The girls collected in Surton's photographs evoke butterflies pinned to a board in the dusty attic of a lonely lepidopterist.
Last September, I had the pleasure of introducing this column’s readers to George McCoy, tireless champion of British masseuses and lifelong connoisseur of their establishments. This month -- since it’s Spring and all -- I’d like to introduce you to another chap with an eye for the ladies, a gentleman who goes by the unlikely name of Mr. Hardley Surton.
Hardley Surton rules over his own little empire of photoblogs, all devoted to showcasing images of authentic female beauty in its natural habitat. The first one of Surton’s sites I stumbled upon was Babes With Books.“
"Book Lovers!” the blog proclaims. “Looking for serious book discussion, book reviews, book recommendations, etc.? Well, you've come to the wrong place. Looking for oodles of pictures of beautiful girls and women flexing their brain muscles on some serious literature?? Well then: Step right in!!” (Goodness. What would Oprah think?)
Surton proudly declares that Babes with Books is “a book blog like no other,” since it contains “nothing but pictures of attractive literate females.” “Literate”, in this case, means the girls in question have been photographed reading books. (Or holding them, at least. Oh, and wearing glasses… just how literate can you get?)
Babes with Books led me to Tea Birds (pictures of attractive girls drinking tea), Women with Wine (attractive girls drinking wine), and Sleeping Cuties (attractive girls asleep). For a while, I thought these three sites covered the whole range of Mr. Surton’s fetishes, but, as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Go to Surton’s Miscellany, and his homepage Gallery, and you’ll discover that Hardley has put together what he describes as “an ill-conceived photoblog of attractive females engaged in all manner of categorized activity… Specially created for people who like that sort of thing.” Here, we have a veritable typology of classified cuties: Ironing Broads, Straw Sippers, Girls on Cellphones, Shop Girls, Babes with their Parents, Musical Beauties, Girls with Towel Animals, Girls on Trains and Buses, Girls in Cars…well, you get the picture. Nine and a half thousand of them, to be precise.
What most strikes the viewer on perusing this catholic collection isn’t so much its size, but -- pardon the phrase -- what’s done with it. Hardley Surton is a man obsessed to be sure, yet not so much by women, it seems, as by classification. He’s the first to admit it. “It should be understood,” he told me recently in an e-mail interview, “that I have bit of an obsessive-compulsive streak... In this way, collecting and categorizing pictures of women is my way of self-medicating. My old habit of collecting conventional sexual imagery gave way to candid photographs once I discovered social networking and photo sharing sites, such as Webshots and Flickr.”
Surton, who at one point in his life was (surprise surprise) a library cataloguer, became housebound in 2005 due to a personal crisis, and, he explained, what began as a hobby quickly flourished into a serious preoccupation. “I would spend hours upon hours searching the Webshots photo database for dormitory photos, birthday party photos, beach photos, college drama clubs, you name it -- anywhere cute girls would likely be found,” he told me. “As my collection grew, I began to see similarities between certain photos... I began to categorize according to type of activity, and also physical traits, hair color, ethnicity, etc. Once I actively began engaging in Web 2.0 applications like Flickr and Blogger, I found an enthusiastic, sympathetic audience.”
In other words, most of the photographs Hardley displays are plucked from elsewhere on the web. Legally, of course, this is fair play, since pictures posted online are usually in the public domain; there’s no copyright violation involved. Ethically, though, some might feel a tad uneasy about the possibility of their image (or that of their sister, daughter or girlfriend) being re-posted on the site of a card-carrying “cutie categorizer”. In some ways, it makes me think of butterflies being pinned to a board in the dusty attic of a lonely lepidopterist.
Still, about 20 percent of Surton’s pictures (not nearly as much as he would like) are from viewers and fans. “I get a mix of male and female submitters,” he told me. “It’s interesting that the males most often submit anonymously, often something found on the web, whereas the females most often submit pictures of themselves, along with some kind of agenda, like “please post a link to my blog, my site, or review of my book.” Well, if you’re going to be admired, I suppose you might as well make it work for you.
Like most men, perhaps, he prefers “the authenticity of self-taken (or friend-taken) pictures”. In part, he believes, this is because “young women in certain situations seem to be more photogenic. For example, a girl being photographed by a friend while she's holding a glass of wine will beam at the camera, possibly look sultry, conspiratorial, relaxed, and happy. Girls photographed in the back seats of cars also have a special appeal, for some reason.” (Maybe because they can’t get away?)
I asked Surton if he had any particular fetishes, and he confessed that he finds the word “fetish” distasteful. “To me,” he said, “it conjures up images of rubber masks, 1950s Betty Page-style stocking worship and the like.” He added: “Every single photo I post has direct appeal to me personally. I never post anything just because I think someone else will like it. It’s a personal collection that I to choose to share with the world, and I happen to have a broad view of what is beautiful”. In fact, Surton considers himself a bona fide beauty addict. “I become anxious and restless,” he confessed, “if after a time I cannot see a beautiful woman.”
It’s true that Hardley’s tastes cover a lot of ground; still, his idea of female beauty isn’t all that different to that of the mainstream media. Out of Surton’s 81 photo galleries, only four are devoted to non-Caucasian “specimens” (“Cinnamon Girls”, “Black Girls”, “Asian Cuties” and “Indian/Middle Eastern girls”), and only one to sexy moms, none of whom look to be much past 40-years-old. His private gallery of favorites clears up any doubt: this is a fellow who prefers pert, fresh-faced, corn-fed, American blondes. As many as he can get.