The Illustrated Story Of O
Since its publication in 1954 in Paris, Story of O by Pauline Réage has never been out of print. This popular and psychologically profound work of erotic literature caused a sensation when it was released, and it still has the power to disgust and shock timid readers. It is a book that relates potent, forbidden fantasies that, even today, few people dare to think, speak of, or write.
The story involves a young, beautiful fashion photographer, O, who lives in Paris. As the novel opens, her lover, René, takes her to a château in Roissy. Here O is introduced into a world where women are subjugated, physically abused and turned into sexual slaves. O submits to René's wishes that she be imprisoned, whipped and made completely available to the desires of other men. After taking her from the château, René introduces O to Sir Stephen, a more severe and experienced sadist. Sir Stephen, in turn, passes O into the hands of Anne-Marie, the ruler over a household of naked women. And at every step in this systematic degradation, O finds deeper and deeper levels of sexual and psychological satisfaction. Near the end of the novel O wonders, "Would she ever dare to tell him that no pleasure, no joy, no figment of her imagination could ever compete with the happiness she felt at the way he used her with such utter freedom, at the notion that he could do anything with her, that there was no limit, no restriction in the manner with which, on her body, he might search for pleasure?"
The author, whose real name was Dominique Aury, created Story of O as a way to hold the interest of her long-time lover, critic and intellectual, Jean Paulhan. When Aury suggested she could write in a style that would impress and excite the man she feared might leave her, he expressed skepticism. Therefore Story of O is, on several levels, a woman's successful response to a man's challenge. When asked on one occasion "aren't these male fantasies?" Aury said "I don't know, all I can say is that they are honest fantasies."
Paulhan championed his lover's Story of O among literary scholars, and wrote the preface for the work. It was he who found the book's publisher: after the manuscript had been turned down by a number of other editors, Paulhan brought the work to Jean-Jacques Pauvert, a daring young publisher who had previously published the entire works of the Marquis de Sade. I am honored that Jean-Jacques has written the preface for my illustrated version of Story of O.
While my work in previous photo books has tended to be documentary in style, dealing with real life and real individuals, this book revels in pure fantasy. Creating the photographic representation of the most famous work of erotica has been a long-standing dream of mine. Story of O is both an esteemed work of literature and a primer in alternative sexuality. I considered the task of realizing Story of O in pictures to be both an honor and a great responsibility. I wanted to portray in detail the intense eroticism of the novel, yet somehow not restrict the vision brought by the story into the mind's eye of its myriad admirers throughout the world. It is appropriate that a woman undertook the visualization of this novel, written by a woman. The main character, O, is herself a photographer; and she is not simply submissive. Especially in her relationships with other women in the story, she often proves to be willful and manipulative.
To me, Story of O is a timeless literary work, not a historical artifact. Therefore, this book of photographs does not attempt to recreate the original story in every detail. However, I did try, whenever possible, to match the characters, clothing, props and settings to the descriptions in the novel. I wanted to photograph the story in locations that evoke the mystery and fantasy that is the Story of O. The novel is set in Paris and its environs, the most romantic locale in the world, and the home of the Marquis de Sade.
Generations of artists have sought inspiration within the demi-monde of this great city. Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Zola and many others have come here and portrayed their fantasies of sexually available women. To infuse this book with romance and authenticity, I brought my models, crew and equipment to a number of settings in Paris, including the national monument and castle on the Îsle de la Citè, the Conciergerie, and châteaux in the Loire Valley, including the seventeenth-century fortress, Château de Saint-Loup.
In his preface to Story of O, Jean Paulhan writes that the book is dangerous because it marks the reader, and "leaves him not quite, or not at all, the same as he was before he read it." That was certainly the case for me, for I never had the same perceptions of sexuality after having read Story of O. The work rekindled deep and potent fantasies from a time when early glimmers of sexuality appeared to me only in dreams. I hope that by experiencing Story of O in a new way, through my book, readers may find new pathways where their imagination and memory can discover fresh resonances with Aury's original vision.