Here’s how I imagine the origin of California Dreaming trading cards :
The year is 199X. A dude purchases a camera from the seediest pawn shop California. It looks fancy enough on the outside to convince his potential subjects that he knows what he’s doing. If they don’t look close enough, they won’t see that the brand says “Kolak” instead instead of “Kodak”. Or that the photographer has a persistent nosebleed. With this, the man’s plan is set in motion. He xeroxes some fliers and posts them up around strip clubs, dollar stores and hostels. It’s not difficult to find young, aspiring starlets in this part of California, and these are the kind of people who are willing to do anything to get noticed. Even if it’s appearing on amateur, softcore, blurry, sexy trading cards.
Steven Lam formed Holo Pleasures, Inc. in California in 1992, and as far as anyone can tell, cranked out only one set of trading cards bedecked with naked women before the company disappeared. Pornography isn’t a long-term business plan kind of thing. If you’re not Playboy or Penthouse, you’ll probably put out a few dirty pictures and then you dry up. The same arc applies to the models featured on these cards. Unless you’re some kind of boob detective with an encyclopedic knowledge of smut, you probably won’t recognize these women in anything else.
California Dreaming goes all out, literally. Whereas most adult trading cards thrive on the suggestion of nudity, these cards don’t really possess the typical elegant restraint of a big-haired lady splayed across the hood of a 1985 Ferrari 328 GTB, nor do they attempt to curate a top-notch selection of idealized centerfolds. This is one of those rare sets which puts every aspect of anatomy on display. I have a hard time believing that many of these models were chosen on their appearances, but rather how much of a chance the cards’ producer thought he had with them. At this point in his budding career, the photographer was not an especially skilled artist, which only adds layers to the inherent skeeviness of the set. While I don’t believe that pornography is inherently degrading to any adult who can make their own choices, treating their modeling photos like garbage certainly is. I know it’s been over 20 years, Holo-Pleasures, but next time, try to bring a spotlight to the photoshoot, and maybe don’t include so many cards that look like the model is mid-sentence or terrified. I know, film was expensive back in the ’90s. Sometimes, you had to go with whatever you got. And no, Photoshop didn’t exist in the advanced form it does today, but it would not be a crime against humanity to maybe fix that model’s crossed eye.
Most of the cards include the model’s measurements, because there’s nothing more arousing than math and statistics. Some cards include a list of fantasies and turn-ons, which generally aren’t spelled correctly, and run the gamut from absolutely cliche to deeply creepy.
There’s a humor here that maybe shouldn’t be. There’s a level of discomfort obvious in some models, but there’s also a realness not often present in this kind of photography. These are not all traditionally attractive or hourglass-shaped people, and the images are amateurish, as though someone took some nudey pictures because they saw some in a magazine once, and not because they had something real to express, or any understanding of photography. It’s also a bit refreshing to see a representation of women who are perhaps not the most traditional definition of “sexy”.
The gimmick for the set, because of course there has to be a gimmick, is holographic chase cards. While some are in true 3D, allowing whatever projects from the model to project appropriately from the card, others are a more simulated 3D, with flattened layers placed on top of one another. Holographic pornography was certainly years ahead of its time, and not something you see all that often, but I’m not sure if it enhances arousal as much as it makes it seem a whole lot more desperate.
Bonus cards, without any fancy naked ladies on ’em, exist to disappoint. But they can also be redeemed for holograms and autographed cards. Interestingly, the mail-away address listed on those cards is now an Albertson’s, and includes enough typos to make any redemption letter nearly undeliverable. It’s the final nail in the unbelievably skeevy coffin of these weirdo porn cards.
I reached out to multiple photographers and artists named Steven Lam, but none were willing to admit to this set of cards. The fate of Holo Pleasures, and the true origin of these cards, remains a mystery.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.