Hardley Surton, also the picture from his collection that inspires the most questions...

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Summary: Hardley Surton had a collection of pictures of beautiful women like practically no other, and one in particular leaves me asking...What?

BLOT: (25 Aug 2011 - 06:24:07 PM)

Hardley Surton, also the picture from his collection that inspires the most questions...

Hardley Surton was an odd, if that's the right word, Internet phenomenon. Obstensibly a one man act*, he had a wide collection of photographs featuring lovely women in various poses and doing various things. This does not mean exactly what you might first assume, because he wasn't a mere purveyor of highly-specialized pornography. It would be wrong to describe the majority of his images as even "porn like" [but see the downsides, below]. His collections had titles like "Tea Birds" and featured women sitting around sipping tea, or "Women with Wine", which is ditto but with wine. A slightly more provactive titled blog, to which I recently referred, was "Babes with Books". There was a red-head collection, and one with women with their arms up. It was bizarre. As was a couple of attempts he had at a WTF or curiousity collection, which tended to feature pretty women in weird poses, situations, and so forth. For those curious: no, he did not take these photos; these were photos he "found" on the Internet (i.e. he and his sources got from other people's profiles). I'll get to that.

I had several reasons for liking his collections—originally it was a single Flickr stream that got axed, probably for using other people's photos, and later a collection of themed blogs that got taken down, and then still later a no-longer-updated Picasweb account with sorted albums/galleries—outside of the "pretty ladies" aspect. First there was Surton himself (in case you haven't noticed the joke of his name, say Hardley Surton out loud): his online persona, which occasionally showed up in pictures in the collection, was a sort of Edwardian-Wodehousian type. Someone who would be right at home with the Drones Club. Secondly, Surton tended to be more inclusive with what was meant by "beautiful women" than most. While he did seem to have a type—the tiniest bit overweight, and definitely busty, blonde soriority girl—his pictures were about as likely to have a standardly beautiful woman as a quiet, nerdy type with a great smile. Third, his crazily specific themes were funny in and of themselves. Finally, "he"* tended to have a sense of humor, a mildly mocking and self-mocking tone, that made his posts a bit of a lark. These reasons got him featured in a Wired article.

Plus, there was some weird stuff that floated around his blogs that was fascinating in a anthropological sort of way. Back in his Flickr days, he had a regular commenter that claimed to be a big breasted woman who felt that breasts represented something of a power in women. She would often comment that the women in the picture with the biggest breasts were the most powerful, and in at least once went on a bit about they knew it based on their obvious sense of self-satisfaction (i.e. in that picture, the bigger the breasts, the bigger the smile was the claim). In what is likely no surprise to anyone, this commenter turned out to be a man with some issues, and eventually outed himself...apparently to do with some therapy he was under. That's the kind of stuff you don't stumble across every day.

There were downsides. A lot of the pictures ended up feeling more and more outright stolen. Which I'm sure they all were, to greater or lesser degrees, but there is a difference between "photograph a woman posted to her public profile that was found while surfing Facebook" and "Photograph obviously meant for a boyfriend, shared by said boyfriend or one of his friends". A lot of them became more and more contrived: Babes with Books started having photos from obvious porn shoots and/or nude poses, as opposed to many of its older photos which just featured women reading books with little contrivance [e.g. for a non-contrived shot, a favorite of mine, this photo of a circulation assistant/student shelving books].**

And there is always the general "creep" factor of such a thing. Some of his collections felt especially off, those with women photographed while asleep, almost all in a college environment. Occasionally he get obsessed with one or more of the women, and would features photo dumps of them from various events, which could feel a tiny bit stalkery.

Still, overall, it was one of those Internet things that made me smile because it was both obvious and odd at the same time.

And, by the way, if you Google the name you will still find a Facebook profile, the Picasweb galleries, and some other bits here or there. My favorite is that he or someone "with" "his" "name" submitted a handful of definitions to Urban Dictionary, such as baggerwank: "a cuss used when you are annoyed at someone".

This brings me to a particular picture. While much of Surton's output had various quaint qualities, one of his collections was basically "Girls with good cleavage", that later became "The Cleavage Blog". Not very subtle, right? And there was a picture posted to it that, well, still boggles my mind. At first glance, it is a family photo. Then I start looking more and more at it, and I can't help but ask questions...

What year is this? What country? Are they siblings? If they are siblings, is the brother on the right purposefully pushing his sister in a way that makes her breasts jut out or is he just pushing her and that's a result? If this is a family and the dad (!?) is taking the photo, and that's his daughter, why did this exist past the moment of clicking? What is going on here? What is that expression her face? (I'm assuming she is saying something like "MOMMMMMMM!!!!" but her tongue almost looks like she is, or has just finished, sticking it out...) Why are they topless (except for the girl, who might be wearing a strappy dress or might be in just a bra)? What age are they? Because they look kind of young but the sister (?) is definitely busty and the guy on her right is old enough to start developing muscle definition. Why does dude on left with the fabulous hair look so much like a young John Travolta and why does he look completley oblivious to the rest of the photo? Why is the mom (!? older sibling?) making a goofy face? Is the wall really that teal, or is that some trick of the light? Why does the brother on the right have such a huge watch? What is he holding in his right hand (to the left of the sister in the picture) and is pressing it against her arm that hard an intention or an accident? Why does the brother back-center have something in his hand as well (and it looks cloth like one of the missing shirts?), and why is he holding against the one dude's head/hair? And is he pushing the right-hand brother into the sister (and therefore is the cause of all of this)? And what is he staring at down the bottom left (his right)?

I tried the Google image search thing and got nothing. Stupid Google image search thing. I'm starting to feel that maybe it is best left to the imagination. Ah well, this is not the first time I have asked questions about a picture I found there [the picture of the "twins" on the couch was from Babes with Books, but not from there, just reposted there...you know what I mean], and I never solved the other one, neither. C'est la vie...wait, there was an old email address that he used. Maybe I should contact it? Would it ruin the mystique? Decisions...decisions...

* I put "he" in quotes, and used the word "obstensibly" in the first paragraph, because there is about as much chance that Surton was a collection of people, possibly of both sexes, as there were that he was a single man.

** I wasn't the only one who felt a few of these complaints, I found this comment on a page when trying to find out more information about Surton: 'I found "Babes with Books" when I was considering a Book Babe idea to help bring attention to my shop. His early posts ranged from cute to charming images of women who knew they were being photographed. Some of the later posts were smutty and contrived, and some even seemed to have been taken without the subject's knowledge. The decline in quality had me considering the removal of his links from my sites.' [Apparently from the runner of The Bonnett's Book Store blog]



Written by Doug Bolden

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