Even if you only read Momma Tried for the articles this new, local, conceptual nudie mag brings together some remarkable New Orleans visual talent in photographers Aubrey Edwards and Alana Pryer Ackerman. Brought to you by a former curator and a former artist of the Music Box on Piety Street, Theodora Eliezer and Micah Learned, Momma Tried is both a literary journal and an art magazine to be published biannually—or perhaps yearly, depending on how many side gigs they’ll need to rack up in order to pay to print the next issue.
The ads might look like real magazine ads (albeit from the ’60s and ’70s) but are essentially installation pieces, questioning hetero-normative standards and shifting ideas of what’s sexy, pushing for subject-creating rather than object-creating titillation—or, as Eliezer puts it, the magazine doesn’t show pictures of young, white women “making sexy-face at the camera.” As Art Director, Eliezer used an old issue of Playboy with Dolly Parton on the cover as the basis for most of her design and layout decisions.
“Micah came up with the idea for Momma Tried three weeks before his birthday two years ago,” Eliezer says. “I wanted to support his idea and give him a really good birthday present, so I got some old issues of Playboy, including the October 1978 issue with Dolly Parton.”
The title of the magazine, of course, derived from the classic Merle Haggard country song “Mama Tried” about motherly expectations in 1968. “Momma Tried” is also inscribed on Learned’s body, on the side of his torso, as a tattoo. “Seven of my friends have the same tattoo,” he says. “Three of us have it in the Jazz Fest font. The woman who writes the signs for the bands at the festival wrote it for us, because we help build the stages.”
Momma Tried is print-only. Learned and Eliezer liked the idea of celebrating and subverting a medium often pronounced “dead” or at least dated. After American printers refused to produce the magazine for its not-really-all-that-risqué content, Learned and Eliezer had 1,000 copies printed in Iceland and shipped here by boat.
“All of our content is sex-positive,” Eliezer explains. “But we’re only presenting nudity—not people in sexual scenarios. You don’t have to be in the most progressive stage of your life to read Momma Tried. You don’t have to live in a wild-queer-poly dynamic.”
What Learned wanted to do was create a sexy magazine where the articles, photos and illustrations don’t always have an immediate tie-in to sex, but where the reader is relieved of the burden of pretending that sex and sexuality isn’t part of art and creativity.
“The problem with most magazines that have sexual content is that they’re all sex,” Learned explains. “It’s all or nothing; there’s no room for anything else. [Pornographic magazines] never represent a whole person. But you, maybe, you might want to laugh, you like art, you’re interested in science and you also have a sexual life.”