The Portraitist's Art of Porn

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There's been a lot of talk about the "mainstreaming" of porn lately, but on the highbrow end of this movement, nothing can quite compare with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' new book XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits. The book is fueled by the fascinating conceit of featuring porn stars new and old in juxtaposed clothed and nude shots, always in the same pose. The result lends the subjects a certain artistic dignity combined with a sense of just-folks reality that would probably be unattainable in any other context.

How did an acclaimed portraitist like Greenfield-Sanders come to this unlikely subject? It started years ago with Boogie Nights. Back in 1997, "when I saw the film I thought about porn stars for the first time as a possible portrait series," he explains. "I'd never even thought about porn stars as people before. Then I was introduced to a porn star by a friend, and I shot him-I was interested in shooting him clothed, and I did, but at the end of the shoot he said, 'Let's do a nude shot,' and I really wasn't prepared for that. I didn't have any ideas about how to shoot nudes. I'd never shot nudes except for Karen Finley and Jeff Koons; Jeff had insisted on being nude and it's part of Karen's work. So I immediately figured, Let's just do the same pose nude as clothed. I knew it'd play off Goya's famous 'Maja' paintings, but at the time it was just sort of a thing that happened. But when I saw the pictures the next day, they were so powerful I thought it was such a good idea it might even be a show." The nude in question, incidentally, isn't in the book, which is why he goes unnamed here. At any rate, the idea is indeed a show, at New York's Mary Boone Gallery, where nude/clothed portraits reportedly go for $35,000 a pair. Moreover, the XXX concept has become a minor marketing juggernaut, with a Greenfield-Sanders-directed HBO doc and a soundtrack CD in addition to the book.

But before he had any inkling of all these possibilities, what finally got Greenfield-Sanders going on the project was the untimely death of Linda Lovelace in 2002. "My idea was to shoot all the old stars, the most famous stars, a cross-section of the porn world, and now I'd missed one of the most seminal figures in porn. I figured life is short, let's just do it." Unfortunately, Hall of Famers like Marilyn Chambers, Seka and Vanessa del Rio aren't on hand, for a variety of the usual reasons-money, vanity or scheduling difficulties. But greats like Ginger Lynn, Nina Hartley, Christy Canyon, Peter North and the familiar (many would say too familiar) Ron Jeremy made the gig. And, of course, porn's reigning goddess and leading crossover star, Jenna Jameson, graces the cover.

As far as Greenfield-Sanders knows, the notion of shooting porn stars clothed is unprecedented. "No one ever sees them that way in a film for very long and they're not really noticed when they're clothed, so the idea seemed radical. Just presenting them clothed would be very interesting, but this nude-and-clothed diptych is like 1 + 1 = 3." As for shooting nude men, "it's a very transgressive thing, in a sense, even today. Everyone's pretty comfortable with seeing women nude, but not so with seeing men nude-particularly for male viewers. I think this book is difficult for a lot of men."

Regarding the actual nuts and bolts of the photography, which is shot with an 8x10 view camera, "I choose the poses but it's collaborative to some extent," says Greenfield-Sanders. "I'm restricted, because once I shoot a pose I don't want to repeat myself. I talk to the stars and ask how they think they look best, what's their best feature, but many of them have the same best feature. So it's a starting point, but I have to vary it." The crucial consideration of the background is something that requires particular care. "In the beginning, I shot against black, and it looked like pictures I'd seen before. I eventually fell into this kind of light gray. It's almost like a black-and-white flesh tone, it has a neutral quality. It's a very hard decision; do you change colors for every person? If not, what color do you choose? This requires a hell of a lot of thinking. As a photographer who's very restricted in how I shoot-large format, one light, a simple background-these are big issues for me." Nor is this Spartan lighting style limited to this project. "My work is pretty much always one light source. To me, it feels more like daylight, in a sense. It's not gimmicky. When you have a lot of lighting, the viewer becomes aware of lighting. I don't you to be aware of lighting, I want you to be aware of the person. I don't want you saying to yourself, 'Oh, look at that beautiful hair light.' That's not important to me."

And now that we're aware of porn stars as people, does he agree that in their clothes (and sometimes out of them) they look just like . . . real people? "Absolutely, and I very much wanted that. And in most cases they came to the studio dressed as you see them. Sometimes I'd ask them to bring another outfit in case I wanted them to change. This was shot in Southern California, where everyone wears jeans and a T-shirt, and I didn't want them all wearing the same thing. But it's certainly their wardrobe, I didn't style it in any way."

8www.bulfinchpress.com 8www.thinkingxxx.com 8 www.greenfield-sanders.com

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