Justice Potter Stewart made the comment that he was not exactly sure what pornography is, but that he would know it if he saw it. One wonders what Justice Stewart would think of the work of Bob Coulter. Bob, who previously authored “Crazy Babe” is clearly working with a unique vision. Is this erotic art, is it a social statement, is it just pornography? Probably none of those. More likely, it’s a documentation of the wilder side of New York City in the 21st century. Bob’s models are certainly girls on the edge. Tattoos, peircings, dyed hair. They are dancers, escorts, waitresses, and an occasional medical student. But for some reason, they are all drawn to showing off their bodies in ways that reveal not just their private parts, but in ways that reveal their charactersand maybe a sense of rebellion. Women’s rights advocates posit that women must have the right to control their bodies, and these girls certainly seem to be walking their own paths. But you could argue that these “poor waifs” are simply reacting to a male dominated society. So who the fuck knows. But they are strange….that’s for sure.
What is even more strange is the hotel where Bob has done these photos. Spinning off his original idea of photographing his “babes” at the “upscale” Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, Bob has gone over the edge with this work. All the photos have been done in the course of a year at the notorious “Carlton Arms Hotel” on 25th street. Nobody in their right mind would ever stay there. So the guests that do stay there are mostly European tourists, and some natives who want to be able to say they spent a night in a room that reminds you of the Merry Pranksters’ Magic Bus.
I guess almost nobody does acid anymore….but if they did….this is how they would decorate a hotel. Built in the 1840s, this five floor walk up features about 40 guest rooms, all of which are about 10 x 10 feet, with just enough room for a bed and a washbasin. Once a “gentlemens hotel” for businessmen coming in by horse from New Jersey, the hotel at one time had an adjoining stable and a well reputed eating establishment. It also had one of the first elevators in the city….a scary device that is now permanently anchored in its shaft….which is currently being used as the linen closet.
Over the years the hotel is said to have been a brothel, a flophouse, a welfare hotel…..and one can easily see the remnants of all those previous lives. But now its an adventure. With every room being decorated by a different artist. You can be inside a submarine, inside an Egyptian tomb, or in a room that reminds you of a prostitute’s room in a notorious TexMex border “boys town” establishment.
If the girls are “on the edge,” then so is Bob. Bob is a big guy whom you sense is still working with the playful mind of a pre-adolescent. When he laughs, its not a chuckle…he “explodes” with joy. His energy level drives the character of the book. Bob’s photography in this book is a physical tour de force. During a shoot, he circles the model, around and around 360 degrees, but then down low, up above, exploring every possible angle. Its outrageous. He sits a girl on the toilet, then he lays down on his back with his head between her feet and fires away!! Bob’s style is about perspective distortion as he uses his Canon camera and lens to accentuate the garish nature of the rooms and the very strange young ladies. Though not trained as a photographer, Bob has his technology and his technique down cold. Using an 8 megapixel Canon digital SLR camera, Bob shoots at a dizzying rate…… that would drive him into bankruptcy if he was shooting film. In a little over two hours, Bob pounds out 4 gigabytes of images. That’s the equivalent of about 40 rolls of film.
He shoots fast and pushes the girls to get the images he needs. There is a lot of verbal foreplay that goes into the shoot as well, as he and the girls tease each other about the nasty things they could do to each other. The scene of David Hemmings cavorting with the teenie-boppers in “Blow Up” is “Romper Room” compared to the way Bob works. He shot this book exclusively with a 15mm fisheye lens. While this would normally produce “round” pictures on a 35mm film camera, with the digital camera the effect is that of a poorly corrected wide angle lens. It actually enhances the strange nature of the wildly painted surroundings. And Bob works with juxtapositions. He loves to place his subjects so the girls seem to become part of the paintings. At times he shoots with the camera mere inches from the girls nose, her toes, or between her thighs. At other times he steps back to capture the girl in the environment. But by the time he is done, he will probably have imaged just about every square inch of the room, and just about every square inch of the girls.
Who knows what motivates Bob to do these pictures or what motivates the girls to pose. But they are an absolute hoot. So enjoy them, and just don’t take them too dammed seriously.