If anyone could amass a fantastic collection of erotic photography, it would be the legendary Eric Kroll. A Los Angeles photographer who specializes in fetishistic erotica with a sense of humor, he is now exhibiting for the first time at the Anna Kustera Gallery a selection of photographs by Elmer Batters, Weegee and himself that show just how sexy, intriguing, funny and original the genre can be.
Widely known for his 1994 coffee table book "Fetish Girls'' published by Taschen – which has sold over 200,000 copies – Kroll particularly enjoys other photographers who share his passion, among them Elmer Batters (1919-1997) and Weegee (1899-1968), who he began collecting in the ‘80s and ‘90s, respectively. Batters, a foot-fetish pioneer starting in the 1950s, helped make the formerly closeted field of sexual interest more acceptable, even fashionable and hip. Weegee, on the other hand, who is known primarily for his tabloid photographs of New York crime scenes and urban grit, found his natural habitat in the lower depths.
“Both Batters and Weegee have the quality I most admire- obsession,” Kroll says. “Weegee never slept. He had his office in the back of his car. Batters loved women's feet and he was free enough to obsess on photographing women's feet. Elmer ended up in court to defend his work and Weegee lived to take photos. By publishing Batters, Taschen elevated his work to art. “When Weegee's work was accepted into the MOMA he became an `artist’ and that led to his distortions. His idea of being an artist included making one-of-a kind images. Back then being a photographer didn't qualify as being an artist. Except for Stieglitz, every other photographer was considered a working hack. Weegee didn't want to be regarded as a hack even while he was making fun of himself. A great photographer has a distinctive style to their photographs. That is very much the case with both these photographers.”
Kroll began shooting kinky art pictures more than 30 years ago after a distinguished career as a New York photojournalist for publications like Elle, Vogue and Der Spiegel, and teaching at the International Center of Photography and the School of Visual Arts. Always fascinated by women, he won a grant in 1976 from the New York State Council of the Arts that helped fund his "Sex Objects,'' a book of photographs documenting the “regular human beings'' who worked in massage parlors and other roadside sex joints across America. But he didn't make his first truly fetish picture until 1988, when his neighbor Annie Sprinkle, the sexually explicit performance artist, lent him an outfit: a backless black leather thong, tall black heels, black leather eye mask and 1950s rocket-coned bra. He photographed his then-wife, Lynka, a statuesque blonde, in these duds, posed on a stool with her head tilted slightly down. The rest is history.
Kroll answers the question of what makes a successful erotic image when he co-edited with Dian Hanson "New Erotic Photography"- a survey of 84 photographers published by Taschen last year. He also demonstrates what he means in his other books for the publisher, such as "Eric Kroll's Fetish Days'' (1996), "Eric Kroll's Beauty Parade'' (1997), and those he edited featuring the work of artists such as Eric Stanton and John Willie, mid-20th century masters of the bondage genre. “A successful erotic photo turns me on,” he says. “As a photographer - and I know other contemporary photographers that do the same thing - I go to the free porn on the internet and find work that turns me on and store it in a file on my computer to refer to when I shoot or to show a model for her to mimic the attitude or body language of the cyber image I have collected. I used to cut up girlie mags and now I collect as reference jpegs.”
These fire Kroll’s imagination; the rest is pure creative genius. “I make erotic images that touch on the absurd,” he says. “I borrow from Eric Stanton the face sitting concept. I steal from Batters the emphasis on women in hose. I take from John Willie his awareness of a certain kind of fashion style and I mirror Weegee's need to be around beautiful women. I find what I consider to be a beautiful woman then dress her in a style that turns me on and then make an image that takes nothing too seriously. I want to knock some nonsense back into the world.”
Kroll has exhibited at MOMA, the Marjorie Neikrug Gallery, Shooting Gallery, Lead Apron and others, and his work is collected by the McKissick Museum, Dartmouth College, Hood Museum and the Richard Prince Collection.
For additional information please contact the gallery at 212-989-0082.