We once complimented a historian on the photo captions in his latest monograph. Each one, we explained, revealed information that wasn’t in the main text and made us scrutinize the photo anew. “Bravo on the close reading!” When he greeted our compliment with a quizzical expression, we ran for a Vicki Goldberg essay to help explain the postmodern turn of phrase, born to the world of literary theory and now used to describe a thorough analysis of any creative work. Goldberg is a master close reader. In the September/October issue of American Photo, she turns her attention to the Bruce McBroom photo of Farrah Fawcett (above) that sold millions of posters and made Fawcett a star. Watch and learn:
In the 1976 poster, her bathing suit coolly covers her, but her erect nipple turns the heat up. She radiates high-voltage good health, with a smile so large it could rival the white keys of a piano. Her extravagant hair, which inspired women all over the map to try (and fail) to match her allure, broadcasts female sexuality, as abundant hair always has. And the Indian blanket behind her, a seat cover grabbed from his car by Bruce McBroom, the photographer, tilts the image toward a symbol of the All-American young woman—a yankee Venus transplanted from Olympus to the walls of a dorm near you.