'spanked' in French. I think the French word for spanking is fess Ã© e. Anyway, Studio FessÃ© was the marque he put on them. People into that kind of stuff saw that and knew what to expect."
I find Chip remarkably forthcoming about his father. He seems to enjoy discussing his old man's "personal work." Max, as Chip describes him, was not an especially impressive-looking manâstooped, of medium height, with the bushy eyebrows and beak characteristic of his Armenian heritage, excessively hairy ears, chest hair showing at his throat, with two wild patches of gray head hair flanking a shiny pate. But there was a quality about him, a gentle intensity that drew people in. It was this, Chip tells me, that made it possible for him to convince women to pose for him in postures that, had the suggestions been made by anybody else, they would have been taken as the gravest of insults.
"He'd approach a woman, tell her he found her extremely beautiful, then hand her his card saying he hoped she'd consider calling him to arrange for a portrait sitting. Approximately half would accept, an extraordinarily good batting average when you think about it. With these women, in the course of the session, he'd create a bond. He adored women, you seeâput them on a pedestal, and some women found they liked that very much.
"Say a week or so after the session, he'd invite the subject back to the studio to look at prints. The portraits would be good, often the best photos the woman ever had taken. Then, if he felt there were possibilities, he'd show her some of his personal work, first the nudes, and then, after considerable coaxing, perhaps several of the whip photographs as well. Then, depending on the woman's reaction, he'd let it be known he'd be thrilled to take a few shots of her in a similar vein. Or, more often than you might expect, she might broach the notion herself."
They'd have great fun then picking out an appropriate wardrobe from his studio closet filled with fetish gearâriding apparel, glossy black boots, black leather bustiers , a huge selection of gloves and crops, plus all sorts of provocative underthings , lacy black bras, black silk stockings, stiletto-heel shoes in sizes ranging down to petite.
Provocative as the FessÃ© photographs were, there was no nudity in them. Cleavageâyes! Sexualityâthe pictures radiated it. They were choked with implication, innuendo. But there was never anything vulgar or brazen, nothing that smacked of a pornographic magazine. Their brilliance lay in their restraint. That was the art of them. In his FessÃ© pictures, Max showed himself to be an artist. Which was why his FessÃ© series has become so collectible.
"The print you've got, the one of Mrs. Fulraineâthe fact that she's bare breasted makes it a real rarity. Pop didn't distribute shots like that, never sold them to clients. But sometimes near the end of a session he'd ask a model whether she'd let him take a few of her stripped down just for fun. And if she did, they'd put in an extra hour, and, if he liked the negatives, he'd make just two prints, one for her, the other for himself"
Chip meets my eyes. "I have Pop's album. There's a print in it identical to yours. So the print you have must have once belonged to Mrs. Fulraine." He pauses. "How'd you get it?"
"It came to me by a circuitous route."
Before he can pursue the issue, I ask how his father met Barbara Fulraine.
Chip shrugs. Perhaps Max saw her, he says, when he was working on an annual report for Fulraine Steel. Chip knows the lady was murdered the following year. It was a famous Calista scandalâshe and her lover gunned down in a sleazy motel room near Tremont Park. But he doesn't think his father would have made more prints of the bare-breast shot simply because his sitter was no longer alive. That wasn't Max's style, he was an honorable guy, and the Studio FessÃ© pictures weren't made for profit.
I ask Chip if he has other shots of