Case in point: A young, somewhat haughty-looking man featured in a photo layout in a leading men's fashion magazine models a $210 silk sportscoat and appropriate accessories while a police dog he is holding on a taut leash flares at the camera, his eyes aglow and his open mouth blood red.
Case in point: A fashion layout in a major women's magazine features a series of shots including a stunning blonde who is (a) holding back an angry, fang-exposed Doberman pinscher (b) having her bare ankles grabbed in the dog's powerful jaws, and (c) caressing the head and neck of a horse with a passion Elizabeth Taylor never imagined while filming "National Velvet."
Case in point: A photo "story" used to help bolster interest in a fashion layout in another women's magazine reveals (by tasteful but clear implication) what happens "abroad the train Paris to Cannes, two ladies and a gentleman, the selfsame room conspired to share, (Well, half the fun is getting there.")
NEW YORK - The rain is torrential, creating through the windows of the third-floor studio an almost surrealistic view of the bustle of activity on the street below. The artistic quality of this scene seems strangely appropriate to the conversation and yet, while the connection is not lost on Chris Van Wagenheim, magazine photography is foremost in his mind.
"I like erotic images, sensual images, women to be fairly realistic, not just mannequins," he said, looking around his utilitarian working quarters whose walls are covered with published pictures he has taken.
"I like them to be good-looking sexy, and not all retouched-up. Gutsy, strong women."
With those few words, Van Wagenheim has summed up some - though far from all - of the factors that influence his style and have made him one of today's leading young fashion and beauty photographers, selling to American and European publications alike.
It is the other factors, and his particular perception of eroticism, sensuality and strength, that also have led him and other colleagues in the United States and abroad to publish in "establishment," non-sex-oriented publications work that is decidedly "non-establishment."
Thus, while most magazines' layouts and ads have leaned either toward dewy-eyed women and clean-cut men enjoying innocent picnics, or toward sophisticated socialites attending posh soirees, others have taken what some observers term the more "daring" route.
Ten years ago, they all recalled, it was "daring" to allow a woman's navel to appear in a magazine photograph. Even more taboo was a picture of a seated female model whose legs were not crossed. The Slacks Age, and time, changed that.
Within the past two years, however, photographers, editors and art directors have gone further, essaying themes once the sole property of adult fantasy, sleazier publications, and a few uninhibited craftsmen.
"Fashion photography reflects, in its best way, and immediately, the cultural changes in a way that popular music, for instance, does," says Van Waggenheim, whose layout using the horse and Doberman appeared in February's Vogue magazine.
"It always goes through cycles, so let's say that in the end '60s, we were very much influenced by graphic designs."
Then things began to change, he explains, and as women became more self-reliant, the photographs are designed to reflect those changes.
"I heard people who decided that the Doberman on the leash was vagina dentata castration imagery," he says with a smile and a shrug of his narrow shoulders. "To me, though, it meant that 10 years ago, women were unable to handle situations, and screamed at every possible moment until a man took over.
"Today a woman would own a Doberman and is capable of saying Kill." You have girl gangs today, and you have women who are rather tough and outgoing and who take care of themselves.
"Look, I'm not really audience-oriented, whatever the outcome, I push as far as I can go within the limits, so I don't really take pictures in the hope that they will evoke shock or in the hope that people will like it, because I could care less one way or another.
"The fact is, sensuality has always been a part of fashion photography. In the early days it was more implicit an today it's more explicit. Animals create a certain sensuality. So does death and so do accidents and so do a lot of things. But these elements don't dominate my work - they are only a part of it."
"There are limits, of course," says Van Waggenheim, a soft-spoken, thoughtful native of Munich, Germany. "The limit is the taste level."
As in all published works, the ultimate decision on what is "tasteful" and what is not rests with the editors. At Vogue, 64-year-old Alexander Liberman is editorial director of the 850,000-circulation monthly magazine.
"Photographers are creative artists and magazines are entertainment," he says at his midtown office. "I don't think there is a trend to dogs biting women, but a certain degree of visual license from time to time is entertaining.
"That picture was a moment of amusement and I think it's over. It wasn't, and as some have said, S-M. Blood and death are not just against our policy, these sort of pictures are against our feelings. We never have any cruelty in Vogue and disapprove of it on every level.
"As for symbolism," he continued, "that same layout showed women (one in a high-fashion football jersey and the other in an expensive boxing robe and shorts) flipping men over their shoulders. Perhaps that does indicate independence to some, but to me and Grace Mirabella (the magazine's editor-in-chief) they were simply witty, amusing pictures."
Further uptown, Harry Costas Coulianos, art director of Gentlemen's Quarterly (circulation 350,000), takes an overall bottom-line view of the question.
"Editorially, we have the same 'givens' all the time," he remarked in his office-cum-workshop that is literally coated with photographs and page layouts on tables, chairs, walls and floors. "We have to show clothes, right? We also have to entertain the readers and give them some fantasy. We can't be a catalog all the time.
"I happen to know how far I can go with the reader and what will be accepted," he says, explaining that the readership is thought to be "50-50 gay-straight." "The layout we did in April 1976, with snakes and redeye (the glare that ruined so many pictures taken by amateurs) and with the dogs a month before provoked a surprising number of negative comments.
"The snakes were used purely to add exotic feeling to the clothes which were, for the most part, silks, cottons, and imported fabrics.
"I used parrots, cockatoos. Oriental girls, a black girl, all for exotic feeling. The redeye was for shock value, pure and simple. It was hot at the time and we wanted to use it."
Although those layouts were less "daring" than Van Waggenheim's in Vogue and others sold in the past two years. Coulianos has resorted frequently to the "story" layout - a sequence of pictures, much like the Paris-to-Cannes adventure that appeared in the spring 1977 issue of L'Official/USA. There, murder, infidelity and sexual fantasies are played out.
"This whole thing is the chi-chi crowd trying to say to the sort of bourgeoise middle class that they've got something that the other group doesn't know about. Any two-dimensional medium like magazines is competing with an awful lot of things. Movies, television, and other forms of visual titillation.
"It will continue, especially here on the East Coast, in the very sophisticated areas. It's over as a strong influence. In drips and drabs used in the right way, there is validity to that point of view - by that I mean a very decadent approach with all sorts of morals cast to the winds. Sex for sex's sake, sensuality, pain, a woman having sex with a dog or with a horse. It belongs in our frame of reference, but it shouldn't be blown out of proportion."
But will it continue at GQ? "Yes," replied Coulianos, who is 32 years old and has been art director at the magazine for the past seven years. "An implied decadence, rather than a shown decadence is where we're at. Let the readers wonder 'Does it happen or doesn't it?'"
To most "establishment" magazines, those images will remain the tools of other publications and other forms of communication.
"There's absolutely no way that any of this could ever creep into the (Ladies' Home) Journal or Good Housekeeping." Said Herb Blciweiss, whose international acclaim as art director of the Journal (circulation: 6 million) has carried over into his work at Good Housekeeping (circulation: 5.75 million).
"I do things that were and are considered 'far-out' for both magazines, but they have been things that, while different for women's magazines, were not into the area of bad taste, decadence and S-and-M. We've done exciting things, but always keeping the readership in mind. Those magazines that go for the other stuff are only appealing to a very small 'New York crowd' part of their readership.
"What surprises me is that people are taking credit for something that really isn't new. (Richard) Avedon did it 15 years ago. Helmut Newton started the whole thing as a gag, but people are taking it seriously and it's kind of sad that they are believing it. They're looking for something different and it isn't. They're reaching for anything. I don't think people are going to buy shoes because a dog is biting a girl's leg, even if it is subliminal.
"They're in love with love, and they're trying to catch the reader's attention, but the reader doesn't really care about it, so they're not doing their job.
"But, I suppose," Bleiweiss said, summing up the issue, "this difference is what makes the world go round and what sells magazines.
"Someone is always trying to come up with something that hasn't been done before."