Photography: Carlos Batts

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Carlos Batts has a cool new coffee table book out - for those who don't drink decaf. It's called Wild Skin, it's from funky German publisher Edition Reuss (see or and though it's got some pictures in it that could almost pass muster with even John Ashcroft, there are others that would give anyone but Larry Flynt pause. Batts, in fact, shoots for a lot of Flynt publications, like Leg World and Taboo. At the same time, some of this very work is in the new, revamped Superstock catalog - which promises to be the first of many more-corporate forays for Batts. "I can't believe I'm in there, to be honest," he says of his Superstock debut. "I sent them my book and they pulled some amazing images. I was really surprised. I used to look at stock catalogs and I was unimpressed. Now they're doing weirder stuff, and I'll be shooting weird still lifes with shoes and gag balls for them. The times are changing. There's heavy metal and electronic music in car commercials now, and there's a whole generation that grew up on Lollapalooza and Nirvana. So many things that were once fetishes have been mainstreamed."

At the risk of being non-inclusive, amen. At the age of 28, this Baltimore native - yes, he's from John Waters' tawdry town - has one foot in the porn world, with the other set to kick in the door of mainstream advertising and high fashion. "I'm really interested in doing work for Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Versace," says Batts, who doesn't find this aspiration the least bit flighty. "I saw a great Italian shoe ad the other day, with a dog licking a shoe," he optimistically notes. There are no pets in Wild Skin, but there's plenty of B&D and assorted raunch - all done in a strangely beautiful, overheated yet somehow completely natural, trashy-girl-next-door style that's the antithesis of the sterile cheesecake purveyed by, say, Playboy and Maxim. "The core of my work is dark," Batts explains. "I'm definitely interested in macabre images. I've been inspired by comic books and masks, superheroes and horror movies. Editors appreciate the fact that I approach this work with an attitude and a little bit of emotion. I'm not really into body parts; I'm into establishing a mood."

Batts has been serious about photography since age 15, inspired by everyone from Avedon to Mapplethorpe. He turned down a scholarship to the Maryland Institute College of Art and took a one-year program at a local broadcasting school instead, to learn editing and TV production. "Even back then I was thinking about doing videos and movies," he recalls. Indeed, Batts has directed three fetish videos and he just shot a music video for an avant-metal band called Dog Fashion Disco. He was doing book and video covers when he was 19, some photographed, some painted, some both, "mostly dark fantasy and horror - I went to all the conventions," he says.

When he moved to L.A. two years ago, he went to all the other conventions and his "adult" career really took off. "The best part about the porn industry is they're always excited when someone wants to bring something creative into what they're doing. They're so girl-driven, the photographer or director is completely irrelevant. But every now and then someone comes along who wants to make it more than about skin." Batts is deeply into photo manipulations, painted backgrounds, collage and keepin' it real - which is to say, anything but studio slick. "I like old, ugly film. I purposely light film wrong, I filter wrong, I try to be as offbeat as possible. I'll use flashlights, anything. I spend more time in the lighting aisle at Home Depot than I do in camera stores. I want a palette that's not predictable."

Batts shot a Skechers campaign, featuring Ginuwine and other hip-hop and R&B artists, during the summer, but the client "eventually went in a different direction and didn't use it," he says. Nevertheless, "I'm in pursuit of the mainstream now. I spent 10 years building a back catalog and an aesthetic, honing my skills. Now I've got a book that validates everything I've been working on. I'm really ready to establish myself as a photography artist." But at the same time, Batts adds, "The best thing for me about not going to art school is I learned how to believe in commerce as an artist. I was always inspired by what Warhol was trying to do."

We're predicting a hell of a lot more than 15 minutes of fame.

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