Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Playboy was having a moment. Yes, there were tits but there were also excellent writers (Doris Lessing, Vladimir Nabokov, Ray Bradbury) and interviews with the likes of Miles Davis, Malcolm X and James Baldwin. The rigorous attention afforded to its literary output also extended to its art direction, with set designers and stylists creating lavish Renaissance-style backdrops for its models to lounge in.
It’s this tasteful, attentive set design that Brooklyn-based studio Dark Igloo chose to focus on in its new book Centerhold. The project is a hardcover appreciation of the hand modelling and prop styling of classic Playboy centrefolds, cropped tight in on the hands for full appreciation of the detail. “When you get into still life photography on any scale, you can appreciate when someone nails it,” says Dark Igloo’s Mark Richard Miller. “The composition is balanced, the props are selected perfectly, the colours are harmonious. Once we started cropping in on the hands, they revealed even more beautiful photos focused on elegant hands and really bold props.”
Dark Igloo’s obsession with this pretty niche aspect of vintage skin mags started when creative director Mark bought a book featuring every Playboy centrefold from its very beginning to the early 2000s. The team was struck with how much care had gone into the peripheral scene-setting. “You can tell nothing was left to chance in these photos,” Mark continues. “Some of the old centrefolds make it super obvious: women are blocking parts of their body with the props they hold. And it speaks to a bygone era when the pose of the hand was just as important as the pose of the woman. It makes the photos feel more painterly, more composed, less erotic.”
Many of the models are in the middle of mundane situations like painting their nails, playing chess, throwing darts, or feeding their goldfish. “The hands tell a story about these women. Their hobbies, how they spend their time, they just happen to have no clothes on,” says Mark. Honing in on centrefolds that exhibited the most elaborate or cute styling, Dark Igloo scanned the images in at super-high resolution, before creating interesting diptychs, highlighting really wide ones that worked as spreads, and auditioning different flows for the book.
The message of the book, says Mark, is that there is art to be found on the fringes. “It’s kind of a tribute to the teams of stylists, and designers, who work somewhat anonymously but make these big pieces of pop culture so beautiful and important. Take a closer look at the world around you, celebrate the stuff you find interesting, share it, and keep your nails nice!”