Maiden Voyages: July 2022

Registered Users: Since it has been necessary to restrict certain images to protect the site from complaints from people unaccustomed to our subject matter, as of today, there are 200 registered users with full access to the site in addition to a handful of site editors and administrators.

Yahoo Account Holders: One complaint is that seems to be overzealous in blocking automated emails from this site (all WordPress sites, actually). The emails don’t even appear in the junk folder. The only way to see these missing emails is to login to your email account directly and rummage through the spam folder. As a result, it has been an extra hassle registering those users.

Public Posts: In order to protect all unreviewed posts, they were all made private until I could go through them all and set each image to the proper status. Until a post is made public, keyword searches and saved URLs will not work. As of today only the first year of posts are left to be reviewed (I was working through the posts backwards). Because Pip was, at the time, doing one post a day, that still means a lot of posts to review so it will be a couple of weeks before all posts are publicly viewable. Since there have been a lot of images to go through, I may have made some mistakes, so if you think I have made a mistake with an image status, please let me know. Understand that some images are restricted at an artist’s request or to protect a model from stigma until she reaches the age of majority. In that case, I will usually indicate something to that effect at the beginning of the post.

New Writers: First of all, I would like to thank Moko for keeping the home fires burning with a couple new posts each month. He is discovering—like I did years ago—that the more you research, the more leads you find! But I am especially pleased that new writers like Marlin, Bob, Amanda and Zeklullaby have been producing new articles. I hope they find this process rewarding and are encouraged to continue; there is still a lot of material to get through. And if our adversaries can manage to leave us be for a bit, I might find time to get some posts up myself!

The Coppertone Girl: Pip was recently having a conversation with someone about the Coppertone baby and decided to do some research. One interesting item ihe found s a Coppertone commercial from 1990 posted on YouTube. He doesn’t remember having seen that spot at the time, but it definitely marked the end of an era. There’s a real little girl of 3 or 4 years going shirtless in it, and it hints at—but doesn’t quite imitate—the famous ad with bare-bottomed 3-year-old Cheri Brand, the daughter of the ad’s artist, Joyce Ballantyne Brand. There’s also a transcript of an interview with Cheri on NPR’s website. Another YouTube video outlines the history of the image and how it gradually became more and more modest.

Demise of the Century Project: Reader Jerrold has reported that Frank Cordelle of ‘The Century Project’ died last October. At the time I wrote that article, he objected to our focus on the young girls in his publication. To secure his cooperation, I did the post without images. With our new ability to protect images, we can at least make them available to registered users. Scanning and posting the intended images has recently been on my to-do list.

Strange Fruit: I consider myself an educated person and yet I manage to find that I am ignorant of many events of historic import. This is perhaps not surprising given the tense race relations in the United States and consequent bias of US History textbooks. A case in point is a controversial song first sung by Billie Holiday in 1939. At the time, lynching of Black people was still common and, in protest, she sang a song called Strange Fruit. Yes, this metaphor refers to the appearance of dead Black bodies hanging from tree branches after being subjected to various forms of torture and humiliation. The children were hardest hit because apart from those who traumatized then orphaned, often Black children themselves were fair game as victims. In an effort to find images to illustrate this story, I discovered a strange dichotomy. Some images were documentary and were used in civil rights movements to illustrate injustice but many more were taken by the attackers as a trophy and squirreled away in private photo collections to this day. Perhaps it is not surprising that Holiday received harassment for her audacity to bring such a subject to the public. At the time, there was still a strong effort to keep Black people in their place and so this form of protest was not considered acceptable by the establishment. In fact, Harry J. Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics seems to have gone out of his way to make Holiday’s life miserable, even having his men plant narcotics in her room so they would have a pretense to arrest her. Unsurprisingly, juries believed law enforcement’s story hook, line and sinker and Holiday would lose on court case after another.

Your Government Money at Work: I noticed a weird item while listening to a podcast about the life of Osama bin Laden. When his compound was finally stormed—and bin Laden himself killed—it was the military’s task to collect various items from the site for archiving. Among the materials was an extensive video collection. Somehow, it became the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) job to digitize it all and make it available to the public. A few items were excluded because they were subject to active copyright by companies like Disney. The entire list can be viewed here. Some items are unsurprising as they pertained one way or another to terrorist attacks, Jewish-Muslim animosity, the Koran or Islamic customs and practices. But, amusingly, conventional Western fare was discovered such as Disney films and episodes of Tom and Jerry. The odd thing that caught my attention was a short film of two post-toddler girls fighting (VID-001841). There isn’t much to it and it is not known if the girls are some relation to bin Laden. The troubling thing for me was that whoever was filming did not have the impulse to break the girls up.

US Postal History: I have run into this item a few times and have now listened to a podcast that went into a little more detail. When the United States Postal Service was first established, it had very simple rules. As often happens, people game the system and stricter rules are gradually implemented. But at first, customers could send anything they wanted so long as it weighed less than 50 pounds (22.68 kg). That’s right; some people sent their infant or toddler girls through the post—applying the appropriate postage on a sleeve attached to the girl’s wrist, for instance. In most cases, this was not some kind of human trafficking, but a cost-effective way to send a child to her grandparent’s house which was often on some local rural route nearby. Usually the postman was known personally and could be trusted to complete the delivery with his charge unharmed. The most extreme case was a child sent from Pensacola, FL to a relative in Virginia. As the FBI had not yet been established, prohibiting such activities was not exactly enforceable.

Body Image and Healing: The Century Project

In order to honor the intentions of the artist’s work, I want to remind my readers that The Century Project is about diversity and as the title implies a wide range of ages. It should be clear that although Pigtails’ mandate is to cover the portrayal of little girls, our focus on this age range is not a fair representation of the scope of this project. However, having examined and read the book from cover to cover, I found the testimonials of the girls—some later on when they were adults—most compelling and relevant to this site. Therefore I have not included their images to avoid giving fodder to narrow-minded but powerful political interests and avoid undermining any future efforts of the artist. Those interested in an intelligent and compassionate handling of the issue of photographic nudes are urged to purchase the book which has recently been reduced in price and can be ordered at any major bookstore or online.

I first learned of Frank Cordelle and The Century Project through an artist friend of mine. He directed me to his official website [now defunct] which included an image and testimonial about Nora. Hers is a heart-wrenching story of a mother who took innocent photos of her naked daughter in the bathtub when she was 8 and was arrested when the photo processors called the police. It was certainly a story worth noting but I was busy with other projects, so I kept it in the back of my mind to investigate later. I now wish I had done so sooner as the drama of the evolution of this project and how it has helped women is quite touching.

The prosecutor made the patent claim of child abuse and Nora wanted us to look at her photo and hear her words to question the veracity of that claim. Nora suffered a lot of ridicule from her peers but she was also blessed with a lot of friends and their families organized a candlelight vigil and raised money for her mother’s defense. She even wrote to Sally Mann for advice and eventually got a reply. The mother was ultimately exonerated but a court order barred her from taking any more pictures of her daughter. Once Nora saw The Century Project, she knew she had to come forward with her story. The irony is that even though her own mother couldn’t take pictures of her, Cordelle was perfectly free to do so and so she is now immortalized in the annals of The Century Project. I am told that a case that escalates like this occurs about once every month in the United States and what drives these senseless prosecutions is the priceless political opportunity it affords a grandstanding politician who wants to create the appearance of protecting the public. I am not prone to clever arguments myself, but a good one that Cordelle makes is that real pornographers—legal or not—probably have their own darkrooms or can process their own digital prints. Perhaps clerks should refrain from notifying the authorities just because they encounter images they personally object to.

Although it was never Frank Cordelle’s intent, The Century Project has served as a means for many girls and women to confront and overcome various traumas in their life. The problem with boys who have no sisters is they can be ignorant of basic anatomical facts and a natural curiosity serves to overcome this ignorance. The prudish sensibilities in the U.S. about nudity has subjected the young Cordelle—on a couple of occasions—to anger and ridicule whenever he did make some innocent investigation. He unwittingly assimilated this cultural bias which became apparent to him on a visit to a German spa with people all around him seemingly unconcerned about their nakedness.

At the time, he was pursuing a career in biochemistry and his work involved processing images of DNA strands and it would sometimes remind him of his old photographic hobby. He decided to leave graduate school and move to New Hampshire where got involved in covering events featuring handicapped athletes. The unfortunate habit in American culture of avoiding the subject or looking at people with deformities tends to exclude them from commonplace social situations. Cordelle learned that most disabled people would rather have others indulge in their curiosity so they can move on and be regarded as the real people they are. His photographs demonstrated that these athletes were perfectly content with people looking at them.

Now Cordelle began to see the social value of photography. His interest in biological sciences made him curious about the vagaries of human development and aging and the kernel of an idea began. The most potent way to capture the real person is naked because there is simply no way to hide and so Cordelle began to pursue the idea of photographing girls and women in all stages of development and all kinds of body types. Something like this is difficult to get started because of the taboo and he did not really know where this was leading, but finally some generous women agreed to participate. Once he managed to get his first exhibition—along with some other artists—the public began to learn of his project and getting volunteers began to get easier. The problem was that he wanted all kinds of body types to be represented and New Hampshire is not known for its ethnic diversity, so he relocated again, this time to Oakland, California and would make road trips to find a wide range of subjects. His experiences in pursuing this project brought him a treasure trove of personal experiences and moving testimonials, but the taboo of nudity still made the process necessarily slow. Some women were photographed more than once as they aged. The response to the various exhibits in North America was overwhelmingly positive, but it was still difficult to get any publisher to release a book making Cordelle’s work more accessible. Finally, a man determined to have the work published succeeded in 2006 and the result is Bodies and Souls: The Century Project published by Heureka Publishing Co. Heureka’s intent was to publish work dealing with the lifestyles and culture of naturists so the kinds of images presented no dilemma for them. This book was only an effort to reach the general public and the project is not complete by any means with many gaps in age and ethnicity and the oldest participant being only 94. If the project can gain some real momentum and not be sabotaged by nay-sayers, he hopes to publish a more complete version with all new images in the future. To Cordelle’s credit, his sincerity and enthusiasm even inspired his own mother who decided that she should be included. She appears as Else, 87 and the book is partly dedicated to her.

When I first browsed through the book, I was amazed by the ethnic range. He even stayed a couple of times with an African-American family and some of their pictures include Sheka, 10 as well as two of her sisters, a niece and her mother. Cordelle never solicited the participation of children in his project but they came before the camera with the enthusiastic support and permission of the family members. Cordelle felt the project would only have credibility if it portrayed people of all ages and ethnicities. As it progressed, it also became apparent that participating and viewing the images helped many of these girls and women cope with trauma, both physical and emotional.

As I surveyed the words and images of the women, I realized it would be impossible to describe concisely the multitude of scars these women courageously display, not to mention the many tales of sexual and/or physical abuse—some self-inflicted. It is almost indescribable to imagine the kind of trust Cordelle fosters when dealing with his subjects for them to bare themselves in this way. These women participated because they want you to look and know what real women are like. The Century Project does include a few younger girls and Cordelle is aware that these are regarded as the most controversial. For those who have not actually seen his work, there is the erroneous assumption that it is something like the work of Jock Sturges or similar naturist photographers, a tiresome comparison for the artist to be sure. However, he is patient with even the most surprisingly frank questions and he answers them as honestly as he can. He may not be pursuing the kind of physical aesthetic as Sturges, but he does express an important spiritual one. Young girls are especially self-conscious when it comes to their body image and I commend the courage of those who are shown in Bodies and Souls. These girls are acutely aware of their physical flaws whether we see them or not and perhaps the most compelling thing for me about the book is not the images, but the testimonials and other feedback about their experiences. We rarely get to hear about these things because many don’t want to know and validate this work or assume the girls are naively deluding themselves and will regret their actions later. Many would look at Ginger, 9 for example and assume she was asked by the artist to display herself somewhat provocatively. In fact, she is being playful in a way consistent with her age and is experimenting with ways of expressing herself that is perfectly natural. What you see is completely spontaneous and Cordelle thinking he could get a better effect with another background asked her to repeat the performance later, but it lacked the joyful spark of spontaneity and so an image from the original shoot was ultimately used. Ginger and many others have used their participation to accept the flaws they perceive in themselves permitting them
to be more self-possessed.

It is easy to forget how startling these images can be for those who are not accustomed to seeing naked people. Most would assume that the most vocal objections come from women as the subjects in the book are all girls and women and presumably being exploited in some way. In reality, the biggest opposition comes from men. When I brought the book to a bar to share with others, the most adamant reaction came from an Asian middle-aged man about the image of Ginger. No assurance that the photo was taken, processed, printed and published legally would convince him of its legitimacy. On the other hand, his wife loved the book and was the first one to ask to look at it! Members of our society are conditioned to believe that nudity is equated with sexuality and men who experience the shock of a naked girl for the first time are afraid to acknowledge that visual appeal. Their personal stake and status in society means they cannot take the slightest risk or being regarded as some kind of pervert. Ironically, their severe reaction can cause more psychic harm than the purported offense.

It must be acknowledged that the circumstances that brought these girls before the camera were unusual as they came from a culture or family more open to this portrayal. In my research, the most common negative testimonials had to do with the stigma from their society after the fact. The photo session itself may have been a salutory experience, but when a girl is at an age when a boyfriend might learn about the photo, she may ask it to be removed from an exhibit. This is the case with Megan, 7 and when she was 23, she asked Cordelle to put the image back in the exhibit demonstrating with maturity her real pride in participating. It also reflects the long period of time (over 25 years) Cordelle has been working on this and has seen these girls grow up.

The public discourse is rather one-sided and indignantly righteous. As compensation I offer evidence of how fulfilling posing nude can be—different for each person but positive when handled competently and unselfishly. But I would be remiss to ignore the cases where a girl was made to pose through intimidation or insecurity so that she comes away feeling misused. The story of Karen, 50 is a case in point and is also included in the book. She was manipulated and then molested by boys and yet years later posed for The Century Project. Perhaps she did it to tell her story or perhaps in the hope of accelerating the healing process. Whatever the reason, her untrusting gaze speaks volumes to me.

Although it was Cordelle’s notion originally to have a representative photo covering each age from 0 to 100, filling all the age gaps is not paramount although he would like to have someone with a three-digit age! Being moved by the sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes inspirational stories of trauma and healing made him recognize the importance of making us all face our fellow human beings in their flawed and honest forms and reflect on the foibles of human development. It also forces us to confront the ways men disrespect women out of their own insecurities. So far he has done a pretty good job of representing a range of races and even a few with very strictly conservative upbringings. Cordelle is compelled to bring to light both the physicality, the spirituality and the emotion of the human condition. He says he does not want to under- or overrepresent any particular group but sometimes for very rare situations even one image is an overrepresentation such as a transgendered individual. The artist is not trying to document some predetermined set of conditions but usually lets them come to him in due course. However one thing he hopes to include someday is the kind of genital mutilation practiced in places like Kenya which I discuss in my V-Day post.

So far exhibitions have taken place on 31 college and university campuses and have received overwhelming praise by the viewing public inevitably resulting in a few more volunteers. Part of the challenge of getting this exhibit in major galleries and museums—and getting the book published for that matter—is a historical one. After Jesse Helms made a stink about publicly-funded galleries exhibiting the Mapplethorpe photographs, the conservatives have had a stranglehold of what is and is not acceptable to display; most gallery directors would rather avoid the political hassle. A few years after publication enough outspoken professors objected to the project that finding new places to exhibit has tapered off considerably even though a simple examination of the images makes it clear there is no erotic and pornographic intent. What is needed now is the efforts of a few brave and persuasive individuals to get things started again to reignite cogent debate and not let this worthy project drift into obscurity. They say no good deed goes unpunished and I can’t help wondering how long our society is going to continue punishing Frank Cordelle for shining a light on the real lives of girls and women.

Heureka Publications (official website)