I can still remember the exhilaration I felt in 1972 the first
time I saw Gordon Inkeles' visually and socially revolutionary
book "The Art of Sensual Massage." Massage until then was therapeutic
and sterile or pornographic and tawdry. Here were beautiful, healthy
couples of several shades of black and white demonstrating the
art of touching in photographs by Robert Foothorap with a brilliant
grayscale so rich they recalled the work of Ansel Adams and Edward
Foothorap's pictures, however, were refreshingly non-monumental.
Although exquisitely composed, they maintained a candid, informal
tone that captured intensely intimate moments of human contact
without imposing the photographer's presence. These were masterly
examples of the Northern California style pioneered by photographers
such as Baron Wollman, art directors like Jon Goodchild (who designed
all of Gordon's books), and publications such as Ramparts and
FOR UNCENSORED PHOTOGRAPH
In years to come, Gordon worked with other photographers, but
finally began using his own pictures. "In 1984 when I wrote 'Massage
and Peaceful Pregnancy,'" he told me recently, "it became abundantly
clear that I could indeed combine sensuality and pregnancy in
a photograph, but only in an utterly un-rushed atmosphere. My
pregnant models required much patience, as you can imagine. So
I moved to the other side of the lens for that book and haven't
Gordon's latest work is a genuinely useful book -- sensual massage
instructions and photographs in a box of plastic-coated cards.
As a British reviewer of the first edition of the Guinness Book
of World Records said, this "fills a long unfelt want." Oil and
books don't go together very well. Neither do books and massage,
really. You've got to study the instructions before embarking
on the massage, not the ideal educational method. With Gordon's
ingenious take on a book (which he prefers to call a deck), couples
can select the themes they wish to explore and then proceed to
practical implementation with the appropriate cards nearby to
consult.The package even encludes a string and push pins for hanging
the cards within easy view.
"I used natural light exclusively for the still sessions," Gordon
said. "The models on the cards aren't really posed; this is the
way people actually look during massage."
"To many people assume that my work is nothing more than an extended
dirty joke," he continued. "My work is often greeted with embarrassed
titters -- and generally ignored by reviewers. "The Art of Sensual
Massage" was banned in South Africa, (interracial touching and
nudity!) when it appeared in 1972. And a few months ago it was
pulled off the shelves in Medford, Oregon due to complaints from
'the religious community.' We're making progress.
"I've gotten letters from people who tell me that my books literally
saved somebody's life, making it possible for them to go on when
life seemed overwhelming," he reports. "Mostly, though, people
write just to say how much they enjoyed the experience of sensual
One can be sure that many readers have used his work as an aid
to personal erotic relief, rather than inter-racial massage. The
beauty and clarity of the photographs and the profoundly satisfied
faces erased guilt. Massage as foreplay had always been recommended
in sex-help materials. Now it was elevated to a requirement. People
think the '60s were about sex, but that was a time of juvenile
experimentation trying to fit Tab A into Slot B. By the '70s,
sex and relationships dominated Californian social affairs to
the exclusion of all other activities. Giving good head was no
longer sufficient. A guy had to give a good massage, too, (not
to speak of making a decent quiche).
books helped people sexually as well as sensually and therapeutically.
To me, the titters rank among Gordon's greatest medals of honor.
Is there anything more important right now than teaching people
how to touch each other?
Today, the photographs in the books of Gordon Inkeles evoke an
almost heartbreaking historical nostalgia. Shot in sparsely furnished
white-painted rooms of Victorian houses not yet restored to wax-like
smoothness, and out on the redwood decks of shingled houses in
shady evergreen groves, they reflect a time in which the Romantic
vision was made flesh.
That's all gone. History is a kind of blasphemy. I am reminded
of Roy Batty's famous final speech in the fecalized rain of Blade
Runner: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack
ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter
in the dark near Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost...
in time, like tears ... in rain. Time ... to die."
Ridley Scott got it exactly right, but so did Gordon Inkeles,
Jon Goodchild and their collaborators. "Sensual Massage on a String"
is vivid evidence that the spirit of the sensual revolution of
the '70s is still alive.
The Works of Gordon
Jon Goodchild designed
all the books. Scott Harrison designed Sensual
Massage On A String.
(2nd edition 2000) The
Art of Sensual Massage. Photographed by Robert
Foothorap. A Quality Paperback Bookclub selection
for ten years
Art of Sensual Massage Film (now video and
DVD). Directed by Gordon Inkeles; cinematography Bill
Cote; original score, Michael Lobel. Featured at the
Cannes Film Festival. Winner of six awards at international
1980 (2nd edition 2001) The New
Massage (now Sensual
Massage for Couples). Photographed by Greg
Peterson. A Literary Guild Selection for 8 years
1984 Massage and Peaceful Pregnancy.
Photographed by Gordon Inkeles. Anatomical Illustrations
by Felicia Trujillo and Sigga Bjornsson
1986 (2nd edition 2002) Unwinding
Massage) Photographed by Gordon Inkeles. Illustrations
by Sigga Bjornsson. A Book-of-the-Month Club Selection
1992 (2nd edition 1998) The
New Sensual Massage. Photographed by Gordon
Inkeles. Anatomical Illustrations by Karla Kaizoji
Austin. A Quality Paperback Bookclub selection for
by Gordon Inkeles and Iris Schencke
Massage On a String. Photographed by Gordon
Inkeles. Anatomical illustrations by Sigga Bjornsson
and Karla Kaizoji Austin