14 January 2015

COUNTRY MATTERS


It was absolutely rock’n’roll. But it was also fashion, art, theatre, lifestyle. It was gay, straight, multisexual. It was totally titillating and absolutely naughty. Everybody held hands with everybody, kissed everybody, went home with everybody. It was an age of accelerated discovery, when all the kinks of sexual yearning were flushed out. It was absolutely self-indulgent.

– Photographer Mick Rock (from his book Blood and Glitter) about the early 1970s

The decadent, narcissistic, subversive, obsessive, immoral beginnings of the 1970s, when sex was like a handshake between friends. What did I know? I was just a gullible kid who satisfied my urge for glitter and danger with furtive visits to the local library to have a peep look at Eveline and Constanze. Of course I was not aware of their names at the time, and of course I was just a blooming boy who had found his aphrodisiac in two German sexpots oozing of A Really Good Time. They were the scandal beauties of my youth, the “light of my life, fire of my loins” so to speak. Something curious was indeed taking place between these females, so delicately caught in a moment of imaginative naughtiness. Their just-barely clad bodies against a wall of fronds were framed within a twelve-and-three-eights-inch square. Oh yes, it was a record sleeve that made a man out of me.

Bryan Ferry went to the Algarve Coast with Roxy Music’s fashion designer Anthony Price and photographer Eric Boman in 1974 to combine work with pleasure. Ferry was pushed rather mercilessly by the group’s management to very soon present the fourth Roxy Music album. The singer felt the reins tighten, but all he had so far was the album title, Country Life, and a suggested scenario with two foxy glamour girls on a cover that would be something more than a sarcastic nod to the cosy English magazine of the same name, and its pictures of “characters shooting ducks or jumping over fences in top hats” as he put it. And what would better illustrate an everyday story of two English roses than a pair of spectacular females, travestying continental playthings in diaphanously thin underwear before a tapestry of Mediterranean chlorophyll?

Of all gin joints in all the towns in all the world they walked into that Portuguese bar where Ferry and his friends were rejoicing the beginning of their vacation: “These two Valkyries,” Anthony Price recalls. “That’s the only way to describe them. Constanze and Eveline … I remember we went on boat rides, sailing through these sea caves, and Constanze, the one on the right, with her massive shoulders, was sitting in the front of the boat, she looked like the figurehead on this boat. I was stoned off my tits! She was an incredible creature.”

Everyone realised, tout de suite, that they were perfect for the assignment. The Valkyries were staying in a summerhouse owned by Eveline Grünwald’s parents. The love of Eveline’s life was Can man Michael Karoli, and Constanze Karoli was the sister of the late guitarist. (They had already met Roxy Music’s press officer Simon Puxley who also worked for Can.) Eveline and Constanze came the bar – unbeknownst of Ferry’s presence there – to say hello to their friend who owned the place, and they were bringing Roxy Music albums.

“Above all, Roxy Music is a state of mind,” Ferry explained in 1975. “Hollywood movies meet English art school, with a little Schopenhauer thrown in, both in the lyrics I write and the way we look. Of course, that allows for all kinds of possibilities. I am, you must say, a collagist.” One of Ferry’s art school tutors at Newcastle University was Richard Hamilton, who had used words such as “Witty”, “Sexy”, “Gimmicky”, “Glamorous”, “Mass Produced” and so on to define Pop. Art and commerce making good bedfellows … that must have made a lasting impression on Ferry.

Even if the Country Life cover owed much to the spurs of destiny, its visual style originates from the Sapphic pin-ups of the 1920s. And this theme with a nude woman interacting with another nude woman was happening again in the early 1970s’ soft-porn magazines. It made the fashion press too. American Vogue saw rapid changes after grande dame Diana Vreeland’s retirement. Photo editor Alexander Liberman was looking for a new pictorial language of “bad” photography that was visually casual but still stunning. At the time when Country Life was released on November 15, 1974, Helmut Newton was defining this new style in his own iconic way, with highly staged images of females caught in the very act of something. One thing was clear: these were women who felt sure about themselves and loved the company of other women, and they were frequently caught in some kind of outdoor activity.

According to Constanze Karoli they “just had to look weird and surprised”. She and her friend drove around to find some sexy underwear, but at the same time they never really dared to believe that what would come out of the photo session would actually be used as the cover work for the next Roxy Music album. The picture was shot at their summerhouse, in the garden next to the swimming pool. Anthony Price used the bathroom in the villa when he did that yummy 70s make-up on the girls. He also provided the solution for the sharpness by holding up an Omo box to enable focus for the Swedish-born photographer, since the only light source was the headlights of the car they had rented. Eric Boman used a Leicaflex SL with a 28mm lens, and settled everything with just three rolls of film.

Boman: “When we looked at the film back in London, I got the feeling that Bryan wasn’t very happy. I think there was a lack of the slickness that he was used to, but gradually everyone realised that there was another quality, hard to put your finger on, of ambiguity and, as we now call it ‘rawness’ that worked. I think we were all surprised when the cover became such a classic.” (That year, Boman also photographed the swimming pool picture of Ferry in a white tuxedo for his second solo album Another Time, Another Place.)

It became a classic pet hate in several countries. In the US (which had just spent twenty long years to annul the heart and soul of Vietnam and its people in order to save the world from Communism), Country Life was retailed wrapped up in a verdant dusky polythene skin. Soon the girls were swapped with a picture of the vegetation alone. The “indecency” of the original shot, and everything else that was off the protocol, like the assumption that Constanze was a transsexual and that her friend seemed to play with her cicciolina, caused a lot of controversy and moral panic. Other countries, like Spain and even the Netherlands, panicked too and banned it. A close-up of Eveline’s face and her angular arm pose was used to sell the record in her homeland.

Eveline Grünwald points out that, “People thought we were lying down and masturbating, but that was never the intention. Neither did we choose the photo, but Bryan did ask us if we were d’accord with it. We didn’t think it was scandalous anyway.” It was nicht das Ende der Welt (Eveline and Constanze are credited in the sleeve notes for their short translation of the German passage in “Bitter-Sweet”).

The emergence of this timeless cover shot was in images such as a rowdy black and white picture in the 1972 April issue of Men Only, and a colourful Xmas calendar girl by the British artist Allen Jones – in the 1973 and best Pirelli Calendar – but it was Ferry’s art direction (together with Nick de Ville, who earlier in 1974 had done the apple-green cover with the saucy geisha girls for Sparks’ Kimono My House) that turned the idea into a permanent joy for the tender pervert in all of us. He made it witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and mass produced. Eveline and Constanze, you are sublime.

This is a modified version of a text written for my blog at colette.fr in 2009.