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Gordon Inkeles
and the Sensual Revolution
of the 1970s

By Jules Siegel

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 Weston.

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 Rolling Stone

Nude pregnant massag photograph by Gordon InkelesCLICK 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 looked back."

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 massage."

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).

Gordon's 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 Inkeles



Jon Goodchild designed all the books. Scott Harrison designed Sensual Massage On A String.

1972 (2nd edition 2000) The Art of Sensual Massage. Photographed by Robert Foothorap. A Quality Paperback Bookclub selection for ten years

1973 The 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 film festivals.

 

 

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 (now, Super 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 10 years

1996 Ergonomic Living
by Gordon Inkeles and Iris Schencke

2005 Sensual Massage On a String. Photographed by Gordon Inkeles. Anatomical illustrations by Sigga Bjornsson and Karla Kaizoji Austin