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Book Review: Images You Should Not Masturbate To by Graham Johnson and Rob Hibbert

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Images You Should Not Masturbate To is a modest tome published by the Penguin Group. You’ll likely find in the Humor section of your neighborhood bookstore, but as a collection of images, it fetishizes the footsteps of not a few modern photographers. From the “Beauty of the ordinary” found in the work of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, to the celebration of tedium in the Boring Postcards books compiled by Martin Parr, to the vulgar, saturated slices of life in Parr’s own photographs, blended with some of the conceptual irreverance of Richard Prince or John Baldessari’s appropriated works. For its august and esteemed pedigree, the title and sequencing puts such imagery to a markedly different use.

Taken from the work of three credited photographers and a stock company, the selected images are for the most part visually arresting, although in many cases, it is in the sense that you can’t avert your eyes from a tragic accident, no matter how acute and persistent the psychic scars. Thus the cover of this little book pulls no punches: a naked grey-haired man standing thigh-deep in what appears to be an ice-fishing hole, wielding an axe and captured mid-swing. It is possible that readers exist who would indeed masturbate to such an image, as well as to images of grown adults wearing push animal costumes, a hairy-legged man with SPEEDO emblazoned across the back of his swimming trunks (straight out of Martin Parr, eh?), or a Golden Retriever defecating in a park. Do we laugh as we pass judgment on those who would find these images arousing?

Is our laughter nervous as we spot an elderly woman gleefully playing the piano, or an underexercised man wearing briefs and a rabbit mask in a setting reminiscent of The Wicker Man? Nobody could possibly be aroused by a stark image of a salt-shaker set against a dark formica tabletop, or a styrofoam container filled with raw sausage links. Or could they? Such is the humor of discomfort that we may never know — and the power of visual imagery that we are drawn in regardless. Stumble upon this jeremiad in your neighborhood bookstore, and you may rifle through its pages in the matter of a few minutes and return it to the shelf. But some of you may be amused enough to purchase same and bring it home. Take a good look at yourself, gentle reader, and ask yourself why.

And get this — it’s also available for your Kindle, an image of which is sure to make it into Volume Two. While there are no lunch boxes in the works that I know of, you can also join the book’s Facebook group.

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About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.