Research can be educational as well as fun

Playboy front cover, June 1967

Playboy cover, June 1967

I’ve been doing a lot of background research in to my next photo project. It’s been fascinating. I’ve mentioned it before but my idea was to do a series of photo-shoots in the style of Playboy centrefolds from each decade it’s been published, starting with the 50’s. I’ll detail why I have chosen to pursue this idea later. Anyway, back to the research. I bought some books on ebay with historical information about the magazine as well as the centrefold images to give me ideas on pictorial styles. Then at beginning of last week i bought myself a s/h ipad and discovered that they do an iPad internet app that, for a monthly or yearly fee, allows you access to every single magazine(playboy) ever printed in USA since day 1. I signed up and I’m glad I did but not for the reasons you are all thinking. While the picture sections are interesting it’s the rest of the content that’s really the most compelling.

There are so many issues that it’s bewildering to know where to start so I decided to just jump in at 1968 and start reading from start to finish. I’ve learned a lot about society in USA at this time already. The adverts for are amazing. Some so dated but others that you can imagine would go down a storm now, what with the fascination for all things retro with Mad Men. Did you know that in 1968 TWA launched their “fly international on domestic flights” programme? Yes, if you were flying domestically you could choose to take an English style flight, or perhaps an Italian one, maybe even French, the differences being in the dress of the air hostesses (wench or toga!) along with in flight food, entertainment and magazines. I kid you not.

The letters pages though give a glimpse in to the societal changes that were happening in this period as do some of the interviews. When you say Playboy most folk think of pornography but Playboy was much more than a little titillation. There are 170+ pages in these magazines and of those about 10-15 are pictorial. There is a lot of written content. So far, in the two issues i’ve got through I’ve discovered that sex outside marriage was illegal in many states. Fines and jail sentences were things we take for granted were prevalent. Parents would even go as far as having their daughters assessed for insanity so they could be sectioned under mental health legislation rather than allow them to practice consensual sex outside marriage. Men who loved other men were regularly sent to jail for having sex, in private, consensually. Then there is the hippy drug movement. Lots of letters from Dr’s and PHd research professors stating how useful treatment with LSD can be! Playboy set up a fund to help fight legal battles to aid reform in these civil liberties battles and the subjects of these cases would continually be monitored within the pages of the magazine. I’ve no idea if it is still as pioneering now but back in its heyday it was obviously substantially different to its competition. Now I need to decide which era to start with and choose some models!

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