Who’s looking?

Who was viewing these images produced by Zoë Mozert and her colleagues? Many of these works were marketed to military servicemen fighting in World War II, and the pictures adorned both workspaces and the barracks. In this 1943 photograph of a bomber-crew shack, collages of pin-up illustrations and photographs cover almost every available surface, as soldiers play cards or nap underneath their titillating wallpaper.

Pin-up photos adorn the walls of a bomber-crew shack on Adak Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943.
Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images. https://time.com/22030/aleutian-islands-campaign-rare-and-classic-photos-from-wwii/

Soldiers also curated their own “collections,” adorning their individual bunks with images of their choice: here, pages from an Earl MacPherson Artist’s Sketch Pad calendar of 1944.

Sailor reading in his bunk aboard USS CAPELIN at submarine base New London, Conn.” Lt. Comdr. Charles Fenno Jacobs, August 1943. 80-G-468523. National Archives Identifier: 520852. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/520852

Selected pages from MacPherson’s Artist’s Sketch Pad, 1944.

The trope of pin-up girls decorating military barracks was so well-known it became the gag for a New Yorker cover of 1944, illustrated by William Cotton, in which a group of visiting monks examines a soldier’s collection of pin-ups, much to his chagrin.

William Cotton, cover of New Yorker magazine for 12 August 1944: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1944/08/12

In the postwar years, pin-ups also decorated office spaces, where they telegraphed not only heteronormativity but also the desire to maintain the homosocial, male-only atmosphere of the workplace. A 1949 photograph shows selected pages from K.O. Munson’s 1945 Artist’s Sketch Pad calendar displayed on the walls of the press room of the Colorado State Capitol building.

Orin A Sealy, Interior view of the press room at the Colorado State Capitol building in Denver, Colorado. March 1949. Denver Public Library Digital Collections: http://cdm16079.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15330coll22/id/64459

Calendar girls decorated both documented workspaces and fictional ones. A calendar featuring a seductively-posed, bikini-clad model is on view next to the filing cabinets of a campaign office in the 1951 Warner Brothers cartoon Ballot Box Bunny.

Still from Ballot Box Bunny, Warner Brothers, 1951: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043315/

Yet these calendars and pin-ups weren’t solely for men; their audiences were not exclusively male. We know this intuitively, but it is also strikingly on display in a magazine cover from 1952 illustrated by Al Moore, who frequently painted pin-up and calendar girls himself.

Al Moore, cover of American Weekly, 21 Sept. 1952

Here, a young girl gleefully plays dress-up, attempting to imitate the calendar girl on the wall behind her. She has cast aside her dolls and instead assumes the pose and costume of the pin-up: a yellow dress with black sash, high-heeled shoes, and elbow-length gloves. Yet her imitation is grotesque; her clasped, gloved hands with splayed fingers appear almost like spiders, and her gap-toothed smile seems almost like a grimace. Her pose is ungainly, revealing bandaged knees and a teetering stance. There’s a nervous energy suggested by her swaying (clip-on?) earrings and unstable pose, rather than the confident glamor of the pin-up. Her two dolls suggest this contrast as well: the abstracted features and dowdy clothing of Raggedy Ann versus the bare torso of a small Barbie-like doll. The markers of childhood are uneasily juxtaposed with the trappings of adulthood. In this way, the picture is reminiscent of a much earlier painting: Seymour Joseph Guy’s Making a Train of 1867.

Seymour Joseph Guy (American, 1824-1910), Making a Train, 1867. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The George W. Elkins Collection, E1924-4-14. https://philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102969.html?mulR=200359328|1

In both pictures, a young girl is lost in her imagination, adopting the clothes or style of a much older woman and inadvertently exposing her bare, undeveloped chest to the gaze of the viewer in a disturbing contrast of innocence and sensuality.

American Weekly‘s description of the cover image furthers this dissonance, already predicting the future of this young girl: soon, “she’ll be a bona fide grown-up beauty.” The author nearly counts the days until the young girl will be ready for her own “dates.” Beyond the cheeky images of glamor and the enthusiastic consent of willing models, it’s important for us to keep in mind the many audiences and messages of these images of idealized, playful femininity. Moore’s young model takes delight in her game of dress-up, but there’s an evocation of darkness and revulsion that can’t be overlooked.

See also:

Lauren Lessing, “Re-reading Seymour Joseph Guy’s Making a Train,” American Art 25 (2011): https://digitalcommons.colby.edu/faculty_scholarship/66.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s