Purple Magazine
— Purple 25YRS Anniversary issue

John Kayser

Little is known about amateur erotic photographer and Super 8 filmmaker John Kayser. He was born in North Dakota in 1922, serviced a bombardment squadron during World War II, and after the war moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as an assembler for Northrop Aircraft and later became one of their technical illustrators. Maybe he married. Starting in 1960 until the early ’80s, he photographed women he met in bars and strip clubs, sometimes hiring artists’ models, or anyone attractive enough and willing to strip and be photographed. They were girls he might connect with, intimately or not, and they often came back for later shoots. Kayser shot mostly in his home studio, often in front of pale-pink backdrop paper or on tables or chairs, with props. When he shot outdoors, the models dressed as sexily as they might for LA’s warm sun.

Kayser’s photographs have been called “almost pornographic” and “sometimes creepily” so, but have a delicate artistic quality besides their obvious fetishistic orientation (shoe and foot fetishism, cake seating, face seating, etc). He peered more luridly into the flesh than did Paul Outerbridge, whose soft color and use of objects he seems to mimic. But Kayser’s soft Kodachrome color pictures of California girls more closely prefigured the New York punk girls of Richard Kern — 30 years his junior and a much more successful erotic photographer. As with Kern, it’s hard to know if Kayser’s images are a form of sublimation or meant to eroticize a triumphant female. Most common are hip-cocked butts; a girl’s naked fundament crushing flowers, fruit, photographs, magazine covers, desserts, or Kayser’s not-exactly-lascivious face; and a bare or high-heeled foot digging into his face. There are also pictures of Kayser’s face as if under the wheel of a car, which recalls J.G. Ballard’s eroticizing of the car crash.

You can wonder if he secretly worked for sex magazines, but he never published a picture in a magazine under his name, and surely didn’t care to. He was shooting obsessively for the sake of it, as a private and transgressive practice — secrecy that gives the photos their flavor years later. He died in 2007, undeservedly forgotten. His girls must surely remember and have a story to go with every picture.

— Jeff Rian

All pictures Untitled by John Kayser, copyright John Kayser, courtesy of Jason Brinkerhoff and Myles Haselhorst

An exhibition of John Kayser’s photographs was recently held at The Journal Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Ampersand Editions has published two books of Kayser’s works, titled Sitting and Rose.

[Table of contents]

Purple 25YRS Anniversary issue

Table of contents

purple NEWS

purple 25 YEARS 25 COVERS

purple INTERVIEW

purple FASHION WOMEN

purple FASHION MEN

purple DOCUMENT

purple BEAUTY

purple ARCHITECTURE

purple LOVE

purple PHILOSOPHY

purple NIGHT

purple STORY

purple SEX

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