Please note: This review includes a passing reference to my personal sex life. Family members and others who don't want to read that stuff may want to skip this one. There are also nude pictures in this review; please don't click the "Continue" button if you're under 18 or don't want to see those. This review was originally published in Adult FriendFinder magazine.
Here's what you see in this book. Apart from photos of naked girls shamelessly showing off their goodies, that is.
You see smiles. Half-smiles. Awkward grimaces. Coy sidelong glances. Eyes gazing up in adoration. Eyes lowered sweetly and shyly. Eyes shut tight in rapture. Intense stares. Puzzled stares. Thoughtful stares. Looks of concentration. Looks of amusement. A sneer, a yawn, a tongue sticking out. Grins. Glowers. Giggles.
Now, here's what you don't see a lot of in this book:
The sultry model's pout.
You know the one. The "stare at the camera without smiling" one. The one that's supposed to look sexy and smoldering and "come-hither," but usually just looks blank. The one you see on almost every goddamn page of almost every goddamn erotic photo book on the goddamn planet. If you've seen any decent amount of contemporary adult photography, it's a facial expression you're almost certainly way too familiar with.
There's not a whole lot of it in Richard Kern's "Action".
And that, all by itself, is enough for me praise it to the skies.
It's not just that I'm so bored with the sultry model's pout that I could scream and set fires. That's certainly true -- but there's more to it than that.
It's that the women in these photos look like they're there. They look engaged, interested in what they're doing. I don't just mean that they look like they're having a good time -- although many of them do. I mean that they look present. When they're spreading their legs or playing with their tits, sucking on a dildo or bending over to show off their ass, they look like they have thoughts and feelings about what they're doing, and you get a vivid sense of those thoughts and feelings. They look like they're in the moment, really feeling and experiencing it -- and that makes it easier for you, looking at that moment captured in a photo, to feel it and experience it as well.
It's not that the models aren't vamping for the camera. They are. But Kern's idea of a perfect pornographic moment doesn't so much involve every hair being in place, or every model looking like a blank canvas onto which anyone could project their fantasies. Kern's idea of a perfect moment involves women looking like themselves, their sexual selves, as much as possible. The women in "Action" don't look like Everywoman, or Every Fantasy Woman. They don't even look like The Girl Next Door, which has somehow become just another impossible fantasy ideal anyway. They look like… well, like people. Attractive, sexy, female people, with quirks and character, showing off their sexuality.
And that's unbelievably hot.
Did I mention yet how hot this book is? Well, it is. Kern is certainly interested in beautiful women with personality and character -- but he's also interested in beautiful women with their legs spread, beautiful women on their hands and knees, beautiful women in stockings and high heels, beautiful women with beautiful feet and legs, beautiful women fucking themselves with dildos, beautiful women giving a tantalizing glimpse of their pussies, beautiful women spreading their pussies and assholes wide open for the world to see. Kern is an exceptionally skillful portrait photographer, but he's a shameless horndog as well, and he pursues his pornographic lusts and fetishes with a relentless, unrepentant, unblinking focus.
And it's completely hot. The combination of vivid personality and drooling voyeurism makes "Action" one of the hottest adult photo books I've seen in a good long time.
Here's how hot it is: What was supposed to be a simple, professional moment of showing the book to my Lovely Testing Partner so she could see what I was working on, quickly turned into a very unprofessional session of passionate dirty sex on the sofa. And she's not usually much interested in porn. I know there's not really a "couples" niche for adult photography… but if there were, this book might be an excellent candidate.
There's a lovely variety in "Action" as well, one that's depressingly rare in adult photo books. The models are mostly young, mostly slim, mostly white… but not entirely. There are a few older women, a few bigger women, a few women of color. And while the models are very conventionally pretty, they're not airbrushed to plastic perfection: they have freckles, blemishes, razor stubble, folds of skin. There's not quite enough variety and imperfection to keep Greta "Variety And Reality Are My Fetishes" Christina completely happy; but there's enough to keep the book from having that tedious, ticky-tacky, "they all look just the same" quality of so much erotic photography.
There's a DVD included with the book as well, an hour of video footage shot by Kern, featuring many of the models from the book (often in the same or similar poses). But while the DVD is reasonably enjoyable, it's not as outstanding as the still photography.
I think with the still photos, Kern was able to pick out the one moment that best captured the uniqueness of each model. The DVD doesn't do that. It doesn't quite have the expressive, distinctive, "who the hell is that woman and what on Earth is going through her mind?" quality that Kern's still photos have. It's more pose-y, more vampy, more "show off and writhe around for the camera"; and with a few exceptions, it lacks the sweet, vivid, "lost in the moment" quality of the still photos. It's almost like an unusually arty and classy "Girls Gone Wild" video. It doesn't suck or anything -- but while you might expect the video footage to be more lively and animated than the still photos, in an odd way it's more watered-down. (It does have music by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, though, which kicks it up a notch.)
But really, that's just a quibble. Unless you're buying this book solely for the DVD, the fact that the DVD is mildly disappointing is just not that big a deal. What is a big deal is the book itself. And the book itself is a real find: vivid, expressive, bursting with quirky personality and with shameless, howling lust. If you're any kind of fan of adult photography, I strongly encourage you to snap this one up.
Conflict of interest note: I work for a company, Last Gasp, that carries this book. That's how I found out about it.