As you might expect, Mark Helfirch’s 2000 book Naked Pictures of My Ex-Girlfriends: Romance in the 70s is wholly inappropriate for a believing Muslim like myself. My excuse for buying (and continuing to own) isn’t any good, really, but I have one. And surprise, surprise, it smells as good as every other excuse.
As you might imagine, images in the book are wildly NSFW: viewer beware.
So. Why did I buy this book? Well, apart from @swerndnaekalb’s Instagram endorsement (which is not a good excuse), I have deep interest in books that mix text with images and Naked Pictures of My Ex-Girlfriends is a masterwork of the genre. (FYI: the double handful of comments on @swerdnaekalb’s post are a masterclass in nuance and 2020s political thought, if you need one….)
Helfrich gives a bit of background about each ex beside nearly every picture, and his remembrance of many exes runns multiple pages. Some are funny, some are poignant, some are simply matter-of-fact, and the whole endeavor has a huge misogynist, creepy factor that is largely ruined, or at least changed, when (and if) you find out that it’s all a work of fiction, with hired models and rented costumes and sets and all. Even the author’s name is false.
Now. I am a Muslim. As such, I make every attempt to avert my gaze as Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, told us to do. All praise and thanks be to God for granting me my undiagnosed and matastacized logophilia, which kept my eyes largely glued to the words. I’m also grateful that the few pictures I looked at didn’t really catch my fancy to any great degree, and your mileage may vary.
Now. As commenters point out, even if it is satire, the book remains just porn. This is more or less true, and in more senses than they imagine: for me, the porn is metaphoric; it’s literary porn. I’m absolutely fascinated by and rather jealous of the literary form, and once again imagine mixing images from my photographic archive (featuring no naked women) with that of my Dad’s and Granddad’s archives (which contain an unknown number of photographs of naked women: Granddad probably made none; likewise my Dad, but I haven’t looked at them all yet) and some sort of text of an as yet unknown form. I don’t think that excuses this book, or my ownership of it…. Naked Pictures of My Ex-Girlfriends was certainly of its time and we, here in the 2023 are in a very different time, one where it’s seemingly acceptable (and expected) to judge humans of the distant past by our contemporary, largely local sociopolitical mores.
This strikes me as strange. Humans 20, 30, 50, 100 years from now will think very differently than I do now, and will they be right to judge me and my actions? Maybe, and some past beliefs and attitudes are simply abhorrent, even though huge majorities held them. But how do we know that our thoughts and feelings and those of the society of which we’re part are abhorrent? How does a fish think about water?
I really don’t konw, and I leave judgements to Allah, and beg for His Mercy.
Naked Pictures of my Ex-Girlfriends is out of print, but available, if you know where to look and Mark Helfrich may or may not be an actual person. There is no photographer with that name with a web presence here in 2023. anyway. As mentioned, it’s unbefitting for a believing Muslim like myself to own this book, let alone recommend it… That said, it remains a master of its form, so I’m thankful and privileged to have a rather beat up copy in my collection, even if I’ll (hopefully) never look at it again, and may Allah guide me to better, amen.