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Bookshelf: Naked Women for the Holidays 

Bookshelf: Naked Women for the Holidays 


Artists for decades have captured the female body in print, but few as wonderfully as the late lesbian photographer Tee A. Corinne, whose imagery intertwined women's private parts with naturescapes, blending the erotic with the natural world. The subject of a recent exhibition at New York's Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, "Lesbians Seeing Lesbians: Building Community in Early Feminist Photography," Corinne would be pleased with some of the newest coffee table books that look at women, well, differently. Here are eight of this year's best photo tomes -- some by women, a couple by men -- that any lesbian or bisexual woman would love for a holiday gift.

Naked Beauty
Of the myriad of photographers looking at the female form, former model turned photographer Sylvie Blum brings an undeniably unique perspective to Naked Beauty ($69, teNeues). Blum, who has worked with iconic artists like Helmut Newton and Andreas H. Bitesnich, bathes women in a gentle light and lets her subjects transform on film into thrilling naked living sculptures. Every page is sumptuous and fascinating and she gets props for including women of color -- very often an afterthought in erotic photography. The 160-page Naked is available in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian editions with a forward by Anne Wilkes Tucker.

Culo by Mazzucco
Culo made headlines, thanks to its Sean "Diddy" Combs involvement, but really Raphael Mazzucco's photos should get all the attention. The word "culo" is meant to reflect an "art, fashion, and pop-culture movement that defies all national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries." No matter where you're from, though, the bottom line is, it's all about the butt, which Mazzucco is deeming the new "epicenter of female sexuality, desire, and empowerment." Culo by Mazzucco ($41, Atria Books) pays tribute to ladies derrieres with more than 200 photographs and artworks created on location around the world, a diverse group of African, Latina, Euro, and Asian women.

It's a slim book, compared to the rest of this list, but feminist legend Joani Blank (founder of the iconic sex toy store, Good Vibrations) offers up some lovely vulva art in Femalia ($12, Last Gasp). Blank has worked as an educator in the sexuality field for more than 30 years, but her book is anything but clinical. Blank shows cleverly how the anatomical variety of female genitalia creates a kind of lovely biological art all its own.

Ellen von Unwerth: Fraulein
Famed photographer Ellen von Unwerth is easily one of the world's most successful fashion photographers and in this new collection, Ellen von Unwerth: Fraulein ($42, Taschen), she celebrates the form of some of the world's most desirable femmes. Among them: Kate Moss, Britney Spears, Eva Mendes, Lindsay Lohan, Dita von Teese, Carla Bruni, and Christina Aguilera. Von Unweth's images were shot over the last 15 years and many were previously unpublished. Even though they're celebrities, the women in these shots -- some nude, some in lingerie or sheets -- feel like ordinary beauties, and each image is riveting and almost romantic in gaze. Bonus points: the author of the whopping 472-page book is a lesbian, Ingrid Sischy, who is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and the longtime former editor in chief of Interview magazine.

La Petite Mort
The title of La Petite Mort (Taschen) refers to the French euphemism for orgasm and the women in Canadian photographer Will Santillo's massive 208-page picture book are achieving "the little death" their own way. Each woman in Santillo's tome -- which includes a pretty wide cross section of young and old, fit and fat -- was asked to masturbate to climax while he captured the moment on sepia-toned film, capturing a normally hidden beauty. None of the women seems posed for the camera, at least not in the sense that you'd find from male-aimed pornography; many in fact are facing away. Even better, editor and author Dian Hanson (who did the gay fave book, Tom of Finland XXL) interviewed almost 40 of the women in the book to talk about their experiences, offering a nice girl-next-door take on masturbation.

Female Erotic Photography
Finish-Hungarian-American Reka Nyari is a Gen-X fine artist who got her start as a model first, which is one reason she brings a sympathetic and earnest gaze to her female models in Female Erotic Photography ($26, Femme Fatale). Her first official American book of photography, Female Erotic Photography, is a 214-page compilation of her greatest work without any overriding focus. But a theme easily emerges from her images -- women's inner and outer lives merging -- in a way that lets Nyari blend black-and-white scenes of pleasure and sexuality with stark labia shots, nude art models, and even some men (thankfully, not too many). It's a fascinating and sort of spectacular mix.

Uwe Ommer: Do It Yourself
Photographer Uwe Ommer once spied his babysitter taking photos of herself in the mirror, and it inspired this 200-page collection of erotic self-portraits he's curated here. Each woman in Uwe Ommer: Do It Yourself ($11, Taschen) was given a camera and basic technical instructions but nothing else, thus removing the male gaze (or really any voyeuristic statements from the artist) from the shots, which makes for a fascinating collection of real women making beautiful, empowering, and sometimes erotic images of themselves. Many women still seem hidden, though, by mirrors or angles, a fascinating reminder of how hard it is, even in the age of Kardashian sex tapes, to step out completely nude, without prop or cover, and represent your full erotic power -- cameras or no.

Bruno Bisang: 30 Years of Polaroids
Not unlike Helmut Lang's Polaroid collection, Bruno Bisang's collection of Polaroid archives offer a glimpse of the artistic process that no longer exists in this digital age. But in the 208-page Bruno Bisang: 30 Years of Polaroids ($63, teNeues), which came out earlier this year in five different translations, it's the women who are the star of the show. The book is probably meant to show us Bisang's process -- each miscalculation, every discarded image -- but what it does more presciently is to capture women like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks as they are when in images that don't get presented to the public. It's a reminder that beautiful women we see on the pages of fashion magazines are not singular creations. Instead, sometimes their image is a long process, one that makes them seem more perfect than possible because of artists behind the scenes like Bisang. It's starkly fascinating.
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