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Storytime with...Sex Photographers
Meet the couple who has photographed over 140 people having sex.
BY KATE HAKALA
Constance & Eric, a married Brooklyn couple, have made a living from doing what we'd all love to do (or maybe have done for free): taking pictures of people having sex. Their work spans genres, mixing fine art and commercial photography, all with the basic intent to depict an authentic sexiness we don't see anywhere else except our bedrooms. To view more of their artistic and commercial work, and perhaps commission a sexy shoot of your own, see their slightly-NSFW website.
What made you want to first become erotic photographers?
Constance: Working in the fashion/advertising industry can be pretty disheartening. The ideal beauty in the commercial world is incredibly narrow. I think it was really in response to this restricted definition of sexy that gave us the idea to start this project. We want to show that beauty and sexuality are self-defined and should not rely on external influences.
Eric: I actually had some bad experiences when I was younger assisting some incredibly misogynistic photographers, so I unintentionally gravitated towards athletic portraiture and still life. When I realized this later on and wanted to shoot something sexual, Constance said I had avoided it for so long that I had to really do something special. Once we started, it quickly took on a life of its own.
Was the idea for some of your abstract shots a reaction to the ubiquity of pornography and explicit images in modern society or does it tell us something else?
E: Absolutely, that is a part if it. Seeing what "erotic photographers" are doing really drives me to want to do something real and not just the run of the mill "hot chick in sexy pose #76". We had the idea that if you strip out a majority of recognizable features, you could really get to the universal core of sexuality. To us, the greatest compliment we get is when someone looks at a picture of say, one person on their knees in front of another and they say, "I love how the young woman is in such a submissive position in front of her man." When in reality it's two men in their late 50s!
C: In a way. The abstract images help create more of a feeling of the moment. It enables the viewer to put themselves in the image without the distraction of recognizable features. I like to call them "Cloud Nine". It’s like daydreaming and looking into the clouds and seeing what you want to see, like a raunchy Rorschach! The universal nature of sexuality that Eric touched on is pretty much the core of what we do. That a hand on your lover’s back is the same no matter the shape, age, size, color, or sexual orientation. It's one of the few things that connects us all as humans.
Then, who is your typical client? What types of people seek out abstract erotic portraiture?
E: We work with all kinds of people but I would say no one really seeks out abstract intimate portraiture specifically, they come to us trusting our style and knowing that they will get a range of images including abstract ones. A lot of the commissioned work we do can be quite visually literal actually.
C: Our clients do run the full spectrum, which keeps our job fascinating. Some common traits we see is a respect for art and at least a tiny bit of an exhibitionist side, or a desire to explore that. Some couples use the shoots to bring a bit of spice into the relationship. I have to say though, some couples do love the abstract portraits because they can hang the prints in public without any one recognizing them. All the couples we work with are different, so every shoot we do is different.
Are couples actually having sex (and reaching orgasm) during your shoots?
C: Our shoots are all about the couples, so if they want to stage something, we will do it for them, but the amount of staged shoots we do for couples is very low. We estimate that we have photographed close to 140 people having sex already!
E: As far as finishing, surprisingly about 1/2 of the guys don't finish. The tension must really build up because often we get thank you messages telling us that they experienced unusually intense encounters after returning home.
So, what do you do to make a couple comfortable around you, to make the moment feel real and unstaged?
C: It depends on the couple. We take our cues from them. We do always meet first to discuss the shoot and that helps in gauging them and our preparations.
E: Like sex, it's all about the individual couple. Some like the staged aspect of it, some we leave the studio and come back after they have started. We are both very good at reading people, so that helps a lot. We also get them naked and in robes immediately, this way they get used to being out of clothes and passed a lion-share of that vulnerable feeling. Some wine and sexy music doesn't hurt, either. Basically, we kind of had to revive the powers of seduction we relied on in our single years.
Do you ever interact with the couple?
C: Again it depends. Some couples never open their eyes, some only look at each other. Others want direction.
E: We do get asked all the time if we are involved sexually with the couples. While I'm sure that would tantalize a few folks, truth is we don't as a rule. It would ruin our reputation. With that being said, there is a wonderful moment that usually happens after a shoot when a couple really opens up to us and trusts us with details of their relationship that they haven't shared with anyone, sometimes even each other! That is a really wonderful moment of shared intimacy that is actually more profound than anything physical could ever be.
Do you think the fact that you’re a couple helps people adjust to the idea of being photographed?
C: Totally. A lot of people have a gender they feel a bit more comfortable with, plus we are pretty cool with each other so that really helps to get other people to open up.
E: I always felt like married couples can be subconsciously perceived as "off the market" and because of that, non-threatening, which could be another reason we make couples feel so comfortable.
Have you encountered any sexual aspect that was decidedly unfilmable or unable to be captured?
C: Not yet but, outside of anything illegal or unhealthy of course, we pretty much accept all facets of the human sexuality spectrum. We have been in talks about doing a project that illustrates the electric current in electro-stim sex which is a challenge, but not impossible.
E: Once a guy didn't tell his girlfriend they were going to be having sex. She kind of freaked but it soon became apparent that while his head wasn't in the right place, his heart really was. After a scolding from her, an hour chatting with us and about 2 bottles of wine, she actually ended up being interested enough to go through with it. After that shoot we now always meet the couple face to face first.
How are you going to film the electric current stimulation? That sounds fascinating. What do you think the outcome will look like?
E: Since we are still in the production stages, we are obligated to not talk much about it. We feel very comfortable at photographically rendering down a sex act to it's basic emotion, visually representing connection, and that is exactly how we are approaching this.
C: But instead of emotion it's electricity!
What’s the wackiest thing that’s ever happened on a shoot?
C: Once A fire alarm went off in the building where the studio we were shooting in was located, when the fire department came around to check on everything, Eric had to hold them back, eventually physically, until everyone threw some robes on!
E: It took a bit for all of us to relax again after that. Yet another occasion where we were happy to have had extra wine on hand.
Wine is always necessary. Is there a boundary you haven’t crossed? Is there a request you've turned down?
E: I wouldn't call it a boundary but we are really interested in shooting more so called "darker" aspects of sexuality, BDSM, D/s play, I mean, the clothes alone are wonderfully photogenic and the trust needed for that kind of play seems really special.
C: We do have a firm rule that we won't shoot anyone under the age of 20 and always require proof during our initial consultation.
Have you even had a solo subject—someone who wanted a portrait of themselves presented in a sexual way?
C: Yes we do all the time, in fact, we have an agent who specifically handles that at Shag in Brooklyn. Again, being a two gender couple allows our subject to open up to whomever they feel more comfortable with. We rely on the fact that we can make a person feel secure and sexy in such an unusual situation. Being nude is a vulnerable position for most people to be in so the fact that someone feels that comfortable in their skin around us is great.
E: We like to think of our solo shoots as taking traditional boudoir photography beyond the next level.
Is your work intentionally erotic? Do you expect an audience that is turned on, maybe even masturbates to your photographs?
E: We shy away from the term erotic because so much work labeled as erotic photography is just, I'm sorry, but it's trash. Trite, useless images telling people what to think sexy is while putting nothing sexually empowering out in the world. We like to give our viewers the chance to create their own sexual head-space, to me, that is what sets us apart.
As far as our images being used for self gratification, well, I don't know any photographer who wouldn't be beyond delighted to have a viewer have such an emotional connection to their work as to elicit a physical response. No pun intended but it really is nice to touch people. When we check google analytics you see a handful of hits that last 1-5 minutes than all of a sudden you see one for 15-20 minutes and we are like, hey look, we have a new fan!
C: The only thing intentional about our work is that we intentionally try to encourage people to draw their own conclusions about what erotic means to them. At the end of the day if we can honestly say we made one person feel comfortable about themselves, that we put something positive out in the world, than we feel like we did a good job, not just as photographers, but as people.
So, what's next on the horizon?
C: This weekend found us shooting unsafe, toxic sex toys. Eric’s father makes glass art out of cremated remains and turned down a job making a dildo. When we asked him why, he said it was because he could not confirm that it was safe for use. Turns out, many sex toy manufacturers don’t hold to the same ethics (notice how a lot of toys say ‘for novelty uses only”?) After searching around a bit we found this wonderful organization called Dildology who is trying to shed light on this toxic toy problem.
We are working with them to help inform the public about sex toys that are not safe to use. The images are all very conceptual still life's literally presenting the bad toys as villains, it’s a really fun way to educate people about harm they may not know they are causing themselves.