Baron magazine launched back in 2012, aiming to reinstruct sex and the female nude for a viewer seeking emotions through entertainment not others.
In news sure to excite, titillate and reinvent things once again, the publication’s founders have now launched its naughty sister magazine Baroness, a brilliant wealth of filth and perving that challenges the traditional erotic gaze and bring humour, fun and erotica to a switched on and open minded new audience of primarily women and gay men. Ahead of the launch of its first issue, we spoke to Matthew Holroyd, creative director of Baron and Baroness and Bill Sullivan, the magazine’s art director, about how attractive the mag’s readers are, what makes a brilliant erotic image, what women really want and a whole bunch more.
What was behind the decision to launch Baroness?
Matthew Holroyd: It was Isabella’s [Isabella Burley, Dazed & Confused editor-in-chief] idea and although we had thought about making an issue about the male nude, we hadn’t considered it to be a separate publication. I especially loved the name in connection with the concept, which sounds very authoritative and as though the Baroness could be a character from a Jackie Collins novel. I researched the idea, specifically the female gaze in relation to the male nude and despite the male nude propping up the streets of Europe in the form of statues and there being lots of homoerotic work made, there has been very little work made about the female gaze and the male nude in comparison to the female nude in the last 100 years. There have been two major exhibitions in both Paris and Vienna in the last few decades, which featured work mainly from gay artists. Initially we wanted the Baroness to be entirely about the female gaze in relation to the male nude, but we decided against the aforementioned, as we didn’t want Baron and Baroness to be about gender binaries and men versus women. The debut issue features work from a variety of different gazes and focuses on the idea of the individual, instead of gender binaries, for example Luigi Ontani’s self portraits, a self confessional story by myself to Sylvia Sleigh’s paintings and although the focus is the male nude, the work featured is often made in response to the subject, so you will see from some of the stories the male nude is absent and in lots of instances some of our contributors decided to explore such a concept via other women or self portraiture.
There seems to be a lot of beautifully designed erotica publications around at the moment, why do you think that is?
MH: Well sex and sexuality is a powerful and intriguing subject. We sell quite a lot of those publications on our website and they are all very different in many ways, Odiseo is incredibly beautiful and very coffee table and design orientated; Extra Extra have an academic approach; then there is Tissue which is very candid and about the reality of sex, that it’s sweaty, smelly and sometimes fairly grotesque; Double D is illustration based (a secret fav), Morena is very fashion and photography based and dedicated to a specific contributor and then Baron and Baroness are probably the more experimental of the lot. I also do not feel that Baron and Baroness are particularly beautiful – our approach has never been very coffee table book and personally I have never been attracted to making “beautiful” work.
Who do you think a typical Baroness reader is/will be?
What makes a brilliant erotic image?
MH: I was speaking with the dreamy Peter Berlin the other day and he said the best thing about sex, is not the sex, but everything that happens before it, which on reflection I also think is the basis of making a brilliant erotic image.
Bill Sullivan: I think what makes a brilliant erotic image is very simple – is it fucking sexy.
What I love about your aesthetic is a real self-awareness and humour – it’s not about po-faced, “serious” erotic publishing. How important is humour in the work you publish?
Matthew Holroyd: Humour is an incredibly important reoccurring theme to all of the work that I make and I think this stems from being English; there is a real sort of English sensibility that despite everything, we can have an affinity and get through things with humour. Humour has also helped me personally, especially growing up and being a young gay man in south east London, when you have to go to a comprehensive school in Eltham, you need a very good sense of humour.
Can you tell me a bit more about the design choices – the typography, layout etc?
MH: This issue introduces a new art director Bill Sullivan from Sun. I approached Bill as we have experimented with the idea that Baron is part book, part magazine and since our art director left and my background is very focused in magazine publishing I wanted to bring to the publication someone who would be an authority in book making. Bill has published many books with artists such as Thomas Hauser to Aaaron McElroy via Sun and has also explored similar themes in such books, so there was an existing connection and I have also collaborated with some of those artists. But what I specifically liked about Bill, was that as well as being a publisher he is also a conceptual artist and has a strong curatorial approach to the sequencing and layout of imagery, there is always a concept and rationale behind such decisions, which is very much aligned with my own ideas on editing and publishing.
Bill Sullivan: With Baroness I wanted to help create a magazine that really had the feel of a book – something between a classic old book from the 20s and a well-done understated photo book produced today and we worked with old school typefaces and design touches to get at something like that – as well as using the smaller image scaling and framing of photo books.
Who has shot for the first issue of Baroness?
MH: There are 20 new stories for this issue, but there are two stories that I especially enjoyed working on, namely a shoot called Angel, which was a collaborative effort with myself and the artist Sarah Baker and the photographer Federico Radaelli, I have collaborated with with Sarah in the past and both Sarah and I have a penchant for Jackie Collins and Dynasty. Sarah has also collaborated with Jackie on a project and has also appropriated The Stud. In this new shoot Sarah transforms into Jackie Collins, via prosthetic make-up and is photographed at home writing her new novel Angel. The images appear in the magazine as diptychs, where the viewer can see an imagined scene from the book, alongside the construction of the book. While making the shoot Jackie Collins sadly passed away, so the shoot has very much become a tribute to Jackie and her work. The other story that I had so much fun making was with the photographer Edith Bergfors. We both had read about a guy in the US with two penises and wanted him to star in the shoot, sadly he wasn’t available, so we decided to create this in postproduction and shoot the story inspired by the publication Readers Wives. In our shoot, the camera is turned and the focus is on the ultimate husband with two penises. We cast a willing model and shot it in a tacky hotel in Essex on cheap digital cameras.
How do you go about commissioning photography or selecting pre-existing images?
MH: There is a certain aesthetic behind Baron and Baroness, which is fairly unique to the magazine and I am pretty proud of that, especially when you see some of those contributors working for big brands and exploring such themes to a much wider audience. But more importantly, we commission contributions that are conceptual, so the work is always something to be thought about rather than just to be looked upon and hopefully to give sex a higher value, so that work made about sex and sexuality is not always censored and considered pornography and educating others about the differences between say erotica and pornography.
Bill Sullivan: For Baroness I really wanted to find a female artist who celebrated the male nude in a way I had never seen before – and when I came across the work of Sylvia Sleigh it blew me away as it was like nothing else I had seen it was so confident in its in terms of styling and spirit – I had to know more , contacted her estate and they were super helpful as she is I think about to have a moment of respect that has been a long time coming – she is really great
How far do you think erotica is traditionally created for the male gaze? Do you think that’s changing, or will change in future?
MH: According to our social networking stats and online sales, the ratio of our readers’ sexes is pretty much equal. I think what becomes apparent and from my experience of making both publications is that our readers are not aligned with traditional gender roles, gender attributes and identities and, are very comfortable gazing at both men and women, regardless of their sex or sexuality; and I think this is reflective of everyone that has ever been involved in Baron, including Baron’s founders. Concepts of the fixed male gaze and gazes needs to be evaluated."
What do women really want?
MH: I feel that it would be unwise to answer this for half of the population or basing my answer on collective desires, but I do feel that I have some sort of an affinity with lots of women, as historically women and gay men have had to deal with very similar plights and challenging dualisms so I am going to answer this question. I guess I hope that women want to have a sense of kinship and union, instead of focusing on the identity of women in the classical sense. I guess what I am saying is what Baroness contributor Harley Weir has done with her recent Calvin Klein campaign that if you want to be a submissive slave in the bedroom or dress in a revealing manner, this doesn’t automatically mean (depending on context and structure) that you do not believe in basic human rights.
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