I sat down and put my old, dog-eared Penguin edition of , with James’s feisty heroine, Isabel Archer, holding court. I had first encountered Isabel when I was 18 and found her magnificent in having a life whose job lay in “affronting her destiny.” Would that I could too. As “a young person of many theories,” who was “liable to the sin of self-esteem,” Isabel also “had an infinite hope that she should never do anything wrong”—though when she did, “she treated herself to a week of passionate humility.” Such fine company.And I couldn’t help thinking that would be such an apt subtitle for Cubitt’s undertaking: women reading while being discreetly sexually stimulated, until they go, literally, out of their minds.
“As far from lurid as I could get it, almost boring, clinical.
Arriving, I press the buzzer and climb a few steps to meet Clayton Cubitt, a photographer and filmmaker, and his partner of 16 years, Katie James, the “female assistant.” They are both very attractive—Clayton, dark, chiseled, and tall and Katie, languid, soft, and beautiful.
Invited to sit down in the spacious, high-ceiled living room of the loft, I was offered tea. There were so many books around in soaring piles that they seemed to define the space more than the outer walls.
The edges of the table were hung with heavy fabric fastened to the top of the desk creating a kind of small cave under the table: Katie’s workspace. Cubitt, 43, whose bread and butter is sleek, sexy, commercial, fashion, and celebrity photography, allowed close to ten years for “Hysterical Literature” to evolve into its current incarnation.
With its simple, witty, yet profound conceit, and its chic black-and-white design, the series presents a rigorous refinement of his two primary interests: subversion—“I like fucking with people”—and “maximizing joy.”An autodidact, Cubitt hails from New Orleans.
Katie and Clayton led me to the studio at the back of the loft and there was that small grey desk, a table that has taken on such metaphorical resonance since—its horizontal surface separating the seen from the unseen, the conscious from the unconscious, the decent from the indecent. Eight feet from the front edge of the table was Cubitt’s camera on a tripod. It was left to Katie to do the hand-held work under the table with what Cubitt calls her “paintbrush,” a Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator—also known as “Big Buzzy.” “I think she’s the actual artist involved,” says Cubitt.