Hot Girls: Female Masking

Since the female masking subclulture has been thrust into the limelight of the tabloid-reading populous this year thanks to a recent Channel 4 documentary Secrets of the Living Dolls and this week’s internet frenzy over the originals of that Emma Watson doll video, I thought it would be a good time to share an interesting interview of firsthand experience of female masking.

The practice has a fairly longstanding internet presence, most of the websites of masking individuals boasting 10+ years of sharing images of their mask-play, their different personas adopted ranging from the fanastical secret-agent identities adopted and shown in videos by’s Masking Impossible by masker Kerry Johnson, who takes the transcendental nature of persona adoption to surreal limits,  to the fantastically mundane day-to-day activities shown on Miss Kallie Scott’s flickr seen on Sang Bleu earlier in the year.

Below is an excerpt from of Hot Girls, a magazine devoted to profiling mask-play across the world with the intention of finding greater acceptance and community for what can often be a lonely existence:

Tame by hardcore standards, hardcore by Disney standards – a fetish magazine rated PG-13 - Hot Girls  seeks to blur the lines between individual fetishes, and to influence greater mutual acceptance among all of the beautifully different people of the world

 The interview, from the magazine’s latest issue, features a French female masker discussing her journey and influences in becoming Irene:

TV: Is Irene your full alias or do you have a surname also.

IR: My Doll name is Irene, and I live in France – I live in the Montpellier area.

TV: What inspired you to start masking?

IR: For me, it started when I was twelve or thirteen years old. One day when I was playing with my sister, I was [...]

Tattoo! at the American Museum of Folk Art

With the recent opening of Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World (2014) at the Japanese American National Museum, less than one year after Tattoo: Flash Art of Amund Dietzel (2013) at the Milwaukee Art Museum, it may appear to many that tattooing has finally succeeded in penetrating the often conservative space of the museum. With two distinct approaches, Perseverance  being a photo-based exhibition, and Tattoo  centered on Dietzel’s flash, these two exhibitions demonstrate the myriad of ways, as well as the difficulties, of bringing tattoo-themed exhibitions into the museum. However, these exhibitions, whether consciously or unconsciously, build upon a lineage of museum-level tattoo exhibitions that have seemingly came to a heed within recent years. The long historical precedent that these exhibitions follow includes shows such as Flash From the Past: Classic American Tattoo Designs, 1890-1965 (1994) at the Herzberg Circus Collection and Museum, Pierced Hearts and True Love (1995) at The Drawing Center, Body Art: Marks of Identity (1999) at the American Museum of Natural History, Skin Deep: The Art of of Tattoo (1999) at the Mariner’s Museum, The Art of Gus Wagner (1999) at the South Street Seaport Museum,  and more recently, Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor (2009) at the Independence Seaport Museum. As the names of each institution suggest, these exhibitions took place at a number of different types of museums, with varying intentions and levels of success. Regardless, what they all have in common is that they follow path carved out a number of decades earlier by the Museum of American Folk Art with an exhibition organized by Herbert W. Hemphill Jr. and Frederick Fried entitled Tattoo! (1971).

Tattoo! opened on October 4, 1971 and closed on January 2, 1972 – over a month after its planned closing of November 28, 1971.  Among work [...]

Jack Smith’s Beautiful Book

The only autonomous collection of Jack Smith’s photographs to appear during his lifetime, The Beautiful Book comprises nineteen hand-tipped black-and-white contact prints (2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches), originally published in an edition of 200 copies. The photographs were produced mainly during the course of extended shooting sessions in Smith’s Lower East Side apartment. Most date from the winter of 1962, although a few are earlier, including the final “signature” photograph, a portrait of the artist on the steps beneath the Brooklyn Bridge taken by filmmaker Ken Jacobs. Nearly half the photographs feature the artist Marian Zazeela, who provided the design for the book’s silk-screened cover. Smith and his associates assembled the books during the late spring and early summer of 1962, before shooting began on Flaming Creatures. Published and distributed by Piero Heliczer’s press, The Dead Language, The Beautiful Book was originally priced at “4 dollars or 16 nouveau francs or 24 shillings,” and advertised with filmmaker Ron Rice’s statement—”we studied these photographs with keen eye discovering new & more beautiful images hidden in every dissolve & curve of the draperies & silks which ran through these masterpieces like some long lost mysterious fume from Byzantium.”

Individual copies of the original The Beautiful Book exhibit minor variations. All photographs have been printed from the original negatives with the exception of the sixteenth photograph in the series. As the original has been lost, a copy negative was generated in 2001. The quality of the cover printing is uneven and there is some inconsistency in the color of the ink. A later, pirated version of The Beautiful Book occasionally surfaces, with its provenance unknown. Although it is likely that this version has its variants, we are primarily aware of [...]

Saartje Baartman and the contemporary female fetishized body.


Saartje ‘Sara’ Baartman or better known through her colonial nickname the ‘Hottentot Venus’. (Hottentot was a phonetic description of the Khoi-San people – Now considered derogatory. Hottentot was used because when spoken quickly it imitates the sound of the (now largely extinct KhoiKhoi Language) at the time and Venus eludes to the name of the Goddess of love , however Baartman experienced nothing but abuse throughout her life.) became  one of the most famous women of her day in europe from the years 1810 to 1815. During Baartman’s short life her body was fetished to the point of sadism even after her death.

Born in 1789 she was taken from her native South Africa to London as a slave where she became the objects of a humiliating freak show for no other reason than the dimensions of her body. There is no doubt that Baartman’s body was unusual in its exaggeration of her buttocks and it has also been documented that she had an elongated labia. Put on display as an objective of curiosity she was presented like an animal to paying visitors with the price of the show including the opportunity to touch her if they weren’t ‘too afraid’ to.

After this period of her life she was moved to Paris where she became the subject of biological paintings where scientists tried to prove that her body was that of a prehistoric form.  To extend the already unbearable humiliation to Baartman’s existence her genitialia which was meant to have been of a larger scale was repeatedly offered money if she would display it to an academic audience.

Towards the end of her life she was finally subjected to prostitution in private parties at first, then developing alcoholism she worked in a brothel and died of [...]

Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev

Danzig Baldaev – Russian officer and the warden of the Kresty (Crosses) isolator, known not only for his three-volume almanac “Russian Criminal Tattoo”, but also his work in the book “Drawings from the Gulag”, created in the late 80s , based on the collected prison folklore and illustrations and then recently republished in 2010 by Fuel Design & Publishing.

The author had his own reasons to be interested in the Soviet authorities – he was the son of one of the repressed.

“My father told me that in the Sanskrit the word “Russia” means “experimental country” or “field of Satan”. One narrator-ulegirsha told him: “Demons and devils have nothing to fear now: they feared the priests , shamans , churches, monasteries , mosques and datsans before, but now in the human bodies they transformed into communists , NKVD members, informers and kombeds”.

Below have a look at translations from particular illustrations taken from the book from russian into english.

1. Blatari or “thieves in law” were on privileged positions in Gulag, like modern bureaucrats …

Criminals in the Gulag were three positions above the “enemies of the people.” Reputable repeatedly convicted “thieves in law” generally didn’t work, picker thieves – “shesterky” were in their ministry and bytoviki – “thieving men” gave their production percentage. Criminals helped to kill the “enemies of the people” in the Gulag labor camps …

2. The execution of “judgment by the decision of the court of thieves” in a labor camp …

Under the conditions of Stalin’s Gulag camps including full administration connivance, blatari-criminals were committing murders of convicts with the help of electricity, knives, gallows, beheading, fiery scrap pushed into the anus, etc. Many criminals had more than 10 “ships” on their [...]

Special Signs

These wonderful little Polish prison tattoos have been circulating around the internet recently, but many sites have neglected to mention the young Polish artist, Katarzyna Mirczak (b.1980) who both collected and photographed them. Furthermore, some of these sites  have completely forgotten to mention their status as artworks rather than a archived historical collection. Mirczak, whose photographic work focused on fieldwork documentation and journalism, was actually trained as an archaeologist at Jagiellonian University, the same university that collected the tattoos. And, I would argue that the crisp, stark, and seemingly straightforward nature of her photographs, perhaps stemming from her academic background, is essential to how they are read as photographs.

In 2010, Mirczak debuted the series Special Signs (alternately translated as Distinguishing Marks) at Paris Photo, backed by London gallerist Eric Franck. The collection, comprised of 60 tattoos preserved in formaldehyde, had been collected from neighboring prison(er)s by the University’s Department of Forensic Medicine since 1872. In an essay accompanying the photographs, Mirczak explained the tattoos’ function as social symbols within the prison, claiming that prison tattoos were thought to be only for deviants and criminals, each crudely poked image representing something of its wearer. The article goes on to explain that in the 1970s, law enforcement undertook an investigation of these tattoos, among others, to try to map a sort of criminal code.

The bright, backlit presentation of these formaldehyde jars is not unique to this series; Mirczak’s other photographic series, such as the decontextualized display of unlikely murder weapons in Tools of Crime, as they might be seen in an evidence room. Similarly, each tattoo is presented as an curiosity on a light box. But it is a mistake to treat these images as documents of their own visual contents; each image [...]

Make Love Not War by Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue September 2007

Declared by The Guardian as some of  “the most nauseatingly tasteless fashion pictures ever.” This editorial created by Steven Meisel presents us with some of the most intoxicatingly fascinating fashion photographs which play with our own preconceived notions of what we expect, want and what is deemed acceptable from a fashion image.

These photographs take place in a hypothetical army base somewhere in the Middle East where the female models are presented to us as some kind of object of sexual relief for the male soldiers. Cavorting around in mud and dust while wearing clothing of ridiculous pricing these photos are imbued with an incredibly dense amount of symbolism both in terms of fashion, feminism and politics. Looking back on them now seven years later its difficult to know whether to cry or laugh in reaction to them. Meisel is of course exceptional when it comes to creating a truly beautiful image of an unrealistic woman wearing the most important contemporary fashion and his regular use of satire and current attitudes in his work has always been what makes his district to any other photographer working. However is it really appropriate to glorify the Iraq war for the sake of creating fashion editorial images? It can be argued that Meisel exists in a league of his own in terms of fashion imagery, he is almost impossible to compete with and his visions always surprise his followers.


Read the entire article reacting to this editorial when it first came about here from The Guardian:

War – it’s so glamorous and sexy, isn’t it? No? Italian Vogue seems to think so. In what must be the most nauseatingly tasteless fashion pictures ever, this month’s issue features [...]