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Of all the subject matter likely to end up in the inbox of a self-publisher, sex is probably the most common. So it was only a matter of time before the London-based outfit Self Publish, Be Happy conquered the last bastion of arty pornography: the sex book.
Its first effort, appropriately titled 'Self Publish, Be Naughty', launched last night in an intimate East London bookshop, Donlon Books, complementing the intimate nature of the material. Readers will certainly recognise in 'SPBN' references to sex-lebrities of yore, from Bettie Page to John Holmes. Yet the publisher, which operates far outside the dominion of your average art-book house, also aims to subvert traditional erotica by including all manner of fetishes, whether gay, violent or downright surreal - 'anything the photographers found exciting,' says Bruno Ceschel, a lecturer and curator who set up Self Publish, Be Happy. 'I think the photos are arousing because of that. You kind of feel the arousal of the photographers themselves.'
Call it an equal-opportunity turn-on or even meta-erotica, in which the object of the imagery and the photographer are often one and the same. The cover, says Ceschel, encapsulates that philosophy. 'You see an image of a hand going between the legs of a girl,' says Ceschel, 'but the legs are owned by the photographer.'
The project grew organically from a series of 'naughty' photographs a contact of Ceschel's sent to him, unsolicited, a year ago. Ceschel posted them on his website, eventually launching an online erotic photo-of-the-week series. With a book in mind, Ceschel put out a call for submissions and received 5,000 entries from a roster of artists as varied as Emily Yost, Lucas Blalock, David Schoerner and 'a 19-year-old student from Bulgaria'.
Ceschel and three colleagues narrowed those down to 122. The 1,000 limited-edition copies have been printed by self-publishing specialist Ubyu on loose A4 90gm gloss paper, bound by a removable elastic band in a unique sequence for each book - 'an echo,' says Ceschel, 'of the fragmented and subversive nature of desire'. There's also a special edition of SPBN, incorporating hand-printed C-Type prints (in edition of 10) of found negatives collected by Bryan Dooley. The 100 Special Edition buyers' names will also be listed in the book.
If there's any running theme behind the imagery, it's that the era of cataloguing our sexual preferences into tidy categories is over. 'Our understanding of sexual identity has changed dramatically from the previous generation's,' says Ceschel. 'Some of us no longer define ourselves as straight, gay and bisexual. It's blurrier. I think things are going in that direction, and our community is at the forefront of that change.
'But,' he continues, 'this book should work regardless of the political agenda. It's mainly a book about good pictures.'