My Weekend With Miss August, Part 1

We think it all started at the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc, in southern France. Here, archaeologists discovered cave drawings where women were shown on bearskins rather than in them.

This trend maintained pace as civilization evolved, although it was an uneasy relationship: society was willing to tolerate occasional images of unclothed women in ‘inviting’ situations as long as they stayed in caves, away from public view.

The apple cart was upset in December 1953, when a 27-year-old, mid-level manager formerly of “Children’s Activities” magazine published a periodical of his own. The cover of his inaugural issue featured a rising young actress in a revealing—yet acceptable—outfit. On the inside, a novel, oversize fold-out picture in the center of the magazine revealed everything. Nudity had migrated from the dark of cave walls to the light of bookstore shelves, and there was no turning back.

Publications featuring naked women were not uncommon at this time. Every dad on the block seemed to have a few of them tucked away in the garage. Most were thinly disguised as ‘how-to’ photography magazines, and featured somewhat average-looking women (however large-breasted), shot under rudimentary circumstances in glorious black & white. Playboy Magazine changed all that by 1) putting a beautiful Hollywood starlet in the storefront window, and 2) elevating the art form with decent lighting, a manicured studio setting, and full color. “Playboy” had arrived.

Within twenty short years, what started out as a magazine with a dubious future mushroomed into an empire. Upscale nightclubs, lavish mansions, and a personal DC-9 were just some of the trappings that came with the territory. (And it certainly increased the notoriety of the word, ‘Bunny’; header image.) The magazine itself had evolved into a document worthy of historical significance, with its in-depth interviews of contemporary newsmakers and articles about music, wine, and expert advice.

But still, central to Playboy’s fame was the pictures: the ‘girl next door’, the famous, the infamous…the vast majority of whom were willing to drop their top for Hugh Hefner—and nobody else. The magazine stayed true to its roots as the world around it was changing; and one of those changes was the women’s liberation movement, which soundly condemned Playboy Magazine (and others like it) for exploiting women as sexual objects. Yet, women of every stripe practically broke down the doors to appear in their pictorials and Special Editions, ranging from college-campus junkets to “Hot Housewives.”

Obviously, what attracted men to the magazine was the beautiful, naked women. So what was the attraction for so many women to appear in Playboy? In a word, the photography. It was, hands down, the best. The powers-that-be made the decision to use only the finest lensmen (and women) in the world. Therefore, a woman who made the grade knew that posing for Playboy’s cameras, her pictures would be art—and nothing less. The ‘look’ that set the magazine apart was widely imitated but never duplicated; and is probably the most important element in what has become the ‘Playboy Mystique’.

Fast-forward to the present day. Playboy Enterprises, Inc., like every other industry, has been hit by the economy and had to adapt. Pursuant to these changes, several long-time individuals who made the magazine what it was have left the nest and started “Shoot The Centerfold” (LLC), a company whose purpose is to educate photographers-at-large in the techniques that put Playboy on top: lighting and posing, to name a couple. It’s here where we pick up the story, in the first-person.

Enter Facebook, that repository of humanity where one can find a group of every conceivable sort. I don’t know when or how it happened, or even who steered me to it. But at some point in the last year or so, I received a notice that I was accepted into Shoot The Centerfold (STC), which is an invitation-only group. I had nothing better to do that day so I thought I’d check it out.

The first thing I saw upon entering the page was the name ‘Jarmo’ and the second was a smattering of pictures of beautiful women. I figured Jarmo can wait; I was gonna check out the women! They were flawless, as was the photography. As I settled in, I read the stories behind the pictures and learned that they were taken by members of STC, who were all veteran Playboy photographers. Certain elements of their lighting are so unique that after a while, one could peruse the pictures and quickly determine which were shot by ‘them’ and which were shot by ‘everybody else’.

As for this Jarmo, he was the head honcho. And he’s got a story to tell: He was born in Finland and moved to Portugal at age seven. About a dozen years later, he left the family farm to find fame & fortune as a fashion model in Paris. He traveled the world for about fifteen years. At some point, photography, which had been a hobby since his childhood, became an avocation and he switched sides of the camera.

One thing this group was promoting heavily was its lighting seminars; they claimed to cram years of experience & techniques into a single weekend. By most accounts, my lighting is very good but I felt that I had hit a wall and figured an STC seminar would help me break through. I had already purchased one of STC’s lighting guides but in the absence of face-to-face guidance from the author, it was of limited value.

Another draw was that participants would have the opportunity to photograph Playboy models—which is an attention-getter of no small proportion! The instructors were five experienced Playboy photographers, only two of whom were American-born. It was truly an international event.

Perhaps the biggest carrot & stick for me was that I’d finally meet the voice on the other end of the phone: It’s STC’s policy that if you buy one of their lighting guides, they request that you send them any pictures taken using the techniques in that guide, then call them to go over the high and low points. By this point, I already had Jarmo’s phone number in my speed dialer. I dusted off a couple of credit cards and signed on the dotted line.

Go to Part 2