BP in B is the first book project published by For The Common Good. The publication archives a series of rare fetish booklets that were surreptitiously circulated during the mid-50s by mail order, largely featuring photographs of famed pinup model Betty Page. The images document a loose narrative of serially staged bondage exploits, with subjects and photographer visibly learning to ply their craft together. The volume also captures the original advertising and typewritten texts — part nuts and bolts instructional, part pseudo-apologetic erotic prop — accompanying the visual fetish stories. Each of the 90 reproductions has been evaluated against multiple examples of the printed originals and conscientiously restored to maintain the aesthetic quality and intent.
The book’s abbreviated title omits critical information, mirroring a similar obfuscation in the interior images themselves. Concealing outfits were hand painted onto the images to cover the subjects’ original scanty attire in order to circumnavigate postal laws and political pressures. Although the models were not photographed naked, their underwear or bikini clad bodies and bare midriffs were leveraged as proof of indecency by regulators enforcing the staid mores of the era. The resultant painterly retouching is intermittently both artful and heavy handed, but passes largely unnoticed as part of a unified photographic whole until closer inspection.
This discretionary self-censorship was likely a reaction to the United States Post Office Department’s investigations into allegedly obscene and crime-inciting matter sent through the mails, as well as to the Senator Kefauver-chaired hearings of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Films like The Wild One (1953) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) had propelled the image of the juvenile delinquent into the public consciousness, and in endeavoring to identify and quell the causes of the purported moral decay of American youth, conservative forces in the US Senate policed any media they could get purview over. The hearings famously created the comics codes, and the committee then further attempted to tie the discordant youth tribes and their deviant behaviors (inclusive of everything from talking back and listening to rock and roll, to gang crime) to pornographic access and influence. While the comics publishers had been forthcoming, the metro New York-based mail order businesses distributing fetish materials were more difficult to act against. It was ultimately the Postmaster General who leaned heavily on these shadowy concerns, at one point cutting off all of their incoming mail, and with it, the traffic of orders and income. Appeasements were made, though criminal allegations ultimately followed. The black and white brushstroke expurgations of BP in B are an artifact of a forgotten period of smutty small-publishing history, evidentiary concealments of a bizarre chronicle complete with improbable teenage gang alignments. BP in B is as much a book about painting as it is about photography or fetish.