Erotic publishing: Taschen

Image of magazines cover photo
(Image credit: press)

In W*124 we delved into the world of erotic publishing, looking into how and who transformed it from the murky back room to the respectable front room.

Here we've delved a bit deeper - between the covers of some seminal tomes, and, spoken in greater length to some of the pioneers, including Joseph Corre, founder of Agent Provocateur and Kinder Aggugini, founder of Deliciae Vitae. We will be publishing the interviews over the coming weeks. First up, however, is Dian Hanson, sexy book editor (really) of Taschen.

How and why did Taschen corner the market of erotic coffee table publishing?

It all started simply because Benedikt Taschen likes sex and sexual imagery and wanted to do books on his personal passions. He urged me to join TASCHEN as the sex book editor for years, as he was a big fan of my sex magazine Leg Show. When I finally became the Sexy Book editor in 2001 our complimentary filthy minds conspired to create books that no two gentler imaginations could match.

Cover photo of The Big Book of Breasts

(Image credit: press)

See a sample of The Big Book of Breasts

What is it about the presentation that makes even the most graphic of photographs seem like art rather than smut?

Context is everything. We wrap our smut in the prettiest paper, tie it with a top quality bow, and proudly stamp it with our name. Most art book publishers have a lesser known imprint reserved for sex books to protect the good name of their main division. We believe good sexual imagery is equal to any art and refuse to treat it as inferior.

Plus, I know how to pick the images that include the elements of good art.

How did you get into erotic publishing?

I began working on sex magazines in 1976, starting with a hardcore, supposedly highbrow magazine called Puritan. From there I went to Partner, Oui, Adult Cinema Review, Harvey, Hooker, Outlaw Biker, to my successful magazines Juggs, Leg Show and assorted others. Except for the first, and for Outlaw Biker, they were all softcore newsstand magazines. As mentioned above, Benedikt was a fan of Leg Show, and he tracked me down in the US. He published several books on Leg Show contributors, including Eric Kroll, Elmer Batters, and Roy Stuart, long before I joined the company.

Cover photo of The Big Penis Book

(Image credit: press)

See a sample of The Big Penis Book

How do you feel the genre has changed over the years?

Thanks to TASCHEN it’s moving away (somewhat) from the dreary black and white art nudes that dominated since the dawn of photography. We’ve introduced more sexually explicit material and seen that it can be accepted for its artistic merit as well as its libidinal appeal. We’ve also plumped up the heterosexual male sex book market, while other publishers fall back on easier to distribute, more politically correct gay themes.

It seems the older the material the more attractive it gets. What is it about erotica that gives it such vintage appeal?

It’s simply to get vintage material in the stores, so you see more of it, as yesterday’s porn is today’s historical interest. For many, the curiosity of all that surrounds the figures is entertaining: the old hairstyles, the clothing, if any, the furnishings, but there’s also the argument that many old photos are of better quality. Analog cameras, film and fiber prints lend warmth and depth that digital can’t match. I worry about what legacy modern photographers who leave, having worked their entire careers in digital.

Has the internet changed people’s attitudes towards sex and erotica do you think?

Certainly the Internet has changed everything. We now have a generation of young adults who, for better or worse, have been aware of pornography from earliest childhood. It influences fashion and beauty to the same extent as Hollywood films and television. It has fostered a horror of body hair and acceptance of highly unnatural bodies in the US. It has made women aware of pornography as they never were a generation ago, and made porn seem like a viable career option for increasing numbers of them. At the same time, it’s killing the commercial porn industry, though thankfully, not sex books. Not long ago people would pay huge sums of money for fairly mediocre sexual imagery. Now they refuse to pay anything for even the best work, since it’s dished up for free on the Internet. In the San Fernando Valley, home to a thriving porn industry 10 years ago, the vast buildings stand empty, willing young men and women are having to turn to jobs in retail and food service, and the old stars are finding themselves destitute and unemployable. The real question is, what will happen to the Internet when commercial porn has been driven out of business?

Cover photo of The Big Book of Legs

(Image credit: press)

See a sample of The Big Book of Legs

Why is female erotica so attractive to women and men but male erotica only has a relatively small market?

Male erotica does have a huge market, but it’s almost exclusively gay. Check out the top sellers in the Erotic Photography and Nude categories on Amazon and you’ll see a good half of them are gay themed. DO you mean why aren’t women buying books of nude men? It all goes back to the relatively nonvisual nature of female eroticism. When a woman buys a tasteful book of vintage female nudes she’s not taking it home for sexual stimulation, as a man might, but to feel liberal, or because she genuinely finds the photos artistic. If she buys a book of male nudes it comes with more freight, the expectation that it’s supposed to arouse her in the way photos arouse men, and when it doesn’t she suspects something’s wrong with her, or wrong with the imagery. My Big Penis Book has been quite popular with women, but they all criticise the models: They aren’t good looking enough, or they look like hoodlums, or couldn’t their penises be even bigger? They’re really just making excuses for not being aroused by the photos when the simple fact is that most women are not terribly aroused by depictions of sex. There are, of course, exceptions.

Cover photo of Tom of Finland XXL

(Image credit: press)

See a sample of Tom of Finland XXL

How do you come up with and research the subjects?

I am always sniffing around. I have a list of known erotic collections around the country--most in private hands-- and the content of those collections. I cruise the Internet looking for new photographic talent and new directions in consumer interest. I really do examine every proposal that comes in and respond promptly to the sender, giving encouragement if I see there’s potential they’ve not yet realized. I’ve never understood all the arrogant editors who ignore the slush pile and think all ideas have to sprout from their own heads. I’ve been nurturing emerging talents for 20 years and they are the source of much of my success.

What are you planning next?

Currently working on The Big Butt Book, to be followed by a book on the vulva, but not sure what word to use yet, as vulva is a ghastly word and vagina is simply not correct for the part that will be featured. Have a new book of Terry Richardson’s photography in the works, a couple projects with mature women, as they’re a very hot category currently, a book on the artwork of flamboyant 1940s and ’50s physique artist George Quaintance, one on psychedelic sex from the 1960s, and a few that can’t be discussed because they’re not finalized yet. At TASCHEN the list is always long…