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Art and Lit Publication Inspired by 60's and 70's Nudie Mags
While helping curate and build the Music Box shantytown in the Ninth Ward over a year ago, artists Theo Eliezer and Micah Learned devised a new art and literary magazine that would take its inspiration from men’s lifestyle magazines from the 60’s and 70’s, but distill the classically cool and intuitively interesting from the schlock and dated stereotypes. The result is Momma Tried, a self-described “conceptual nudie mag” that is about to run off the print rollers and onto your naked coffee table.
Eliezer and Learned’s goal is to present art and writing that is inclusive and descriptive of the vast sexual landscape that exists between the binary poles of pinup porno and lecture hall dissections of libido. In addition, Momma Tried has a non-heteronormative editorial stance, which means that its ideal reader can aspire to the level of coolness contained inside no matter their gender, sexual status, or smoking jacket size.
Ryan Sparks: What essence of 60's and 70's nudie mags did you most want to emulate? Which were you eager to avoid?
Micah: The late 1960’s and 1970’s were the heyday for modern magazines. A number of publications were taking risks with their content and art direction at that time. George Louis and Jean-Paul Goude, two of the best art directors to work in the medium, held positions at Esquire back-to-back. From covers like ‘The Passion of Muhammad Ali’ to ‘Andy Warhol Drowns in his Own Soup’ to “Oh my God - we hit a little girl.”, George Lois’ covers often operated as both celebrations and subversions of the medium. Jean-Paul Goude was also really quite experimental, especially in his development of what came to be known as the ‘French Correction,’ a sort of pre-Photoshop manipulation of the body. And Harold Hayes, as editor of Esquire, was helping to revolutionize journalism with a stable of writers from Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote to Gay Telese. They introduced and legitimized New Journalism to a mainstream audience.
June, Photo by Sarah Danzinger, Concept by Corinne Loperfido
At the same time, Playboy was publishing all these experimental, often leftist, and previously blacklisted, authors and combining these perspectives with somewhat revolutionarily open portrayals of sexuality. It was the first and possibly only coffee-table nudie mag in America. “I only read Playboy for the articles,” may be a cliche and a bit tongue in-cheek but, in many cases, it was also true.
I think with a brief overview of these magazines its clear why they continue to be influential, and a major source of inspiration and appropriation; however, they always were and are increasingly problematic. From the advertisements to the comic corners, there was a pervasive misogyny at the core of these magazines. They were incessantly straight. And, in the case of Playboy, they steadily contributed to an unrealistic ideal for female beauty which has had lasting negative impacts upon women’s body image and men’s expectations.
RS: Does Momma Tried function as a comment (implicitly or explicitly) on today's pornographic and lifestyle magazines, or is it more about just taking those concepts down a different alley?
Theo: Momma Tried isn’t a direct commentary on pornography or lifestyle magazines, though there are some aspects of both that we are specifically addressing, such as the lack of diversity, unrealistic standards of beauty, and heteronormative portrayals of relationships and sexuality that are outdated and alienating to lots of people.
Collage by Maj Anya Debear
We’ve talked a lot with each other about the experience of having a tangible publication in-hand; the feel and smell of the paper, the weight of it, how a book or magazine can be an object that’s carried through daily life for a period of time--all of those things factor into the concept of what we’re creating. So, even if someone’s just reading a trashy magazine, the experience is often more immersive and memorable than viewing content of equal quality on the internet.
I think it has to do with the relationships we form with physical objects; some magazines, like books, become part of our personal history, and if one sticks around long enough, it becomes a source of nostalgia. I still have the very first porn mag I ever bought which was during the summer after 7th grade when I was trying to be super cool in front of my friends who were all skater boys. Even though it’s just a shitty old copy of Penthouse from the 90’s that I bought in a corner store, for me it’s now a sentimental object tied to a particular phase of my life.
RS: What is the format like?
Micah: Theo and I have spent a lot of time hashing and rehashing the physical details, concepts, and intentions behind Momma Tried, but we don’t want to beat people over the head with those every time they open it up. It’s going to be a standard 8.5” x 11,” approximately 144 pages, full color, matte finish and perfect-bound. It’s going to be beautiful and easy to carry around. No gimmicks. No odd packaging. No snooty design. We used one issue of Playboy with Dolly Parton on the cover as the basis for most of our layout decisions.
Theo: We’re publishing a magazine and not a book or a journal, but the overall quality of it is more on par with publications that use those descriptions. It’s not a flimsy glossy mag like People that one might find in an airport kiosk and throw away two weeks later. Our choice of paper weight and finish were chosen for the feel and look, but also longevity.
Micah: Exactly, it’s substantial and will fit right in on your bookshelf. With this first issue we wanted the printed object to remain with you as long as the ideas will.
RS: Where does Momma Tried fall on the continuum between titillating and obscene?
Theo: We’re definitely creating a work that is on the titillating end of the spectrum, where the nudity supports creative concepts instead of being specifically a tool for arousal. The photos are sexy, but because they’re photographs of our friends and peers in our community, there’s a lot more to the images than dudes being heartthrobs or women making sexy-face at the camera.
Man of Steel, Photo by Steven Lang
RS: Were there some submissions that you felt did not fit because of their content?
Theo: Our process of selecting pieces really came down to how good each one was, though I vetoed some submissions that were too extreme in one way or another for the first issue. Normalizing the naked body and sexual expression is an important first step, since a lot of people might still feel awkward about seeing a penis or breasts next to literary content, and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to alienate people by being too graphic right off the bat.
RS: Can you break down the range of the different writing projects that will be in this issue?
Micah: From the outset I wanted the writing featured in Momma Tried to run the gamut from science writing and cultural essays to short fiction, poetry, and genre-defying experimental works. The main criteria for the writing we accepted was for it to be both entertaining and worth returning to, so I didn’t necessarily think we’d get to publish such a scope of material with this first issue, but we are. As a result, the selection of writing in this issue is fairly broad, ranging from Ben Ewen-Campen’s interview with Dr. Vincent Lynch, in which they dissect the ‘science’ of the female orgasm (it turns out there fundamentally aren’t any sound scientific theories, just patriarchal ones), to Kate Durbin’s “Wives Shows,” which is essentially a transcription of five different Real Housewives-type reality shows, resulting in an eerie yet humorous cultural criticism.
RS: How did you come up with your photo editorials and assign them?
Theo: My process for coming up with ideas for this first issue involved identifying what tropes are most common in print magazines and thinking of ways to deconstruct them. There is still such a lack of diversity in mainstream publications that by simply embracing the diversity of our community and friend group, each one of our three editorials is in some way a repositioning of how people are typically portrayed. The industry’s representations of gender, ethnicity, body type, and orientation are so monotonous that it’s not too difficult to branch out from those very rigid norms.
RS: What are the themes of the photo editorials?
Theo: The three nude editorials that we created for our first issue are Earthly Delights, Crystal Visions, and Paper Dolls. Earthly Delights was inspired by the films of Kenneth Anger, and the beautiful and grotesque scenes of the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. I’m a big fan of the fashion photographers Mert Atlas and Marcus Piggott, and their style definitely influenced what I envisioned for this shoot, which is one of the reasons we sought out Daniel Ford to be our photographer, since he captures drama and glamour in a similar way, with a brilliant eye for candid moments and composition.
Crystal Visions, which was photographed by Aubrey Edwards, was initially inspired by the music and style of Stevie Nicks, and became a sort of non-linear story about a character I took to calling the Dream Walker. I envisioned this character appearing to people with symbolic messages between sleep and waking, so it’s full of dreamy early-morning light, washes of color, and 1970’s prismatic effects meant to reference the Dream Walker’s place in the subconscious.
Paper Dolls is a playful exploration of how our outward appearances influence what others assume about us, and what judgments about lifestyle and economic status are projected as a result. With photographs of our models (shot by Alana Pryor Ackerman) we recreated the format of classic paper doll pages, which typically look like a doll in nondescript undergarments surrounded by different outfits that have foldable tabs on them so the clothes can be worn. Each doll character is a sort of blank canvas in white underwear, and next to them are outfits that represent divergent aspects of themselves expressed through clothing, each one potentially indicating something different about the culture, status, or identity of that doll when worn.
7. Does the magazine have much of a focus on New Orleans, or is it more of a product that is "made in NOLA?"
Micah: It’s definitely a product of New Orleans and our community, but we’re not reporting on current events and goings-on about town. There are enough publications in New Orleans doing that. We want to celebrate and publicize the intellectual life of the south, and we want Momma Tried to be a living document of the current climate and culture in New Orleans, which is both spectacular and precarious.
Theo: We’re very invested in creating a platform for local artists and writers to gain visibility, and we decided early on that the best way to achieve that would be to distribute the magazine internationally so that the work of our contributors could be seen around the world. In addition to showcasing the work of our local collaborators, we have many contributing writers and artists that live around the country and some abroad, which is something that we’re really happy about, because everyone involved in one way or another is contributing to a project that is inspired by our local identity.
Momma Tried #1 will be available at Gnome in the French Quarter and Blue Dream Boutique in the Marigny. Or, have a copy mailed direct to your door when you pre-order via a Kickstarter Pledge before Thursday, April 4th. Bonus gifts like launch party invites and photo prints are available with higher levels of backing.
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