Popular Mechanics

Unlike most of us, award-winning photographer Timothy Archibald isn't content just wondering what a giant mechanical two-headed penis machine looks like. He wants to take pictures of it. He wants to interview the guy who built it.

Which is exactly what the former Phoenix New Times staff photographer has done in Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews (Process Media, $24.95 -- you can see images from the book at www.processmediainc.com, and amazon.com sells it), a hilarious collection of color portraits of big electrical gizmos that you can make fuck you, alongside profiles of the people who created them. There's the Hide-a-Cock, whose inventor swears there'll be one "in every home someday"; and the Thrill Hammer, which employs an antique dentist chair, a large vibrator, and a computer monitor to give you your pleasure.

"I was surprised at how normal most of the inventors were," Archibald says. "No, really."

Robrt L. Pela: Who knew you were a writer?

Timothy Archibald: I'm an interviewer! And you know, in my hands, the interviews were a lot snottier. If someone said something that made them seem stupid or sexually preoccupied, I would include it. But my publishers were concerned about readers coming to the book with assumptions about who these people are, so they asked me to weed out the cynicism and not make so much fun of them. At first I thought "No!" but in the end it made the book richer.

Pela: Speaking of assumptions, I thought at least some of the machines you depicted would have, you know, vaginas. They're all mechanical dicks!

Archibald: There are machines out there that do have female anatomy, but that's another book. I was originally drawn to these machines because I thought they looked fabulously anthropomorphic. Like they have their own personalities. They're like folk art. Then I went out and met the people who make them.

Pela: Of course you know I'm going to ask you how many of these machines you tried out yourself.

Archibald: Journalists always ask that. I didn't use one, nor do I own one. When I was working on the project, people did send me their sex machines, but it was always because they didn't want me to meet with them in person. My wife and I had ample opportunity to test-drive the machines, but we just weren't into it. Some of them look like they're going to give you splinters.

Pela: There's one that's hooked up to a Mixmaster. I mean, people are making cookies with this thing!

Archibald: Yeah, I know. But keep in mind that as these people are telling the story, they're laughing at themselves. I like that they're making cookies with their sex machines. They're not saying, "And it can make a cocktail." If there's a message, it's that these people are so what's considered "normal." They're taking care of their kids, going to PTA meetings, and also building sex machines.

Pela: And you have to admit that some of these people look like they'd only be having sex with a machine.

Archibald: My assumption was that the people who made these machines were losers: men who couldn't relate to women, or just antisocial people. Then I met the first one, and I was simultaneously happy and disappointed, because he was so normal. I thought, "How am I going to make an interesting photo of this guy?" But it was the combination of sex machines with suburban domesticity that made it really work.

Pela: Okay. But a couple of these guys are Christian. Christians who build gigantic electrical fuck machines!

Archibald: Right. But one of those guys is doing what he can to discourage promiscuity or infidelity. He requires a marriage certificate before he'll sell you one of his machines.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela