Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Venus in Black Stockings 9: Gillian Tanner by Sam Haskins (1928-2009)

Someone commenting on our recent Lucien Clergue post mentioned the great photographer Sam Haskins, whose name we had completely forgotten, so we thought we would correct this omission forthwith.  Triple P remembers the name in conjunction with pictures from his Asahi Pentax calendars, that appeared in Amateur Photographer in the seventies and eighties.

This striking image features Gillian Tanner and comes from his breakthrough 1962 photographic book Five Girls.  Haskins was born in South Africa in 1928. Despite a teenage fascination with the circus he took arts and photographic courses at Johannesburg Technical College.

Starting his career as an advertising photographer in 1953 he had his first one man show in a Johannesburg department store in 1960.  The following year he shot the pictures for Five Girls, one of whom was a teenage art student Gillian Tanner, who just turned up at his studio one day, and demonstrated a natural affinity for the camera.

Five Girls was a hugely influential book of nude photography, not just because of the style of the pictures but also the design of the book.  It certainly influenced many other photographic nude books including Wingaite Paine's The Mirror of Venus.

Five Girls was originally turned down by dozens of publishers and it was only through the hard work of Haskins' wife Alida, who acted as his manager throughout his career, that it was eventually published.

Playboy April 1963

The book was an instant hit, although not in Haskin's or Tanner's native South Africa where it was banned.  Playboy, forever on the look out for a lovely girl, featured a shot of Gill by Haskins in their April 1963 issue in their Girls of Africa pictorial.  Gill was a big a hit in the magazine.  

Playboy August 1963

The letters page of the July issue featured Don Coviello of the University of Connecticut writing: "We love her, we love her, we love her, we love her, we love her, we love her.  More, please."  James Foltz, strangely also of Connecticut, wrote: "The magnificent picture of Gillian Tanner is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in your marvelous publication."

Playboy August 1963

Playboy promised that Gill would return in August and, indeed she did, in a full pictorial  by Haskins.  In the Playbill section of the magazine that month they wrote that Gill was the "most popular of The Girls of Africa, photographed in a five-page photographic encore herein in response to reader raves." 

Playboy August 1963

In the text accompanying the pictorial they wrote that the "lion's share of praise was dedicated to a comely South African miss named Gillian Tanner."  "Bravo for enthroning this African queen," Playboy claimed one admirer had written and "we have never seen such a beautiful creature." said another.

Playboy August 1963

The article revealed that she was not a professional model but now, at nineteen she was working as a commercial artist for a department store and that she was 5' 10" tall.

Playboy August 1963

More appreciative letters appeared about Gill in October's Playboy.  "She is an unusually provocative creature of rare beauty and has been portrayed with sensitivity and taste," wrote Charlie Mayes of Texas, before asking who the photographer was.  Haskin's name had appeared in the August issue but only in tiny type on the credits page and not in the article itself.

Playboy August 1963

David Yetman, of North Carolina, wrote: "Your delightful pictorial portrayal of this charming miss has suddenly thrown the old adage, "the bigger the bust the better the broad," into hopeless obsolescence."  We couldn't agree with Mr Yetman more; shape being more important than size and Miss Tanner having a beautifully shaped, perfectly perky bust.

Playboy August 1963

Despite her nice bust and cute dimples it's that full-lipped mouth, beautiful face and enticing eyes that make Miss Tanner so desirable.   Five Women was, apparently, very popular with American troops heading off to Vietnam.

Coming full circle, we return to an image of Gill in her black stockings (or socks; there seems to be some disagreement).  In 2008 a band called The Last Shadow Puppets produced an album called The Age of the Understatement and used one of Haskins' images of Gill on the cover.   The group was one of those composite ones formed from the members of other groups.  Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys was behind it and it was his then girlfriend Alexa Chung, who chose the image for the cover.  Chung is one of those women who the press claim is famous without it being very clear as to what she actually does apart from being a clothes horse.  Still, we can't fault her taste in retro pictures.  

This picture of Gill, also from Five Girls, was used on the cover of a single from the album.  The success of the album, which went to number one in the UK, rekindled interest in Gill, who, it turned out was a full time artist and grandmother still living in South Africa.  She must be over seventy by now but her image as a gamine teenager lives on as one of the lesser known style icons of the early sixties, thanks to Sam Haskins' luminous photography.


  1. I remember seeing an advert for the album on that giant hoarding at Clapham Junction. It looked good. I didn't realise it was an old image.

  2. Thank you for the two excellent articles on Clergue and Haaskins, filling in so much background detail, also concerned about the future status of this blog. As an artist who draws and paints the nude as part of my work it is distinctly worrying.