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From the Tip of the Toes to the Top of the Hose.

To the disinterested, a foot fetishism is ridiculous; right away you imagine a cringing freak who works at Thom McCann for the privilege of getting his fingers stepped on by sneering thirteen-year-olds. Similarly, while a yen for long, elegant legs is to be expected, a fixation on those that are short and curvy with fatty knees and cellulite squeezing out of weedy garter-belt straps is . . . icky. Elmer Batters either doesn't know about such fastidious judgments or doesn't care. His book of photographs, From the Tip of the Toes to the Top of the Hose, is a loving and lewd celebration of female feet and big ol' legs that says it loud and proud.

Batters' photographs, taken from the mid '40s to the mid '80s for magazines like Black Silk Stockings, Leg Show, and Sheer Delight, are stylish, energetic, humorous, and dirty. Because Batters is a fetishist, his compositions are based largely on a predictable set of signifiers, a fantasy schema that would be flat if not for the inchoate human feeling that comes squeezing through the tiny conduit of the fetish with a satisfying ka-thump all the more intense for the compression. Batters and his models, in every photograph, acknowledge the vulnerability and stillness of sexuality as well as its power - and then they go straight for the honest dirt.

In two of my favorite shots, a forty-something model, raunchy mom with a shaved snatch, poses in nothing but an open silk shirt and black stockings in a Technicolor backyard dart-game setting, and then, on the next page, bends over by the clothesline, legs spread wide and black panties pulled down, offering up that shaven thing like she's serving a tray of peanut butter sandwiches cut into nice triangles and placed on lacy doilies. It's nasty, but there's something sweet and inexplicably touching about it too. In a black and white photo from the '50s, a tough no-nonsense-looking girl in checked business suit sits in her fancy car studying a bird-watcher's guide with one foot on the open door and her skirt up, revealing her pantiless majesty. There's stateliness in her beehive hair, a stern refinement in her vinyl handbag and bird book - and yet, you can feel the crude muscularity of her inner organs grinding away in her meaty, solid body.

Not all the pictures are so explicit. Many are arresting shots of women flirtily revealing their legs, others are photos of feet in various poses, for example, bared and rising up over a neutral prop, toes fiercely, almost menacingly, splayed. Grrr!

For those who share Batters' specific enthusiasms, this book must be heaven. But you don't need to be a foot freak; this book would please anyone with a sense of humor and erotic delight.

Nothing But the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image, edited by Susie Bright and Jill Posener, is also a book with a specific target audience. The collection of erotic photos by thirty-three lesbian photographers (the most well-known being Catherine Opie) seeks to address the woeful paucity of such works by dykes for dykes on a broad cultural scale - and this mission, as articulated in the text, has a polemical, occasionally hectoring quality that may make some readers roll their eyes.

However, the images themselves are stylish, lively, and playful. They also have a vital seriousness that, instead of being dreary, gives them immediacy and weight. The women photographed are not professional models. They are ordinary people who have allowed themselves to be depicted in the most intimate poses and acts possible. In certain circles such willingness, eagerness even, to display oneself is tediously de rigueur - yet there is something undeniably moving in the faces and bodily turgor of these women. Even when they are clothed, even at their most self-conscious, they have a bare quality, an intense, visceral will to be seen for who they are that goes beyond exhibitionism. The cliche about women's erotica is that it's more emotional than carnal. These pictures are emotional all right - the strongest of them fairly reek of raw, fierce feeling that has the carnal wallop of a sudden, deeply felt moan. One of the most compelling images is a self-portrait by Honey Lee Cottrell titled Bulldagger of the Season, 1981. She's posing in an open shirt and briefs, staring at the camera with gut-deep eyes. Her protruding belly and strong thighs are almost grossly masculine, but her soft, low breasts are pure female. She looks terribly vulnerable, but she also has a power that comes from being present down to her roots. You may find her attractive and sexy or you may not. But, if you allow it, seeing her deep presence can make you feel that way-down part of yourself, the part that hungers for such vulnerability and intensity - whether you are gay or straight, or even male or female.

Mary Gaitskill is the author of Bad Behavior, a collection of short stories, and Two Girls, Fat and Thin, a novel. Her new collection of stories, Because They Wanted To, is forthcoming in February.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BookForum
Author:Gaitskill, Mary
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:839
Previous Article:Three Artists (Three Women).
Next Article:Nothing But the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image.
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