Warning: This content contains adult themes and may be considered NSFW (not safe for work).
At the intersection of Beverly and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles, there's a billboard of a topless woman adjusting her stockings , her toes curled over her car's dashboard. The image is the perfect emblem for Taschen Gallery's new fetish art show, "Bizarre Life - The Art of Elmer Batters and Eric Stanton" (link NSFW).
(Caption: A billboard advertises Taschen's latest show at the corner of Beverly and Crescent Heights boulevards. Photo: Chris Greenspon)
"A fetish is a substitute for 'natural,' procreative sex," says Taschen Publishing's Sexy Book Editor, Dian Hanson. "Something that symbolizes sex that becomes the center of your sex life."
Photographer Elmer Batters was obsessed with women's feet. Illustrator Eric Stanton's thing was "big, strong women who would wrestle him down to the ground," Hanson says.
Both men were World War II veterans. Batters apparently realized he had a foot fetish on board a submarine, discovering he was the only sailor who liked feet more than the other parts of a woman's body, Hanson says.
(Caption: In the mid-60s, Eric Stanton illustrated hundreds of sexploitation book covers. Photo: Chris Greenspon)
Batters self-published his photos, by necessity. "The Sneaker World of Elmer Batters," "Leg Language," "Thigh High" and "Skirts that Flirt" were magazines sold through mail order in the 50s and 60s. Batters' models were not merely Playboy bunnies trying on shoes; he often photographed them performing lesbian sex acts.
Stanton's illustrations were sold under the counter in Times Square. After making a name for himself as a fantasy-artist-for-hire in pulp magazine ads, he was commissioned by booksellers Stanley Malkin and Eddie Mishkin to illustrate sexploitation novels. Four cover paintings a month paid Stanton's rent at a flat in Manhattan in the mid-60s. The bookstores that carried these novels were protected by organized crime, according to Hanson.
One of Stanton's creations made it onto drug store racks, though. Richard Perez, Stanton's biographer, says Spiderman creator Steve Ditko shared a studio with Stanton in the 1950s, and credited Stanton with Spidey's full-face mask. "There was no such thing before that. There was only a half-mask. You'd see the nose and the mouth. The full-face mask was a fetish inspiration."
The market for fetish art was deflated by the first explicit porn film to get wide distribution in the U.S.: 1970's "Mona the Virgin Nymph," according to Perez. The movie made moot the simulated or suggested sex of Batters' erotica and Stanton's sexploitation, and led to a decline in their careers.
Cartoonist Jack Enyart isn't sure whether Batters and Stanton's work qualifies as pornography.
"The borderline keeps changing," he says. "If someone makes an issue, then that's pornography, or that's awful, and that's something we can't do, but you don't know where it is these days. It's a matter of what special interest group decides 'this is pornographic' or not."
Adult film actress and director April Flores is grateful for their work. She calls Batters' models brave and Stanton's sexual imagination "progressive."
(Caption: Eric Stanton's cover art for "A Lesson In Eros," 1964. The female figure was inspired by '60s screen goddess Ursula Andress. Image courtesy of TASCHEN)
Foot fetishists, submissives, and transvestites were shown that "they're not alone" by Batters and Stanton's work. More importantly, because women were shown participating in their fantasies, it showed young men that "the women liked it and wanted it," Hanson says.
Taschen's "Bizarre Life" runs to May 24 at The Taschen Gallery at 8070 Beverly Blvd, LA CA 90048.