History’s Rebel Girls – Suze Randall

Model, photographer and director Suze Randall was one of the first women behind the lens in the porn and adult entertainment industry. As the first female staff photographer for Playboy and Hustler, she was a trailblazer in a male dominated field.

Born in Worcester, England in 1946, Suze considered herself a bit of a tomboy and says

‘she was shy as a girl but quite good as a boy.’

Her parents encouraged her to flaunt authority, no doubt an attitude that helped her in her illustrious career.

She left home at the age of 18 and went to London where she worked as a nurse and studied for a midwifery degree. At 21 she met her husband Humphry Knipe, an aspiring writer. Struggling to make ends meet, Suze responded to a newspaper ad looking for girls for nude modelling. She thought it would be a laugh and also liked the idea of earning 100£ a day. Humphry never objected to Suze’s ambitions and always encouraged her in whatever she wanted to do.

David Hurn, a reportage photographer and ‘perv on the side’ according to Suze, suggested she’d try fashion modelling. Although she didn’t really believe she had the right look to work as a model in fashion, she found an agency and went on to appear in British Vogue. Later she would say of her insecurities regarding her looks,

‘We (women) have got this inherent lack of confidence, that’s why we put up with men. You never know you’re beautiful until it’s gone.’

Fashion models could be handled rough at times and Suze didn’t take kindly to being bossed around and treated like a clothes horse. She bought herself a camera and began taking nude pictures of her girlfriends backstage at fashion shows. Her pictures were bought by The Sun newspaper for its Page 3 and allowed Suze to become her own boss as a freelance photographer.

Her big advantage as a woman behind the camera was she knew how to make her models feel comfortable and at ease since they never felt threatened by any unwanted advances. Since she had worked as a model herself, she knew how to create a relaxed atmosphere on set.

In 1975 she caught the attention of Playboy and the magazine flew her and model Lillian Mueller out to Los Angeles. Initially the Playboy bosses didn’t want her for the shoot but since Suze had discovered Mueller and threatened to sell her pictures to another magazine, they relented. She moved to Los Angeles and worked as a staff photographer exclusively for Playboy for two years.

Her stint at Playboy ended in 1977 when she published her book ‘SUZE: The Memoirs of the Stunning Sexess Who Clicked on Both Sides of the Playboy Camera’ without Hugh Hefner’s knowledge or express permission. Apparently Hef wasn’t too happy about it and the two parted ways.

Playboy’s loss was Hustler’s win as Suze joined Larry Flynt’s publication from 1977 to 1979. Her and Flynt were kindred spirits and she loved the outspoken provocateur despite his sometimes manic and erratic behaviour.

At Hustler, which showed much more explicit nudity than Playboy magazine, the self-taught Randall learned a lot about the use of lighting, props and make up to make models look their best. Remember, this was before photoshop. As Suze says

‘trying to make a pussy look good is hard work.’

Flynt also encouraged her to branch out into the production of erotic videos, which she did together with her husband Humphry. She directed the feature length film ‘Kiss and tell’ in 1980 and also frequently worked for Penthouse magazine throughout the 1980s.

As business for print magazines was dwindling and publications were struggling to make a profit, Suze negotiated deals with Penthouse and High Society magazine to gain full rights to all her photographs. In 1998 her and Humphry started suze.net, an online subscription service featuring Suze’s work. In the early days of internet pornography, this earned them a handsome income at a time when the adult entertainment industry was undergoing a lot of change.

Although Suze never saw herself as a role model, she certainly had an impact on women in her industry who looked up to her as someone they could aspire to be – a successful business woman, mother and wife. She and Humphry had three children and kept their private life separate from the industry they worked in.

According to Suze ‘there’s nothing more boring than a bunch of pornographers.’ She was never embarrassed about her work or hid it from her family. Quite on the contrary, she always found it exciting to be doing something that was frowned upon.

Her daughter Holly Randall followed into her footsteps and continues the family tradition as a photographer and director. Both Suze and Holly are featured in episode one of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. They give an interesting insight into how the porn industry has changed from when Suze first started out in the business.

Now retired, Suze Randall has remained unapologetic about her career. Her wicked sense of humour, feistiness and healthy disrespect for authority helped her to make it in a male dominated industry.

For more on Suze’s life and career check out this podcast which I used for the blog post and this feature in Elle Magazine.

Image: Julian Wasser

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