Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Bernard Kobel Photograph Freak and Freak Photographer Tattoo Sideshow Abnormalities and More (Worse?)

I pride myself on collecting unusual photographs, but no one collected more and with more vigor than Bernard L. Kobel. It is a clear case of the freak collecting the freaks!

You see, Bernie didn't just take and COLLECT photographs of medical abnormalities, circus freaks, war atrocities, lurid and lewd crime scenes and such, he reprinted and SOLD them from the back of sleazy magazines! You have likely seen some if you are a bit adventurous...the woman with the world's largest whatevers, the guy with the giant stuff, the bizarre pair of thingamabobs...even I don't want to show them and I'm pretty much immune by now. I'm cheeky but Bernie crossed the line!

You have also seen reproductions of his collection without knowing it. The famous picture of armless and beautiful sideshow performer (and actress) Frances O'Connor who appears on the cover of the Re/search book Freaks (linked at right) is a Kobel photo, even if not taken by him, but he did take plenty himself. Some of the photographs shown on the billboard at Hubert's Museum in Times Square (and later, on the cover of the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street album) were Kobel shots. His reprints sold fairy well, at least well enough to have entered the sleazy underground where gourmands of gore dwell. They continue to sell long after Bernie moved from Indiana to Florida and then Sideshow heaven, as bootleg reproductions and, I guess, authentic ones on auction websites.

Not all Kobel's photos were gruesome or gratuitous, but plenty were...As you can see here, he advertised kinky tattoo photos in girlie magazines, (often showing far more than the tattoo) freaks and contortionists in entertainment trade magazines, and I suppose he advertised his gruesome war photos in whatever war folks read. A pair of originals are shown HERE.

I do not know much about Bernie, but I know as much as I want. Interestingly, a later advertisement shows he was trying to leverage his collection into a new direction....stamp collecting! "Lists sent, natch...Will trade for U.S. stamp collections."

Natch indeed...one of his catalogs from the 1950s lists nearly 500 photos which I don't even want to print the descriptions of. On the other hand, one of his photographs for sale in a catalog is "The First Official Hair Pulling Contest...held at the Palisades Amusement Park with 24 girls from the Walter Thornton Modeling Agency as contestants."

I'd trade a few stamps to see THAT one.

(A post on Vintage Sleaze the Daily Blog as well)

Dull Tool Dim Bulb Books HERE



  1. Interesting to read about Frances O'Connor. I can recognize her as a character portrayed in the film "Fur" (an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus) starring Nicole Kidman.

  2. I always wondered about him! This is a great post.