Mark Anthony Lacy
(schifferbooks.com, hardcover, $34.99 plus shipping)
Reviewed by Tony Mitchell
Retro Glamour, by New York photographer, artist and filmmaker Mark Anthony Lacy, is the culmination of a fascination, dating back to the early 1990s, for vintage pin-up style.
According to his book’s introduction, it all began when he met a “curvaceous cutie” on the New York subway and just knew he had to photograph her.
She turned out to be a Bettie Page fanatic, and they met just around the time the whole Bettie Page phenomenon was transitioning from cult to mainstream.
His new muse gave him a “thorough education” on her idol and the photographic work of Irving Klaw and Bunny Yeager. And, he says:
“Within a few months of me discovering this quaint yet sensuous artform, suddenly there appeared a plethora of books on painters, models and photographers from the era.”
Lacy’s researches into vintage pin-up art and photography exposed him to the work of figures such as Peter Gowland, Bernard of Hollywood, George Hurrell, Elmer Batters and Gil Evgren, as well as to a whole host of models who were Bettie Page’s contemporaries.
He also began building up a wardrobe of vintage props including lingerie, shoes and furniture in order to be able to accurately recreate the look of the model poses and settings he had become addicted to.
In its 160 pages Retro Glamour now collects together 274 images — mainly B&W but with a smattering of colour plates too — representing two decades of Mark’s loving pastiche work.
For around half of the period covered by the book, he was shooting on film — a medium he adores from the shooting to the printing.
“In a world of supersaturated colour, I embrace the solemn sensuality of black and white,” he explains. “To me, the women in a monochromatic photograph just seem sexier. More dangerous.”
However, ten years ago he “staggered into the digital age” and has embraced the advantages (especially in saved time) that digital photography offers.
But I challenge the average browser of Retro Glamour to spot which pictures have been produced by which method, unless they are familiar enough with any of his models to know that this is how some look ‘now’ as opposed to how they looked ‘then’.
Retro Glamour divides the images of its numerous models into four chapters titled Bodacious Blondes, Brazen Brunettes, Ravishing Redheads and Exciting Exotiques — titles that are as in keeping with the genre Lacy pastiches as are the pictures themselves.
BLONDE MOMENT: a book chapter intro page
I suspect that how you react to the actual pictures will depend somewhat on whether you are already at least familiar with — if not a fully committed fan of — the style Lacy replicates so expertly.
Researching for this piece, I came across one Amazon review of the book whose author plainly didn’t get it at all. It was clear this person had focused on the word Glamour in the title and totally overlooked the vital qualifier Retro — which signals critical information to aficionados.
I, on the other hand — as a collector of vintage pin-up imagery — immediately recognised from the pages of Retro Glamour a living photographer who shared my own taste for all the fine details and peculiarities of 1950s/early ’60s pin-up style.
There is, let’s be frank, quite a bit of faux vintage imagery produced by modern fetish photographers. But
So if you like women in correct period seamed nylons, stiletto heels, powernet girdles and bullet bras, this is already a book you’ll love.
If you like them even more when they’re posing in perfect retro style against a backdrop of vintage furnishings that evoke the studio shoots that came out of, say, Movie Star News, then boy have I got a book for you!
However, Mark Anthony Lacy also has another skill that our Amazon reviewer would not have understood, indeed would probably consider a deficiency.
And that is in his choice of models whose body types and features are properly relatable and/or adaptable to the look of those earlier times.
Models in those days were curvier, with natural breasts — the modern glamour stereotype of long slim legs and large fake breasts having not yet been invented.
Of course there were exceptions, and of course there were some genuine five-star beauties in the business back then. But typical pin-up models of the time had a look which today would probably be considered more ‘pretty girl next door’ than ravishing hottie.
Lacy fully embraces this and, with careful attention to period hair and make-up as well as clothes and props, presents a more authentically-vintage-looking coterie of women than most ‘modern retro’ work achieves.
So much so that this book feels like the work of some once celebrated but long forgotten snapper, rediscov- ered and republished for a new generation to enjoy.
I was sufficiently fascinated by this particular aspect of his approach to invite Mark to tell me a bit more about what lay behind his model choices.
UNLIMITED: Issue 11 of Lacy’s retro PDF ’zine
“When I began shooting this work I was more than happy to work with just about any woman who was willing to pose for me,” he explained.
“I would meet someone who I thought would make a good subject and explain what I wanted to do. Bettie Page was not quite the ‘household’ name she is these days so using her as a reference had mixed results.
“And I was still finding my way as far as doing hair and make up went.
“Then one model sent me word of a new website for models and photographers called Model Mayhem. It was free to join so I did.
“At that time the site was primarily used by fledgling photographers and women serious about getting some kind of modelling career off the ground. Not a selfie in sight!”
Through that site (still important today for model-photographer hook-ups) he was able to see “a plethora of females who might be right for my work” with “a wide variety of shapes and sizes, hair colour, and experience in front of the camera”.
Many of them were serious about modelling at that time but have long since moved on to something else, he says.
“As time went on and I developed my own website I would get contacted by women who admired my work and were interested in posing for me, regardless of any interest in being a model or not.
“Many have never been photographed again.
“I did my best to coach the ladies through capturing authentic poses from the time since they were not familiar with them. The ages ranged from 18 to just a few in their early thirties.
“I had no interest in them looking too young. I wanted them to appear to be ‘grown women’, not girls. Rita Hayworth not Shirley Temple.”
I hope this gives you an insight into why Lacy’s work is important, and why Retro Glamour deserves a place on your bookshelves. Incidentally, Amazon UK sells it for £30.50 and lists new copies from other suppliers starting from under £20.
Finally, as well as buying this book, I highly recommend you take a look at Mark’s website LacyUnlimited (link below) where you can see more of his work, including pin-up shots not included in the book.
He also publishes an excellent PDF ’zine, Unlimited, which you can download from his website. All 11 editions published to date are available at $7 each, and are packed with his photography plus vintage articles, cartoons and ads, all speaking of an era that may have passed but is lovingly recreated here!
BELOW: a selection of images from Mark Anthony Lacy’s wonderful Retro Glamour photography book
Published June 16, 2017