Monday, December 19, 2011

Kissing Venuses 4: Kiss by Tanya Chalkin

The problem with producing an iconic image is that you are forever trying to get lightning to strike twice.  You can either make this an issue or you can serve up some variations on your original work acknowledging, perhaps, that you will never produce such a work again.

The ladies revealed

This surely must be the case for British photographer Tanya Chalkin whose Kiss image has become one of the world's best selling posters of all time. Chalkin herself has admitted "When I look at it now it's really difficult because in a way I've had enough of it, in the sense of it's been there for a while and people still talk about it – and I love that – but I don't just want to be known for "Kiss"." It was certainly a fixture on many students room's walls for both men and women. We know at least three women who have a copy somewhere in their house.

Chalkin has since done other kissing girls but none have the power of the first one.  Originally the poster was designed to advertise a new gay website,, and first appeared on a huge 30 foot long billboard in Tottenham Court Road in Soho, London in December 2000.  The poster was believed to have been the first in Britain to show a gay couple in an embrace. There were more than fifty complaints, many from people who hadn't actually seen the poster, according to the Advertising Standards Authority who cleared it for display as it wasn't "sexually explicit".  The original poster had the tagline "Thank God for Women" attached.

One of the models was called Tabitha Denholm (on the right) and her parents claimed that she would not have posed if she had known what the picture was going to be used for. They claimed she was neither bisexual nor lesbian and were worried that people would think she was and she would be the target for nutcases. However, Miss Denholm told another newspaper that she wasn't bothered about the controversy and had kissed a girl before anyway. We do know that she got paid £300 for the job. These days Tabitha is part of the DJ combo Queens of Noize who discovered singer Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. Tabitha has been responsible for many of the band's videos and album art direction.

Tanya Chalkin studied at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and the London College of Printing where she obtained a degree in photography.  She started shooting portraits and fashion pictures for a number of magazines including MixMag, Arena, Dazed and Confused, Esquire, Attitude and national newspapers too, such as The Independent and the Evening Standard.

The success of Kiss saw her branching out into poster and calendar work.  This picture, Hot Lips and the one below, Red Hot, were from her 2010 calendar.  She also did a calendar for Triumph motorcyles.

Latterly she has been doing pictures of musicians for Warner and Universal.  Most recently she was commissioned to do some of the posters for the 2012 Olympics.  She is currently working on a book of her photographs which will certainly be on Agent Triple P's shopping list when it comes out.

She deserves her success for producing such an iconic image, which manages to be erotic and tender but not at all salacious.  Chalkin has always refused to answer the question as to whether she is a lesbian or not, which has annoyed some of the more militant lesbians, but for an artist it is the art that counts anyway not their personal life and lesbian or not she knows how to photograph women together in a cool but enticing way.

1 comment:

  1. I'd be interested to see Chalkin's new book, too. I'm familiar with the first picture, as it's available to purchase everywhere here in the states, but I'd never seen the others, such as Secret Kiss, which I like a lot. :)