Sunday, November 7, 2010

Two's Company by Ken Marcus

Despite the much more positive feedback which Penthouse received on their previous girl/girl set, Woodstock Generation, it would still be nearly a year before they went the two girl route again with this August 1973 pictorial.

This pictorial, Two's Company, saw photographer Ken Marcus taking over the duties after James Baes and Amnon Bar-Tur's previous efforts. Marcus had only joined Penthouse at the end of the previous year and this was only his sixth pictorial for them.  He was the first American photographer to work for the magazine, which was still very much based in London.

Marcus was something of a wunderkind. Born in California in 1946 he had his first dark room by the age of eight. At 13 he was Ansell Adams' youngest student and would continue to study with him for thirteen years. By the time he was 15 he was already attending degree-level photographic classes at the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design and went professional at 17.  At the age of 19 he had his first studio near Hollywood. His initial jobs were advertising, editorial and entertainment industry work. Many of his photographs from backstage at the Monterey pop festival in 1967 would become iconic. He first became interested in the idea of nude photography when a girlfriend showed him a picture by Gustav Klimt of two women together.

His main interest from this point, as regards nude photography, was to show the relationship between two people. Much of his early Penthouse work was for what they eventually christened "love sets".  His first published pictorial for Penthouse, One and One Make Free, was their first couples pictorial.  He very much specialised in couples shoots during his time at the magazine and set the stylistic parameters for much of what would follow, as this content became more common in the magazine.

His main contribution to Penthouse was the introduction of soft-focus photography which would soon become adopted by other photgraphers working for the magazine.  It was probably not a coincidence that this technique enabled them to portray their model's bodies in a more explicit way during the mid-seventies.

After three years at Penthouse he moved to Playboy and stayed there for 11 years. He later returned to Penthouse, whilst still retaining his lucrative corporate work. He now shoots almost exclusively for his own website, which specialises in fetish photography.

Like both the previous girl/girl sets this pictorial mixed outdoor and indoor location shooting.  It also starts in the typical Penthouse litererary style of the time:

"Girls will be girls.  Especially on a soft, warm summer afternoon, when the sun sits lazily in the clear sky, burning away the problems and pressures of urban living, and a soft breeze blows with a sultry whisper.  It makes a woman want to open herself up completely to the elements and to the shared solitude of good companionship."

And so begins another pretentious piece to accompany, what is after all, just pictures of two ladies stripping off.

The girls in this pictorial are not just depicted caressing each other more than in the previous two but actually undressing each other as well.

We are told the blonde is called Carol and the Brunette is Laura.

We move indoors and there is considerably more sensual contact between the two girls

The key difference between this and previous girl/girl sets is that Carol and Laura are photographed in bed together.  This hints that their relationship is more sexual than the previous almost innocent nudity of Two Women or Woodstock Generation.

Not only are they pictured in bed together but it is obvious that they are in bed together during the daytime.

The picture below is the most physical of any girl/girl pictorial picture in the magazine to date.  Snuggled up on the bed together you can almost feel the warmth of their bodies.

Disappointingly, although the text accompanying the pictorial spoke of the "love between women" at the end of the pice both girls were quoted as saying that of course "but that doesn't mean I don't need a man" and it "doesn't replace the strength and affection that you get from a man."  Something of a cop-out, we feel.  Perhaps, Penthouse were still thinking of the somewhat negative reaction to their first girl/girl set and thinking perhaps that they should reassure their readers that the girls weren't real lesbians.

A tender cheek to breast interaction exemplifies Marcus; sensual approach to his subject.

The above picture is noteworthy for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it is the only real full frontal picture in the pictorial; a contrast to all the fluff on display in the previous Woodstock Generation.  This is especially interesting as in the same issue the Pet of the Month, Lane Coyle, became the first Pet to clearly display her labia.  Maybe Penthouse thought two girls together was risque enough without pushing the pussy quotient.  Secondly, Laura's hand, which is on Carol's thigh, is very close to her pubic area; also a first.  Thirdly, given today's waxed and shaven models it is nice to see an enticing trail of hair from Laura's groin to her belly button.

We leave the girls with Carol not only kissing Laura but caressing her breasts as well in a first of its kind picture for Penthouse.  A tender finish for a delicately sensuous pictorial.

Penthouse's next girl/girl set would be over a year into the future and would be a very different pictorial.


  1. The outdoor shots and the lush, dreamy nature of the interiors remind me strongly of David Hamilton - any clues to as to who influenced whom?

  2. David Hamilton's work pre-dated this. His book Dreams of a Young Girl, which set the standard for soft focus, romantic pictures of girls together, was first published in 1971.

    Maybe I will post some early Hamilton pictures shortly.