Crème de la femme

Growing up in a Washington Heights apartment with three strong women pretty much made the emergence of the Women’s Lib movement a no-brainer.  I had been coached on all the key tenets of feminism most of my life, not only through my mom, grandmother and sister, but from an extremely liberal father.  Three out of these four folks also had been blessed with the excessive humor gene, so, early on, I learned that if one truly wanted to make a point amongst the throngs of the unwashed, do it with wit – or, at the very least, with a modicum of entertainment.

Flash-forward to receiving a press release from Glitterati Incorporated, a publishing house specializing in the dying genre of beautifully produced coffee-table books:  “In chaotically stunning portraits, HER [by photographer Marjorie Salvaterra] captures the inner struggles of every woman.  The stunning black-and-white images truly allows rage, encourages body acceptance, explores creativity, and essentially breaks the facade of female perfection and provides insights into the pressures that women face every day.”  YIKES.  Don’t know about women, but I was starting to feel pressure, the kind when one’s windpipe slowly closes before everything goes dark.

Admirable as this might be to many, HER (subtitled Meditations on Being Female), sure didn’t sound like my cup of reviewing tea.  I wanted to immediately contact the publishers, enclosing the link to my last piece, a dichotomy on the pleasures of Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite.  But instead I bravely scrolled down and clicked open the enclosed sample images.

And, at once, my demeanor changed.   In fact, I burst out laughing.  The first visual (entitled Him) was the featured image chosen for this review (see above), the ultimate comment on every bad, dull, boring and “two fingers down the throat” relationship.  The subsequent shots were equally fetching, and, as quick as my anxious digits could hit reply, I contacted the Glitterati rep, instructing her to send me a copy ASAP.  The rest is HERstory.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover; that’s doubly true for a press release.  While awaiting the arrival of this wise tome, I decided to research its author.

Marjorie Salvaterra, I was delighted to learn (although it’s obvious from viewing her work), is an avid movie buff.  Actually, her start as a photographer began during a stint on motion picture location in Morocco.  I would love to know more about this, and, should the opportunity arise, will pursue the specifics of this adventure.

Not surprisingly, Salvaterra’s unique eye soon caught the more savvy members of various museum directors, who championed her art.  In her pseudo-snarky intro, she admits that “When I first began this project, I assumed most people would think I had lost my mind.”  As if that’s a bad thing!

Again, not surprisingly, many of the compositions reflect classic cinema, especially Fellini, ca. the La Dolce Vita/8 ½  era.  But, whether she’s aware of it or not, Salvaterra has also touched (albeit peripherally) upon the graphic offerings of other Italian filmmakers, including Dario Argento (Old Venice, She Goes On and On and On, You Can Pray or You Can Worry could have been lifted out of Suspira and Inferno) and even George Romero (Lesson in Realism resembles the female zombie answer to Lillith Fair).  But it don’t stop there, my fellow cineastes.  Push (at least to me) recalls a revisionist approach to Keaton’s Seven Chances and The Inevitable brings to mind the most famous image from Mankiewicz’s Suddenly, Last Summer.

But let your taste be your own guide; throughout the 144 lavish glossy pages are 75 of Salvaterra’s prime addictive creations (some accessible via deluxe foldouts), each boldly, merrily skipping along the Plath to inspired insanity.

Some of my favorites are included below, and comprise Sheila’s Leap of Faith, wherein the author’s model of choice dances with glee through a tsunami of Jacqueline Susann dolls; Sheila’s shielding herself with an umbrella at last brilliantly draws the fine line between Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.  Sheila Goes to Market fastidiously captures the housewife grocery experience in all its Stepford glory (and in early/mid-1960s garb).  And Mother Two chronicles that undeniable special bond between mater and daughter.

Okay, see what I mean?  I love this book.  I kinda wish that there was a 2017 HER calendar in the works; however, until then, this smart and in-your-face funny volume will heartily suffice.  And now that we actually have a coffee table at Manse Neuhaus, that’s exactly where HER shall reside.

HER.  144 pages.  8 15/16 x 11 7/8.  Hardcover.  75 black-and-white photographs.  Glitterati Incorporated.  ISBN: 978-1-943876-10-5.  $50.

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