to create and I achieve this with absolute consistency. Although I have never created a work of art for the money, selling a piece means much more to me than an opinion. Although I care enormously about how I personally evaluate it. It has to be a supreme accomplishment.
I am the most critical critic on earth. I give every image 100% commitment in terms of time, effort, money, etc. I give it my best and then some. This is the best I as a human being can do it. I cannot do it better. So what difference does an opinion make? Nothing! I refuse to pollute or dilute my oeuvre with anything below par. If for any reason I cannot now imagine, I am some day unable to sustain these standards, I shall simply cease to work. But I don't see that happening. I shall create Art as long as God gives me Life. I won't create much, but they will be masterpieces. Although I couldn't tell you what kind. Only that they will be fresh, new and original.
'Streetwalker' is an edition of four, hand printed by myself. I print all my own work. Always have, always will. I suppose I should mention that it was wet-processed as a silver dye-bleach print in the darkroom. I mention this as this process is pretty much obsolete. It has to be said that of all darkroom, colour photographic processes, Cibachrome yielded the most incredible depth of quality. Especially when silver masking was employed, as I did with 'Streetwalker Blues'. Silver masking was an extremely rare, accomplished, painstaking skill mastered only by elite printers, but yielded far greater colour saturation and retention of highlight and shadow detail (better control of contrast). It worked fabulously well on this image. The originals have to be seen to be believed.
I had no idea at the time of creation, that this image would burn its way into people's minds in the way that it has. The image is a classic piece, even though I am now a completely different Elliott, creating very different erotica. The fetish erotic imagery which I dragged out of its sleazy basement , polished squeaky clean, turned into art and made street legal, has been partly absorbed into mainstream culture. Although doubtless the image itself still stands supreme. Next time you see a pop princess in coloured latex think of me.
Repitition is the death of inspiration. So as with the rest of my art, I am constantly exploring new frontiers. Like an uncorrupted mind running across virgin snow, searching for new ways to rediscover beauty and gorgeosity lost. My art ipso facto, will always evolve. After these iconic masterpieces I moved on to create the Superglamour of the NIneties and thence to the more sensual and beautiful work of the Noughties. Today the creativity is deliberately blended with greater mastery, leaving the erotic element to dominate, rather than having to compete with the natural exhuberance of my creativity. I let that run riot elsewhere, in the heavyweight part of the canon.
If life can't each day bring something fresh, gorgeous, brilliant, exciting and amazing, then what the hell is it for?
© JAMES ELLIOTT 1999
Collector's note: Early erotic works are rare.