About the Work
American Ecstasy 1982-1991
For many years I shot publicity stills on hardcore porn sets in New York. I thought it was the most exciting, boring, stomach-turning, splendid subject I could ever hope to photograph, and I was honored to have the job.
The days were at least fourteen hours long, and boiling hot. For some reason we always shot in the summer, and then couldn’t run air conditioning because the sound mics would pick up the noise.
The shoots often turned into frazzled, Twilight Zone marathons. Around midnight we’d find ourselves packed like sardines in a slimy men’s room, overwhelmed by the heat, the stench and the lack of sleep. The last scene of the day would invariably be the one where the guy couldn’t produce the money shot. I’d glance around the crew and we’d nod at each other, knowing that now it would be hours before the day’s end and those magical words, “That’s a wrap!”
And then somewhere in the slap happy middle of the night I’d look over and see a couple of naked girls huddled up together, staring off into the distance with thousand yard combat stares. And that was the shot I’d take for my personal collection.
It was the power to capture that fleeting glimpse into someone’s soul, and preserve it forever, which convinced me I had to be a photographer.
In the early 1990’s the country developed a fascination for fetish porn. People couldn’t get enough of mail order titles like Bondage Babes, Slavemasters, Leatherdykes from Hell.
I went to work for a couple of the small companies that bubbled up out of the underground in New York. The days and nights on those sets were longer and even more frazzled than before, only now we waited on transvestite make-up jobs, rope-ties and suspension rigs.
The fetish scenes spoke to me in an entirely different way from the slam-bam hardcore scenes. In them I saw echoes of emotional trauma, childhood demons, power plays – the feeling of being humiliated by someone you love, the little rush you get from zapping somebody.
Seeing those dynamics turned into sources of sexual pleasure shocked me at first. But after photographing so many of them, I began to see them as just another form of sexual expression.
Kiss of Fire 1994-1999
A famous porn star, Rick Savage, took me to my first meeting at The Eulenspiegel Society. The minute I walked in the door, I knew BDSM would be my next subject.
For months, I went to every meeting I could. I saw demonstrations on hot wax, role-playing, whipping, caning, Master/slave relationships. I listened to endless debates about the proper use of safewords – the word that the bottom uses when he or she wants to stop a scene.
Eventually I realized that what fascinated me most was the genuine love I saw all around me. I loved watching the couples together at parties. They’d glide by, flying on endorphins, lost in each other. Coming from the been-around-the-block porn world, it was a breath of incredibly fresh air.
These were everyday people, who had extraordinary sex lives. Yet all they wanted was the same thing everyone wants – to meet the love of their life, get married, and live happily ever after. I realized that what I wanted to photograph was the bond between them, the deep intimacy and trust they shared. So I set out to photograph a romantic view of sadomasochism.
At a certain point, I felt that I had proved my case – that love is love, no matter how it is expressed. But along the way I had also seen that people explore alternative areas of sex for many other complex reasons that I wanted to understand.
For some people sadomasochism is about confronting the monsters that most of us keep hidden. They play with primitive emotions; they put themselves through highly sophisticated forms of endurance; they ache for a level of intensity that will transport them far outside of the normal realm.
One day I photographed Fifth Angel sitting in a lotus position on the ground in front of a man he had just hung from a tree by flesh hooks. Tears rolled freely down his face as he watched the man’s hands fold out into a Christ-like pose, offering a benediction to the world, as he swayed gently in the breeze.
Sugar Hill 2008-2012
My photographs have always been fragments of love stories. Sex appears to be the subject, but is not. I’m interested in interactions, relationships - the juxtaposition between desire and consummation - the urge to submit to another, the urge to flee. I treasure the fact that we are complicated.
My work references sexual identity, gender fluidity, LGBTQ + every other possible initial. I love it when someone describes who they are sexually and it takes them a half hour. I have the deepest admiration for people who have fully come to terms with their sexuality, and accepted their personal kinks and quirks. They have beauty far beyond the conventional.
I have often had the feeling of being a witness to people coming into the light. Everyone I’ve photographed throughout these years has taught me something new – about the nature of the erotic impulse, about sexual desire, about spirituality, about humanity. They have taught me that no matter how we’re wired to express love, freedom is having the courage to be who we really are.
The Luxe Motel 2015-Present
Many years ago I went through a period when I couldn’t sleep at night. My mind would race, going over and over anxious scenarios. What if there was no work? What if I was homeless?
I had left my husband and moved out into the world on my own. I was exhilarated at first, but then the reality sank in that there was no safety net, nothing to run back to, nowhere to go. I wanted to stay in the porn world, but the pay was so low I couldn’t make a living there. I felt like my heart was in my hand every minute of the day.
I survived, but the sleepless emotions are still vivid in my mind.
The Luxe Motel is about what happens at the end of the line. When you’re trapped, with nowhere else to go. You want to think it’s the dark night of the soul and you’re on the verge of a glorious new life, but what if it isn’t?