Opening Pandora’s Dirty Picture Box

Vienna personalities gathered at Le Meridien for an evening of cool cocktails, tantilising turn-ons and sultry stimulation

The thesaurus says a synonym for “sex” is “intimacy”, but very few of the photos in Pandora’s Dirty Picture Box were intimate. They were loud fantasies and not-so-subtle innuendo, showing plenty of skin, leather and ropes. This was not about sex, it was about arousal – being sexy, not having sex.

Approaching the entrance of the Hotel Meridien on 8 June, a loud motorcycle pulled up. On it was a tall, chubby, leather-clad individual who dismounted, whipped out a smartphone and headed straight through the swivel doors, screaming into it, “Wo seids ihr bitte, I bin da ganz allein.” (“Where are you guys, I’m here all by myself.”) Within the next 10 minutes, more bikes and leather pulled up, alongside suited celebrities and voluptuous, but scantily clad, women from 20 to 70.

Book presentations are usually sit-down affairs with bad finger food, a speech by the author and a short Q&A. Not necessarily boring, just predictable. But this was all about sex – well, erotica, to be precise. The six stories and countless images in the book-in-a-box involve themes of role-play, bondage, transsexuality, homo-erotica and motorcycles.

For this seductive endeavour, columnist Janina Lebiszczak-Schuster pulled together a motley crew of characters and well-known Austrian names, staged on deliciously dirty sets. There are six stories of “everyday secrets”, photographed by Christian Maricic, with backdrops – stylised in clichés but with a passion for detail – in villas, furniture stores,  brothels, classy hotel rooms and local nightspots.

Interestingly, some of the fully-clothed subjects seemed more suggestive than the naked ones. And with flesh barely covered with tantalising lingerie and dapper shorts and gentlemen’s garters, it still wasn’t always the flesh we looked at. These images feed the eye and the sense of humour.

The stories speak of the image and assumptions about the various themes of arousal. One deals with sado-masochism, describing the trend and outlining how the idea of enjoying the “sweet pain” that has become “socially acceptable”. While the texts are quite short, Lebiszczak-Schuster’s writing is pithy, clever and speaks to our times. The non chalance of the guests that night seemed verify her “everyday” theme.

 

A collection of fantasies presented – unbound – in a box. Need we say more? | Photo: Christian Maricic

A collection of fantasies presented – unbound – in a box. Need we say more? | Photo: Christian Maricic

Who’s who? Who cares?

Being different wasn’t special in this crowd.Many events at Le Meridien take on a “see-and-be-seen” attitude, but this time, there was too much to see. Life Ball organiser Gery Keszler cum pooch, or PR Grande Dame Andrea Buday, known for her elaborate get-ups and one-of-a-kind headwear were barely noticeable alongside cross-dressers, Hell’s Angels, bondage artists and erotic dancers.

The crowd was a healthy mixture: Tiberius designer Marcos Valenzuela chatted with a journalist, a bigwig publisher clinked glasses with a young make-up artist. There were no VIs among these Ps.

Then there was of course the team – given the 90 pages of high-quality photography, this was not a small group. Make-up artists, fashion and set designers, stylists, technicians, and everybody’s assistants: around 100 people worked on the project and were visibly proud of it – one of the models had even brought her mother along.

The mood was getting hot as we were summoned inside for the presentation. The bar was still full of the crisp Pandora cocktails – a concoction of prickly pear, vodka and God knows what else – the crowd was thirsty. It was also the author’s birthday, applauded with great zest. Each person seemed to know her personally, and by that time, those who didn’t felt they did.

As to the presentation itself, that was sadly inaudible, due to the high-volume conversation and giggling, but all seemed to be enjoying themselves and each other and a bit of the making-of video shown across from the bar. This consisted of outtakes and funny on-set snapshots. The protagonists were visibly tickled to remember the work they had done as long as one year ago, when production on the book began.

 

Where’s the dirt in dirty?

As the hour grew later the mood became even more open. A young blonde dancer passed our table and proceeded to climb into the champagne cooler to deliver a strip show á la Dita Von Teese, showering herself with bubbly in the process.

All in all, the event was more congenial than expected, the Hell’s Angels and peddlers of erotica were low-key and friendly.

The business of arousal can be crass, but if it’s done well, it can also be classy and speak to our fantasies – leaving the follow-through to our imaginations.

 

Pandora’s Dirty Picture Box

Janina Lebiszczak-Schuster (text & idea)

Christian Maricic (photography)

Echomedia Buchverlag (2013)

pp.90

 

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