by Andrea Dicenzo
There's arguably no better place to speak candidly about an erotica magazine than a Parisian cafe. The whispered French and eruptions of laughter, the shuffling of waiters and the clanging of cutlery indicative of the romance of this sexy city—this is where publishers Lucie Santamans, Esthèle Girardet, Geneviève Eliard take us to talk about Irene #4, their cult magazine's newest edition.
Revealed today, 7 March 2013, at Ofr Bookshop and Gallery in Paris, the latest edition of Irene goes into print for the fourth time with a more pared-down selection of photographers than ever before. Unlike some of the issues in the past, the founders decided to keep the contributor list quite small and focus on a more fully imagined body of works. This issue's considered collaborations include Dutch photographer Janneke Van Der Hagen, American Ana Kraš, Rito Lino from Portugal and France's own Christelle Nisin. What all of these photographers have in common is their use of the female form to explore ideas of eroticism, sexuality, desire and impulse.
But if the idea starts to sounds like a French cliché, the magazine's content will convince you otherwise. All from France originally, Santamans, Girardet and Eliard formed Irene together in the warehouses and studios of London. "Everyone thinks, oh this is very France," says Santamans, "But, no, France is very conservative when it comes to sexuality and nudity. A lot of the inspiration came from what we saw and how we felt about London. And the fact that we weren't in our own country and we didn't have the expectations of the people around us, that helped us launch this project."
"We couldn't have done this in Paris. I am absolutely sure about this," confirms Girardet. "At the beginning, we had all the prefect conditions. We had time, we had the technique, we had the material, and we had the muse."
That muse is Irene herself—an imaginary seductress, originally based on the legendary surrealist René Magritte's real life muse Irène Hamoir, who invites the audience to "play" with her through the magazine's website, Facebook page, and limited-run physical prints. But Irene does a lot more than stand in for the archetypal vixen. She is not your Playboy bunny or Internet pop-up porn spam. The women see universal ideas of sensuality and sexuality in her and want to create a personification that represents the many different facets of feminine sexual desire. When Irene "invites" one to visit her or come "play" with her, it is deliberately tantalizing in a tongue-and-cheek sort of way, with equal parts of mystery and seduction that reveal the artistic decisions of the founders. Their website denotes their clear objective: to declare female sexuality as "special, beautiful and, most of all, inspirational."
"We want to explain all of the process," says Girardet. "When you have a crush on somebody, this expectation, this desire. Just these moments you have in life and love, we want to show that. We don't want to see a sex tape or I don't know, something like that. And this mentality is not really ours, to be honest, we are use to seeing really trash pictures, really vulgar scenes...we are over saturated with them."
Showcasing photographers whose work is sexually charged without veering toward pornographic has been the challenge from the beginning. One of the new challenges Irene gave herself with this fourth addition was taking on the idea of eroticism without showing any explicit body parts. When questioning what erotism means to the them, Girardet suggests "I think it's about sensibility. So it could be everything, the body, an ass, a nipple, anything. But it's just about sensibility and light and photographers mood. That's why for this next issue we are going to go something without sex because we want to show that it can be erotic without anything connected to sex. And just with the atmosphere and the feeling."