As relationships get ever more complicated, we take a look at the key trends and visual highlights used and created by Art Directors and Photographers to say it with feeling…
When did feet at the end of the bed suddenly become the default for love and/or sex? Just how did we get here? Call this kind of image “Relationship feet”. There was the story in the UK’s Daily Mirror about a man with a lover who was too demanding – sex feet. Then there was the debate highlighted by The Guardian in London around sex-ed in schools – feet clearly in a chaste and celibate relationship. Then the question that worries every male 4×4 driver – the size question, answered by Feet in Health.Com. And then there are the menage-a-trois Feet – see, we say it in French, it’s a bit more discreet. How we got to feet as a visual signifier maybe simply that like all concepts, it’s utterly quick, fast and uncomplicated. Or it may have it’s roots in a Hollywood workaround the censors.
Love, sex and romance are rarely straightforward in life or pictures, psychological and social rituals, the codes and signs that advertisers and image-makers nod to – take the 1950s Hollywood rom-com. It is commonly believed that in the mid-century rom-coms such as the Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies, married couples could sleep in the same room but only it seems in separate beds. In this world, free from physical intimacy, people clearly had children via some kind of telepathic (or telephonic) intercourse.
But while the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, which was only abandoned in the 1960s, still had force until the 1960s, did have a fairly broad set of restrictions (“Dances which emphasise indecent movements are to be regarded as obscene”) there’s no separate bed requirement but it seems film and TV producers developed their own visual palette from which to picture romance. According to David K. Randall in Salon magazine, the popular TV comedy “I Love Lucy” didn’t allow any objects which implied the dirty deed. “Despite the fact that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were actually married at the same time that they portrayed a fictional husband and wife on television, viewers of ‘I Love Lucy’ saw them nearly every week sitting and talking in their separate twin beds. The only program at the time to show a married couple sharing a double bed was The Flintstones. And it featured a yapping pet dinosaur.”
But there were visual rituals to signal that even though people were in bed together, there was nothing impolite happening. “Under Hollywood’s self-censorship,” writes Randall, “directors had to comply with his code in order to have their movies distributed to theatres across America. When a scene called for a couple to occupy the same bed at once, at least one actor had to keep one foot on the floor at all times to guard against the dire threat of horizontality.” But as with every set of rules, creative people get inventive in finding a way around, and in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies physical intimacy was visualised through the very notion of the physical boundary – the splitscreen. Not just images touching each other, but Rock and Doris ‘breaking out’ of the frame, their feet touch in the bath.
As the trailer voiceover excitedly declares “the most sparkling sexcapade that ever winked at convention!” The 1950s was also the height of popularity of psychoanalysis bringing its suite of visual euphemisms for you know what.
So we started with one foot on the floor and ended up with feet at the end of the bed – which is not the end of the story.
“Fireworks” are a well-mined metaphor for romance and sex, and a great example of a visual idea that we have almost become too familiar with. Art Directors will still use it but with a slice of humour, we’re in on the joke. It’s a great visual gag, balancing the subtle with the startlingly obvious.
Or this cute Valentine’s Levi’s ad.
And these covers for Bloomberg Businessweek, Art Directed by Richard Turley, which delivers fresh idea-based visuals that make the stories feel new, different, original and set a news agenda. They created two different versions for a story about web-based companies adultery businesses which they ran on Valentine’s Day. They created two versions a man’s legs – his trousers down – standing up, and the woman’s version below. Both ran Guido Vitti’s photograph over the title, the legs of the man and the woman obscuring the name.
But perhaps the cheekiest, wittiest, visualization of love and sex was this cover for the Telegraph magazine in London. A clever composition of an an object that’s come to serve as a symbol of commitment in a relationship, with the added bit of romantic, red-hearted toothpaste. It’s domestic simplicity ranks it alongside any of the great Lois covers of the 1960s
You can map the journey of a relationship from the Toothbrush to Relationship Feet to the moment when Relationship Feet have got serious about their toe-touching and have got cute new friends.
However you choose to capture relationships, like all conceptual imagery, the smaller the scale, the bigger the impact.