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Last edited by Savage Heart
February 19, 2013 | History

Forbidden Images: a secret portfolio 1 editions

Cover of: Forbidden Images | J. Ross Baughman
About the Book

Photography: America’s Closet

Our society prides itself on being inclusive. We invite the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free.
"Our motto is E pluribus unum. But there are, inevitably, outcasts and outsiders – those we will not tolerate in our company, and those who seek their own society outside the mainstream. Forced underground, many such formal and informal groups lurk on the fringes of our awareness, often the objects of our fear and hostility. In his latest book of photographs, Forbidden Images, a secret portfolio (Cambric Press, $5), J. Ross Baughman examines several of these fringe groups through a series of short photo essays. Each essay provides a special jolt to our sensibilities. Taken together they provide important food for thought.
The first essay concerns the most organized of the groups, the Ku Klux Klan. Baughman, a KSU graduate whose work appears regularly in The Lorain Journal and occasionally in this magazine, shows us a group of Ohio and Virginia Klan members as they prepare for an evening meeting in the middle of some forest. If we had not heard of the Klan before, we might almost believe we are witnessing preparations for an office picnic. Small groups of adults and children chat among the trees and parked cars. Lights are strung between poles and a speaker’s stand is decorated with flags and bunting. Of course, there is a matter of the strange costumes and cross covered with gasoline-soaked rags. A man leans casually against the door of his truck, gazing defiantly out of the picture. In his hand is a large switchblade knife – the blade extended and ready. This place belongs to him and his companions. We are the outsiders now. For the time being, theirs is the power. The next essay introduces us to a young man sitting before a dressing table and large mirror. We watch as he carefully applies false eyelashes, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick. He dons earrings, a necklace, a padded bra and shimmery dress. Later he is seen in a tavern being warmly embraced by his friends. He climbs up on the bar and does a striptease which the clientele of this very private club seems to appreciate. There are no women present. In the third essay in the book, Baughman brings us to a carnival sideshow. Here one man pushes long pins through his face; others make their living by displaying their physical deformities. Crowds from the outside world press in close to gape. There is no communication. The final essay portrays the inmates of various mental institutions. These are perhaps the ultimate outcasts, for they are unable even to take comfort from each other. No doubt about it, this is not a book for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. But though it may sound like an overwhelmingly depressing set of images, surprisingly it is not. Baughman has succeeded in keeping solid focus on the underlying humanity of his subjects – and this makes all the difference. W. Eugene Smith has portrayed Klan members as unredeemable monsters. Diane Arbus has portrayed sideshow freaks with a relentless morbidity. But these “living taboos,” as Baughman calls them, are not alien beings invading us from their own strange world. Much of what they are has been brought about by the pressures of the society around them. “Forbidden Images are the secrets that society is trying to keep from itself,” says Baughman. Implied is the painful lesson that our social demons must remain with us until we are willing to bring close scrutiny to the very things we do not wish to see.

                            – Wayne Johnson
                            Staff writer for Cleveland Magazine
                            May 1977

1 edition First published in 1977

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Cover of: Forbidden Images
Forbidden Images: a secret portfolio
1977, Cambric Press
in English


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