Dian Hanson had her start testing sex toys for Puritan, a purveyor of porn. She´s the former editor of two of the most successful fetish magazines in America, Juggs and Leg Show. She brings her widely adventuresome energy to German art book house, Taschen. As their sex editor, it was great to talk to her about the uniquely-curved women assembled in her Big Book of Breasts, a male mammary fantasy.

See images from the Big Book of Breasts

Q: Having worked with adult magazines, what was it like assemblingThe Big Book of Breasts?
A: The great thing about it was for 15 years I edited Juggs magazine along with Leg Show and various others, but I did do Juggs for 15 years so I knew a lot of these women. That´s what allowed me the entree to get to interview women that nobody else could interview; who won´t speak to anyone else, who´ve been out of public life for 20 or 30 years. It was wonderful to give them their due, to be able to bring their stories to the world and see their delight in being part of an art book. Most of them had worked only in the adult industry and so they really didn’t understand what an art book was going to be and so when the book came out, they were all just stunned.

Q: What led you to amass photographs of women with notable breasts from the ´50s to the ´70s?
A: For most of the material I worked with a man who purchased the archive of a magazine company that was active from the late ´50s to around 1990. And they produced a lot of very high quality big breast magazines during that period and just had tons and tons of material. I knew who the famous women were as I say from my years doing magazines and worked with him going over his archive and making sure all the important characters were included. At the same time, only looking for women that had truly enormous notable breasts. Not the D-cups, not even the double D-cups. I wanted the F-cups and beyond. I wanted to make this a book that would unequivocally fulfill its promise of being big breasts.

Q: How has the perception of breasts changed over time? Will men always be into really big breasts?
A: Men will always be in to really, really big breasts. They’re the most ancient possible indicators of a woman´s fertility and femininity. It doesn’t mean women with small breasts aren’t just as female, as fertile, as capable of nursing children – but there is something in both the male and female mind that responds to the large full breast. It represents a kind of super-femininity. It is the penis of the woman. The vagina is so hidden, it may be the counterpart of the penis, but it doesn’t represent femininity in the same light. Back at the time I was growing up – I was born in late 1951. When I was little child, it was still the age of big pointy brassieres and big breasted models and actresses. And from my earliest age, when I was about five and beginning to draw, I drew big breasts on women because this is what I saw, this is what drew our attention.

Today, we live in this odd post-implant age where science is able give any woman these great coveted symbols of femininity. So it has blurred and confused the whole thing. Whereas they used to be symbols that would draw men to a woman to be say, a superior mother for his children, now they’ve become just symbols of sexuality. The maternal element has been taken away from it. The artificial breast doesn’t have the same soft maternal look – in fact it’s somewhat masculine. It’s very solid and projecting and much more penis-like. Now, instead of representing warmth, comfort and motherhood, it represents a hard commercial kind of sexuality.

Q: You approached the interviews with the women with sensitivity. Have these conversations influenced your sense of society’s understanding of breast forms?
A: If you read the interviews, you’ll see particularly the older women in the group came from poor, lower class families and their breasts were a ticket out of their birth situations. They saw their breasts as a sort of life-raft they clung to, to carry them away to something better. I think a lot of women today still have this feeling. With the big breast implants – the huge, monstrous breast implants that were popular in the early ´90s – women who were otherwise unexceptional could pay to get huge breast implants that would suddenly allow them to get $3,000 a week in strip clubs, whereas the week before they’d be working for tips. The breast is something that allows women to rise above their circumstances. And the breast lasts as a valuable commodity for a woman’s entire life. You look at someone like Candy Samples who’s around 80 years old now – her breasts still mark her as special. She still has fans. Michelle Angelo is in her early 60s. She has a very successful website and while she has pictures of herself from her youth on there, she also has current photographs of herself and has a huge worshipful audience for her as a woman in her 60s. I walked down the street with her as she came to visit me in Los Angeles when she was 60 years old and she’s a very small woman with these huge projecting breasts and men were slamming on the breaks and turning to stare and smiling and speaking to her on the sidewalk. Her age is obvious, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Big breasts last forever – they never go out of style.

Q: When look at such sexual imagery, some men might find it arousing but how do you think women can enjoy elements of the book?
A: The interesting thing about the book is the percentages that have been bought by women in our stores. As soon as the book came out, people managing the stores were surprised by how many women were buying the book. And they were often women who had the same type of soft bodies, who had come to believe their sort of body was not popular with men any more; that men wanted these wanted these thin women with the hard projecting implants. And they were just so happy to have a book, to see a book that celebrated women with these old fashioned, maternal fertility goddess bodies. I haven’t seen women who have objected to it at all. It’s been a bit odd. In fact, I served on jury duty when the book was relatively new and you have to tell them what you do for a living. I explained it and the woman next to me goes, ´What is it you do?´ I said I’m at a Taschen and I’m the sex editor and she said immediately,"Big Book of Breasts ... I boughf five copies for my friends!" And I asked her why and they kind of see it as a positive statement about the natural female body. Everyone loves breasts. Gay men loves breasts, too. I know gay men who said they bought the book and they love the book, cause breasts are so appealing. They appeal to us not just as sex objects, but as our warm, hidden memories of babyhood –subconcscious memories.

Q: How do you think post-implant porn has shaped women´s views of breasts?
A: Well, seeing that they´re appealing to men. The big Pamela Anderson sets of implants grabs people’s attention. They can’t help but stare and comment. But if you actually talk to men, most men would say they’d rather have a modest natural breast then a huge artificial breast. That they appreciate the softness, they appreciate the texture and they appreciate the woman’s own genetics were involved in creating the breasts. But I do see a lot of women who are very dissatisfied with breasts that are perfectly lovely and attractive and functional in every way because of these huge breasts and the attention they see being lavished on these enormous breasts. They can’t separate the attention from the actual desirability.

Q: How have breasts been portrayed over time in pornography? Have there been any interesting symbolic difference between photographers? A: One of the most famous photographers Russ Meyer – we know him for his movies but he also did a lot of still photography. He, because of his relationship to women in that he was kind of intimidated by them, he made the breast a threatening projectile. He liked to get down at a low angle and shoot up at the breasts so they’d be looming over his head. And the woman was often looking down at him, you know, like between the breasts or over the side of the breast. The breast was very threatening, almost a weapon. And there has been this approach from others. The majority of photographers with the natural breast have photographed them to accentuate the soft, motherly qualities. Now with the modern artificial breast, we return somewhat to the Russ Meyer approach of them as dangerous projectiles. Then there are photographers who want to bring out the vulgarity of the breast. And there are men who really like the vulgar image of the breast. The one I find women objecting to the most is the bent-over pose where the breasts hang straight down. And women see this and think, oh it looks like a cow and why would anyone want to have their breasts in that position. But it’s one of the most popular views of the breasts from the position of the men, because it shows the weight, the swing of the breasts, the motion. And it’s probably the only real point of contention between men and women about the presentation of the breast. This pose to women suggests they are animals. Women don’t want to be called cows – they don’t want to be associated with milk-giving beasts, where men often enjoy that thought.

Q: The world seems to be changing, with various growing economies. Have you seen other cultural images of breasts? A: Before World War II most of western culture and certainly all of eastern culture preferred a proportionate breast. When they had women posing nude, they took nude photographs, the breast was about a B-cup. It was the youthfulness of the breast that was important. That it was upright, that there was no hang, that it appeared to be virginal. WWII had a startling effect on all the countries involved in it. Post-war, Germany, the U.S., England –I can´s speak so much for Italy because they didn’t start producing any sexual materials until in to the late ‘60s, but all these countries suddenly started preferring a large more matronly breast. And in Japan at the same time, in the immediate post-war period, the occupation period, people started experimenting with injecting silicone in to the breasts – that was where silicone injections began. And though there are no hard facts on it, it was believed that they did this to prostitutes to make them more appealing to the occupying forces – that they could make more money from the American soldiers so the American obsession with large breasts was transferred to Asian culture. Certainly in Japan, there’s much more emphasis on the large breast. There’s a lot of pornography that involves large breasts. There are popular magazines that are all pictures of western women with large breasts, extremely successful magazines over there. This thirst for the large breast has spread around the world. If you look at the very popular lifelike silicone rubber dolls that being produced in the U.S. and are being produced even more in Japan now, even the ones that look like little school girls have large breasts.

Q: Do you think large breasts as we see in pornography, in different aspects of culture are a kind of fantasy standard that will last? A: Yes, I do. The more things are suppressed, the more popular they become. So as there was a great fear over child pornography in the U.S. in the ‘90s, beginning around 1995 – not that there was an increase in child pornography as much as it became a good political platform to stamp out child pornography – we got more and more attention to children as sexual objects and laws against using children as sexual objects. But there emerged an interest in women who appeared to be underaged. There were magazines and films that showed women who were of legal age, who appeared less then legal age. And along with this was flat-chestedness – the smaller the breast, the greater appearance of youth. Many magazines flooded out on this steam and they were quite popular for a few years, but suddenly their sales began to go down. There wasn’t really a large group of men who were interested in it. And in the world of hardcore pornography, there have been a few popular actresses who’ve fit this mode of being small-breasted but the fact is they’ve never risen to the kind of stardom that women with the large breasts have. And even though someone like Sasha Gray was presented like she was going to be the new face of porn, the new Jenna Jameson; she’s dark-haired and small-breasted and youthful and she hasn’t risen. She simply hasn’t risen and become that kind of star. The ones who have the giant artificial breasts are still ruling the business.

Q: What are you working on next?
A: I’m always working on multiple projects. I have a book called America Swings, which is the photo work of Naomi Harris – a wonderfully talented, quirky photographer who went around photographing American swingers in the Midwest having sex in clubs, outdoor events, all kinds of swing activities. And these are very ordinary people. This is like watching your parents having sex. It’s like the real face of sex in America. You know, we have the idealized case we see in porn where everyone is surgically perfected, where everyone has blonde hair, giant collagen lips and this book shows you the reality of sex in America with overweight people, who are nonetheless ecstatic and have very high self esteem because they exist in this world of swinging where they’re sexually desirable. It’s a very very interesting book and it has a forward by the artist Richard Prince, who’s fascinated with Naomi’s work.

I also have a book on crime detective magazines that will be out in the fall. These were magazines that existed in 1924 and died out in the mid-´90s. It follows the evolution of these magazines from being very high quality magazines about true crime to magazines that are just about the evil of women and playing off the fears, the fetishization of woman as criminal, woman as evil seductress. Beautiful covers.

And then I’m coming out with a big giant Tom of Finland book. He was the world’s leading gay artist. This will be a huge – nearly 700 pages – large format book of his work. I’m doing something of a series, you know, I have a big penis book out, which has been also extremely successful. I’ll be following that up in the spring with a Big Book of Legs, which is leg photography from the 1920s to the 1960s ... really, really attractive work. Lots of stockings and high heels and very lively posing, only dealing with the leg. Though it was the same period, say, as the breast photography, the leg represents female strength and it’s a completely different affect then the soft, warm maternal look of the breast book. This will be a sharp, pointy active side of women.

Q: When you talk about these books, say with parts in terms of big penises, big breasts, legs – do you think most sexual fantasy is very much based on parts?
A: Sexual fantasy is politically incorrect and compartmentalized. Men do tend to focus on one thing or another and make it their thing. Sexual fantasy is not Catholic. It doesn’t think in wholes. It doesn’t matter what our mothers told us, there aren’t a whole lot of men out there that are going to ignore the exterior and just be attracted to a woman for her great mind and personality. It doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate those things, or that they don’t like those things, or don’t take those things into account when choosing a mate but our sexual preferences are laid down very early in life. And men tend to break down into breast men, leg men, face men. There are face men, men who want a certain kind of face, that are attracted to great beauty, attracted to models. They’re infatuated with the perfect face.

Q: Does it ever become boring?
A: No. It becomes exhausting. But I’m always happy to receive a new submission. I’m always curious to look at a new naked picture.

Louise Bak is a poet, with books including Tulpa and Gingko Kitchen. She co-hosts Sex City, Toronto’s only radio show focused on relations between sexuality and culture (ciut 89.5 fm). Her performance work has appeared in numerous spaces and in video collaborations such as Partial Selves and Crimes of the Heart.