Note: Some people may find this blog post and book offensive
by Philip Werner
After two years in the making, the 101 Vagina book is being launched in the USA and Canada with a series of exhibitions across the two countries from April to June 2014.
101 Vagina is about breaking down the taboo around the vagina and body image shame generally. It's also about the sharing of story and celebration of our diversity.
The book comprises 101 black and white photos of women's vaginas, in front on standing pose, accompanied by a message written by each woman about her vagina. The messages span the spectrum of emotions and form a small compendium of women's experiences with their vaginas and womanhood in general.
The book is self-published via Taboo Books by German/Australian photographer Philip Werner. It was first launched in Melbourne in 2013 after a successful crowdfunding campaign, and Werner is now taking the book to the world via America.
Werner was first inspired by reading Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues in 2007, and wanted to do something to counteract the unrealistic standards held up by various media which lead many women to feel that they are not normal or attractive.
101 Vagina is relevant to current issues around labiaplasty. There has been a startling increase in genital cosmetic surgery being sought by women, and even teenage girls. The book has been widely praised for its honest, diverse images and messages.
$5 from every book sold will go to charities working to end or heal violence towards women.
Traversing the continent, the tour will start in Los Angeles (5-13 April) before visiting San Francisco (19-27 April), Montreal (17-25 May), New York (3-8 June), and finishing in Toronto (14-22 June). Exhibitions in the UK may follow. For the full international tour details see: http://101vagina.com/usa-canada.
The book launch exhibitions will also feature a Festival of the Vagina, bringing local artists performers and educators together in vaginal celebration.
101 Vagina is about breaking down the taboo around vaginas and body image shame generally. It confronts the lies we are told about what's normal and celebrates our uniqueness and diversity. 101 Vagina is also about the sharing of story, of experience; the passing down of knowledge and wisdom.
This book contains 101 beautiful black and white photos of 101 women, along with a message, story or poem written by each woman to accompany their photo. The messages are candid and span the spectrum of emotions. They are raw and honest and form a small compendium of women's experiences with their bodies and womanhood in general, with a focus on the vagina.
101 Vagina is light and profound, cheeky and deep.
This book is particularly relevant given the startling increase in labiaplasty, cosmetic surgery of the vagina. The photos and messages confront the lies we are told about what's normal and where beauty lies.
Emmy award winner, Toni Childs, has written a poignant foreword for this book, encouraging us to take an unflinching look at ourselves to help ease this taboo.
Foreword by Toni Childs
If you are walking around on planet Earth it is because of the Vagina.
I am deeply honored to write the forward for this in-your-face book that asks us to look closer at what we get our knickers in a twist about. This under the covers look at the Vagina invites us into a rare holy land where women share their thoughts, ideas, philosophies and vulnerabilities with us about what it is to be woman.
This is pure courage folks, not for the faint-hearted, so I applaud each and every woman who chose to stand transparent in her grace and dignity, and share this most splendid of all of life’s miracles – her Vagina!
101 Vagina is a daring, provocative and controversial book about our first home. It is daring because it is a photo book that allows us to see various Vaginas up close and personal; naked, raw, young and old. It is provocative because society is not yet comfortable with facing the mixed emotions of trepidation and fascination that rise at viewing the Yoni, soberly, head on. And it is controversial because, this book was devised by a man.
Philip is what I call a compassionate man and I had the privilege to meet him in October of 2012 after reading about an inspired act of peace he initiated, the peace march for Jill Meagher, attended by 30,000 people. Moved by Philip’s reflection and peaceful call to action, I sent him a note of deep gratitude for listening to his beautiful spirit.
This book is juicy, it confronts, reveals, shocks, and tears at our heart-strings. This book of conversations, declarations and confessions is an opportunity to blast the doors off the cage to our personal and collective limitations surrounding our sexuality & sensuality.
So many of our negative reactions to our sexual parts have to do with family and societal beliefs we’ve adopted. If we are to evolve it is essential that we learn how to jettison what is not ours in order to stay open, innocent, and able to discover what is true for ourselves. To do this takes self-reflection, resolute courage, a willingness to be transparent, and dogged tenacity; an embracing of one's power, dignity and grace, often in the face of fierce traditions and taboos.
And so, I ask of you the reader to activate your courage, strip down to your birthday suit and stand before a mirror. Give yourself permission to love yourself as you are, to be curious, to be an explorer, to appreciate yourself and the journey that has brought you to this point and to seek the answers you’ve always wanted but were so afraid to ask.
It is important to note here the great responsibility and honour it is to be born a woman, a doorway and life initiator. This is the time of the Feminine Mysteries remembered. The remembering comes to each woman personally; through self-determination, and by allowing only those who are worthy, and who can love truly to spend time within this most sacred of vessels in order to create a new world.
In conclusion, I view this book as a celebration of the most incredibly engineered technology on the planet. A Vagina is a sacred porthole where we emerge from a wet warm darkness into a blindingly powerful sensory potent reality we call, “LIFE”. The Vagina is the boat we all sail in on. And each and every woman is a keeper of this Sacred Vessel.
Singer, Storyteller, Life Activist & Performance Artist
(Byron Bay, January 2013)
Singer, Storyteller, Life Activist & Performance Artist
(Byron Bay, January 2013)
The preview below represents a small selection of the 101 photos and messages which comprise the 101 Vagina book. The book itself is 216 pages beautifully bound in hardcover.
From the Artist
101 Vagina is about breaking down the taboo surrounding vaginas and the shame many women feel around their genitals, sexuality and bodies in general. It is about celebrating diversity and the sharing of story. It is also about beauty. The beauty of simplicity, of black and white photos, of the female form. And the beauty of open hearts, sharing vulnerability, pain, trust, love, hope and courage.
The initial inspiration for this project came from Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, which brought home to me how debilitating the vagina taboo can be on a personal and societal level. Yet Eve’s work also showed the power that lies in the confronting of such taboos.
It is a sad fact that an increasing number of women are seeking labiaplasty. Sad that so many women end up believing they are somehow not normal or attractive due to the gross misrepresentation, in various media, of what normal is and where beauty lies. It is outrageous that Australian law forces this misrepresentation by making it illegal for normal vaginas with protruding labia minora to be shown in soft-core, unclassified porn, even though protruding labia minora are more common than not. Our law!
Given its aims, the 101 Vagina project was a success right from its inception. The stories shared on the website’s blog, as in this book, are candid and span the spectrum of emotions. They form a small compendium of women’s experiences with their genitalia, sexuality and womanhood. There is also a sense of generosity; a feeling that the sharing of story is a healing gift to oneself and others. People would tell me of reactions, conversations and feelings the project provoked, often with a sense of relief; the relief that inevitably comes with the lifting of a taboo.
I’m so glad to have been able to create that space, rattle that taboo and facilitate the lifting of some of that shame. And I feel honoured and humbled by the courageous participation and trust placed in me by so many women.
It is my dearest hope that this book will prevent some of the difficulties shared here from being repeated; that somewhere a teenage girl will, as a result, not hover with scissors over her own labia; that someone somewhere will not make that disparaging comment that can wound so deeply; that we will all be more free to celebrate our bodies and our sexuality.
I believe many of our societal problems are related in some way to sexual repression, including violence towards women and girls, if not violence in general. I would contend that cultures where sexuality is openly accepted as natural and normal are generally more peaceful and less violent.
John Lennon said: “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”
We need to turn this around.
By now it has been over two years since I started this project. During this time I have been blessed with the opportunity to share stories, experiences, opinions and feelings, about our bodies and sexuality with so many people. I have received so much support and encouragement to keep going and make this book real, and yes, I also faced some challenging and prickly questions.
It’s been an amazing journey and I’m looking forward to the next chapter :)
(Brunswick. February, 2013)
(Brunswick. February, 2013)
“Most people have trouble even saying the V-word but a new book is celebrating vaginas of all shapes and sizes.” ~ The Sydney Morning Herald
“Through 101 Vagina, Werner invites viewers to discuss the vagina more comfortably. Werner hopes this will encourage women to feel more comfortable with their bodies, doing away with the need to alter appearances through cosmetic labiaplasty, a procedure on the rise in Australia. ” ~ Broadsheet Melbourne
“Hide the vagina: Police called to shield public from images.” ~ MX Newspaper (Front page)
“He was the local resident who organised the peace march to commemorate the life of murdered Melbourne woman Jill Meagher and he marched with a banner that said, ‘Choosing peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women’. I loved that. I loved that this young bloke could do something so sweet and serious and important. Which is why I haven’t run away screaming from his project 101 Vagina.” ~ The Canberra Times
“A photographic exhibition of women’s vulvae at the Sydney Fringe’s Fringe Arts Forum was last week forced to censor its work over concerns it could offend the public. The 101 Vagina Book Exhibition … was told to cover parts of its images ” ~ City News
“It’s a book full of close-ups of female genitalia created by a man but it’s not what you might initially think. With ‘designer vaginas’ all the rage, Philip Werner is trying to celebrate the everyday variety.” ~ Ciao Newspaper
“Sydney Fringe Festival exhibition censored.” ~ City Hub (Front page)
“Photographer Philip Werner refuses to conform to the pervasive societal and cultural cringe-factor.” ~ Trouble Mag
“Entering a gallery containing 101 gorgeous black-and-white images of women’s vaginas isn’t your usual art experience. Initially, the exhibition was awfully confronting and somewhat uncomfortable … [The] supplementary stories challenged the ideas we have about the supposed ‘normality’ of vaginas and instead revealed our individuality and diversity.” ~ Upstart
“The taboos around our bodies, and around the vagina, in particular, allow shame to flourish. Could embracing the vagina eradicate sexual violence?” ~ The Good Men Project
When I was first approached to review this book, my initial reaction was, "No way!" But I calmed down and had a look at the material Philip Werner sent me. The more I saw and read, the more I was determined that I had to feature this book. Philip kindly sent me a hardback copy of the book for review. It is exquisite. A pristine white cover with only the words "101 Vagina". The pages are thick, smooth, and glossy. Simply turning the pages is an experience in itself. Even the dedication is beautiful: "Dedicated to our bodies and our sexuality, our deepest desires and most delicate vulnerability."
Toni Childs certainly gets it right in her foreword. This book is definitely "in-your-face". Like her, I applaud the courage of the women who have taken part in this project. And I applaud Philip Werner for producing this "daring, provocative and controversial book".
The book itself features anonymous pictures of 101 vaginas accompanied by intimate revelations in poetry or prose. We are offered personal insights into their vaginas from women with issues about the way it looks, a woman proud of her hairiness, a pregnant woman about to give birth, a girl about to insert her first tampon, a woman having her period, a woman who compares her sexual encounters with meals, a proud woman's poetic homage to her vagina, and many more.
The passages are well-written, honest, heart-felt, touching, and uplifting. Some are even humorous. This book does contain some confronting issues including masturbation, menstruation, sexual encounters, and alternative words for "vagina" which some may consider offensive. However, there is nothing overtly sexual about the text or the photos, which are taken front-on from a standing position in black and white. As one of the contributors states, "Nothing to be shy or ashamed about, rather something to celebrate and enjoy."
Through 101 Vagina, Werner invites viewers to discuss the vagina more comfortably. Werner hopes this will encourage women to feel more comfortable with their bodies, doing away with the need to alter appearances through cosmetic labiaplasty. Well, you have certainly made me more comfortable, Philip. Thank you.
About the Author
Philip Werner is a photographer, web-designer, furniture maker, gardener, engineer, peace activist, hippy, and sensitive little boy hiding in a grownup’s body.
Born in Germany, he grew up next to fields and forests on the outskirts of Hamburg until his parents got tired of the cold war and brought the family to Australia for a warmer climate.
After graduating in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Sydney, including two years on exchange in Sweden, Philip became disillusioned with the workabee world. He sought refuge in various community projects and devoted himself to his artistic pursuit, photography.
His parents were both avid photographers, so cameras were always around. He spent many hours as a teenager in a makeshift darkroom at home, long before digital cameras became common, and still uses his father’s old medium format Rolleiflex 2.8F from the 1960’s.
Through this project Philip has become aware, and an avid supporter, of the sex positive movement making waves around the world.
He currently lives in Melbourne with his cat Frankie and two lovely house-mates.