Explains Coxwell about why he made Vulva 101:
For me, this journey began a long time ago. A quest, perhaps it could be called, to find out why so many women held so much shame and were embarrassed at the mere mention of an intrinsically beautiful part of their own bodies. A part that should symbolize life, love and pleasure, but instead is hidden from society and individuals, even from their words and thoughts. It was also a quest to find out what could be done to improve this situation.In order to find volunteers for the project, Coxwell placed an ad about his project among other personals at various online sites. Receiving many positive responses over email late at night that turned to nothing in the sober daylight, he eventually accumulated an extensive portfolio of vulvae.
Coxwell narrates the project's process in the introductory section of his book, sharing his youthful enthusiasm for the project, curious anecdotes, and his own thoughts and theories.
The book's concluding section includes more of Coxwell's personal observations and speculations, and short comments from the women featured. Overall, the women's statements are upbeat and positive, thanking Coxwell for the opportunity to be part of the project and the positive message it sends to society. Comments one woman:
I read the ad [for Vulva 101 models] with trepidation and curiosity. I wondered if it would be weird to have a stranger that close to me with a camera lens so close to a part of me that is very private. In fact, it was a very erotic experience and I am very pleased that I agreed to participate in this project.This statement captures some of the very intimate and erotic feel of Vulva 101 that makes this a very different photo study from I'll Show You Mine, another recent photo study on women's vulvae. In I'll Show You Mine, all of the women were photographed from the same two camera angles, and without arranging the labia in any particular way, and each woman's portrait is accompanied on the same page spread by her own deeply moving story about her relationship to her self-image, body, and sexuality.
In Vulva 101, on the other hand, the women open and arrange their labia with their fingers for a camera that examines each woman differently, highlighting the close presence of Coxwell and his eyes. For this reason, I feel a bit like a voyeur when I look at the photos in Vulva 101, each time witnessing a very intimate encounter between Coxwell and the women he found by placing his ad among other personal ads.
Vulva 101 features several of Coxwell's unsubstantiated hypotheses. I could follow his lead in suggesting that the way Coxwell recruited women has something to do about who he found and how they prepared for the the shoots, whereas the editor of I'll Show You Mine, Wrenna Robertson, recruited women by first presenting on the background for her project (discussing labiaplasty and the need for a resource tool for women) at university campuses and women's centers, posting information sheets at these same places. And she established the publishing company Show Off Books featuring further educational resources, and providing the opportunity for women to submit and share their own stories anonymously online.
For a more accurate and informed resource, I recommend I'll Show You Mine. That said, I welcome any book celebrating the amazing beauty and wonder of the vulva. And if you can read Coxwell's narrative not as an educational authority but as his love letter for the vulva, then Vulva 101 really is quite compelling.
Hylton Coxwell's publishing company Liquid Metal Publishing is based in Stirling, Ontario, Canada. Available at Good For Her in Toronto, Vulva 101 ships in Canada, US and internationally. You can order the book from Coxwell's website Vulva 101 where you can also view more sample photos from the book.
Hylton Coxwell: Vulva 101 (Liquid Metal Publishing), ISBN: 978-0-9877358-0-5
(Photos copyright 2011 by Hylton Coxwell. Used by permission.)