(Published in the Newark Star-Ledger in September 2004)
XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits by Timothy
Greenfield-Sanders (Bullfinch, $35)
With porn star Jenna Jameson’s memoir
tearing up the bestseller lists and adult film actors packing the Howard Stern
Show, the American porn industry has reached new heights in mainstream culture.
Now porn has achieved more legitimacy with
its own high-end photography book, with famed portrait photographer and filmmaker Timothy
Greenfield-Sanders’ having just published “XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits.” Greenfield-Sanders,
known for shooting Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Lou Reed and Madeline
Albright, has photographed adult stars like Jameson, Nina Hartley and Peter
North, both clothed and in full-frontal nudity. The poses range from heroic to
proud, confrontational to tired. The photos are backed by controversial and
witty essays by Gore Vidal, Salman Rushdie and performance artist Karen Finley,
and other writers. Greenfield-Sanders’ “XXX” project explodes this month with a
Chelsea gallery show of the photos, an
HBO documentary he directed called “Thinking XXX,” a CD of music from the film,
and a DVD.
Greenfield-Sanders, 52, spoke with
freelance writer Dylan Foley on the line between art and pornography.
Q. How did you get interested in shooting
A. It all started with “Boogie Nights” in
1997. Porn stars struck me as a group that would be fascinating to photograph.
I did nothing about it until 1999. A friend called and said, “I met a porn
star. Can I bring him over?” I’d rather not say who he was. He didn’t end up in
the book. He posed for me clothed, then said, “Okay, let’s do the nude one.” I
was really taken aback. I said “Gee, sure, let us do the same pose.” In my mind
I was thinking of the famous Goya paintings (of the same woman naked and clothed).
The pictures were amazing. They were revealing on so many levels, because of
the nudity and the way you looked at someone clothed, how the body posture
changed and how comfortable he was nude.
Q. How did “XXX” turn into a book with
A. I didn’t pick up the project again until
(“Deep Throat” star) Linda Lovelace died in 2002. That spurred me on. I’d ask
writer friends about it, and they’d say “I’ll write something for it!” John
Malkovich, who is a friend of mine, said he’d write something. Then Gore Vidal
came on board, which helped bring the level up to get other great people.
Q. Did you know much about porn when you
A. No. At the beginning, I knew who Nina
Hartley was, and maybe Tera Patrick. That was about it, but one name leads to
another. I was trying to balance it ethnically, as well as young and old stars,
for that was more interesting. You could do a book with 100 blondes with big
breasts. That would probably be a bigger seller. But that’s a different book.
Q. In your photos, Nina Hartley looks very
proud, Reina Leone looks confrontational, and Peter North looks tired. What
were you looking for?
A. I am always looking to make the person
look how he or she sees him or herself. I hope I achieved this. You also try to
get a sense of who the person is. When you meet a porn star, there is a certain
proudness there. Reina Leone might have been posed the way she is because she
was holding up her gigantic breasts. I’d shoot the clothed photo as they were
when they came off the street, without make up. Jesse Jane literally looks like
the girl next door. The nude shots were more glamorized.
You get the best picture by putting people
at ease. For me, it was difficult at first, because they were naked and I
wasn’t used to that. As a photographer, you have to get over it. I had to learn the language like, “You look
fabulous” and “Your breasts are great.”
Q. What is the difference between shooting
Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and porn star Jenna Jameson?
It is very different. The people in this
project are very comfortable with the camera. That is not the case with
writers. It was harder to do Donna Tartt, Madeline Albright and Jack Welch.
Q. With nude photography, what is the line
between art and pornography?
A. There is an old joke with two
punchlines...What is the difference between art and pornography? Focus and
lighting. I don’t really have an answer. What I do is art. These are portraits
of clothed and nude people. So much about porn is objectifying the performers.
This book humanizes these people.
How does “XXX” fit in your career path?
A. It is still all about portraiture. My
first book “Art World” was about all the people I’d shot during 20 years in the
New York art world. It was artists, critics and collectors. The next book was a
monograph on celebrities, politicians, actors and writers. If you look at the
work, who are the people I photograph? They are very accomplished, driven
people, and many of them are celebrities. Porn stars fit right into that. They
are the best at what they do, which is screwing on film. And they are fascinating. I came to this with
very cliched conceptions about who porn stars were. I came out of it with a
very different understanding. Many of them are very smart and use porn in
different ways to make something of themselves.