In the days before the web, CompuServe and AOL competed for our attention, and one discriminator was adult focus groups, usually called glamour photography areas, where people could post "tasteful" pictures. Some professional photographers posted the glossy soft core porn they produced, a lot of amateurs posted pictures of girlfriends and wives.
Notable in the press of pictures was a girl called Brandi. Her story was surely a commonplace one. Her boyfriend persuaded her to pose topless. Then they decided it would be sexy to post the pictures. Then she got more daring. Then the emails started asking for things. Pretty soon she was naked. Then they were being paid for posts.
Somewhere along the way, the two of them said, "People are willing to pay us to do this? Far out!" and they began a cottage industry of hard and harder core porn. For a few years, Brandi had her own web site. She abandoned CompuServe, as far as I know, after using it to advertise her "Uncensored" web site. Still the pictures were amateurish, obviously produced by a boyfriend with a flashgun, in hotel rooms. Her sultry poses included lit lamps growing out of her back and mediocre hotel room paintings beyond her head. One picture, shot up her bent leg, makes her toe look bigger than her head. One lovely pose that became her home page shows her body at full advantage, but has crimson red eye from a sci-fi film.
What made Brandi such fun was that all her nude pictures had a quality about them that suggested she was working with secondhand knowledge. She had "little girl" pictures of herself, and bondage pictures. But to look at the bondage pictures, with Brandi tastefully draped in hardware chain (and not much else), you knew she'd never seen a real one. "Pictures with me tied up or in chains? Sure, anybody can do that." And the "little girl" pictures: They had none of the sick faux adolescence of the "Teen Sluts Are Waiting for You" sites. They were simply Brandi, late twenties, dressed in a cheerleader outfit that somehow has lost its undergarments.
There was an exuberance about Brandi's pictures, a sense of play. One picture I always loved showed her back to the camera, bent at the waist, her skirts hiked up to expose bare bottom and labia. And her face, upside down and grinning like a monkey, staring you down from between her calves. "People actually pay to look at this stuff. Far Out!"
She began to make some money off the site, and she left notes that suggested she finally was realizing what she'd gotten into. One poignant message offered to sell panties to anyone who asked but closed with a request that we not tell her what we were going to do with them. And then, about two years ago, she announced "See Brandi have sex with her boyfriend," and the sex pictures appeared.
They were, like all the rest, obviously homemade and under conditions of ambiguous but uncomplicated innocence. They were indeed penetration shots and fellatio from various angles. But not only was it, as she assured us, her boyfriend, but he took the pictures. The effect is strangely comic and a bit surreal. Imagine a man lying down between two floodlights, propping his head up, and then shooting pictures down his torso while his girlfriend does things to his penis. The lighting is atrocious, the camera angles laughable, the effect hopelessly unerotic.
And yet there is Brandi, in the thick of it, with her integrity intact. He's her boyfriend. They do this stuff all the time. It's just pictures of the everyday occurrence of lovemaking. What difference does it make if someone sees pictures of it later? But no, she's not going to get naked or make love in the physical, dehumanizing presence of a photographer. To think that they were just too cheap or too greedy to hire a third party and share the money is to miss the point, I think.
Brandi's web site has been gone for some years. I think the sex pictures were a kind of emotional last straw. I'm sure she got "requests" after that which horrified her, if I am reading her correctly. Perhaps she decided that yes, it did matter, it did demean. Maybe not. Maybe she got bored with the routine. Maybe she broke up with the guy and he kept the camera. I prefer to think otherwise.
I prefer to think that Brandi was a special mind, a woman who regarded the camera as something as neutral as a cat. There is a lack of self-consciousness in the pictures that is stunning, once you notice it. She is just there, and the camera sees her. She poses, but the camera is just an extension of the man she loves, and what he can capture on film is what she will do, alone with him. Nothing more, and nothing less.