I’ve recently soured on Kern. Here’s why:
His first photo book of smutty alterna chicks, New York Girls, came out in 1995, the same year I enrolled at New York University. I had only applied to one school, mostly because I thought New York was really punk rock. I had a similar take on Kern’s girls. Their loosely tied bondage, black eye-liner and magenta lips (remember Wet ‘n Wild #508?) represented a rebellion that was a few steps sexier and more dangerous than my own. Naughty, but hardly shocking. Of course, back then I liked New York Girls because I thought it was shocking to everyone else.
I checked out Kern again when I noticed the ads for his coming visits. My appreciation for has work has fared about the same as my love for NYU. (The only proud alumni I know are dropouts.) In the 12 years since Taschen published his first collection, Kern has wormed his way into the art world—-with gallery shows in New York, Paris etc—.—-and still clings to his role as smutographer of the subculture. He shoots for Juggs and Penthouse and has filmed videos for Marilyn Manson and Sonic Youth.
It took me a second to figure out why I felt revolted when everyone else still thinks Kern is super cool. I’m no expert, but I don’t think anyone takes him seriously as an artist. So it comes down to the porn, which is just really boring. The muses featured in his recent books have none of the deviance of a Bettie Page, or even of the original New York girls. Reviews praise Kern for shooting “real women” because he includes blemishes, the occasional belly roll and doesn’t do any touch-ups. But his real women stare at the camera, usually with no expression or a vaguely stoned come-hither look. And they’re not doing anything. Bettie Page made faces, snapped her whip, and tied up her friends.
I’d be curious to hear what it’s like for any local ladies who decide to indulge him.