Love & Sex

How the Media Turned This Couple’s Photography into Pornography

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When we make "personalized porn," most aren't looking to share it.

 

Today, our compulsion to take personalized, sexy photos of ourselves is stronger than ever. We're walking around with cameras and video cameras in the back of our jeans, a lens at the ready to snap explicit photos. According to a recent survey by CyberCompare.net, as many as 34 percent of men and women admitted to sending sexts, explicit photos on Snapchat, or using webcams and Skype-like apps to have interactive cybersex. While our tendency to take advantage of this incredibly accessible user-friendly technology to produce our own handcrafted smut is very much alive, it doesn't mean we necessarily want it shared.

On last night's edition of ABC Nightline, which covered Modern Sex in America, married photographers Constance Faulk and Eric Vogel were interviewed about their work as fine art and commercial sex photographers. Whereas some couples might save up to spend an anniversary or special occasion at a luxury hotel or classy restaurant, Constance and Eric's clients pay as much as $4,000 to have the pair artfully document their sexual encounters. While couples taking photographs of their sex lives is old hat, Constance and Eric attempt to bring an intimate, non-exploitative approach to celebrating human sexuality and reaffirming the bonds of established romantic relationships. The artists, whose work hangs in the Museum of Sex, often take a more abstract, out-of-focus approach than one might expect when they hear "beyond boudoir."

At the beginning of the segment, ABC speculated what erotic couples photography really was: "Is this a beautiful way to immortalize an intimate moment or another sign that Americans are obsessed with attention and oversharing?" I approached Constance and Eric for comment about the episode, in which their work was referred to as "lucrative personalized porn." The photographers reject being called pornographers and were not pleased with the result of the special. 

ABC noted the potential for erotic shots to tread into the dangerous territory of "oversharing." Within the same breath, they mentioned MakeLoveNotPorn, the Cindy Gallop-lead real sex website, where everyday couples upload authentic videos of themselves having sex. While these couples "cash in" on their homemade movies, Gallop hopes real sex will become more socialized, normalized, even a common sight on networking sites like Instagram and Twitter. Though Eric and Constance have a great respect for Gallop and the work she is doing to rectify societal misconceptions of real sex, they say most photographs between couples aren't specifically created for our socialized world of constant sharing.

"Just because people want professional, artistic images or video of themselves lovemaking does not mean they want other people to see it. A majority of our clientele has a difficult enough time having us see them in moments of intimacy, let alone broadcast it to the world," Eric told me. "Too many people wrongly assume that because you wish to record these very special, very personal moments of your life that you are automatically 'loose.'"

Perhaps what ABC fundamentally misinterpreted is the fact that, for some couples, sharing dirty photos is not a way to make a buck, overshare, and proliferate porn. Categorizing all expressions of open sexuality and nudity as inherently pornographic is, in fact, inaccurate. For most, it's a way to rekindle intimacy and build up excitement within the relationship. According to Scientific American, research suggests "that positive expectations about the outcome of sexting drive the behavior, prompting the individual to overlook possible consequences in favor of the potential rush about the outcome of an act." Some of these rewarding feelings evoked by sexting include feeling sexy, horny, excited, attractive, and admired. But since couples in serious relationships are usually very aware of the attendant risks involved (and the prevalence of revenge porn), they're actually the demographic most likely to take the plunge with someone they love and shed their clothes for a mutual digital flirtation. 

Mainstream media may be uncomfortable with saying art can be synonymous with having sex. "The fact that people want to be recorded making love, for whatever reasons, is easy to demonize, but what will cause more problems: people wanting to preserve their intimate moments on film or negative attitudes towards sexuality?" Eric told me.

Eric and Constance believe that their photography became pornography overnight mainly for the ratings, but they see the upside to the fiasco. "To be honest, their misrepresentation of our photography, of our mission, is an indication that our work and the work of people like Cindy Gallop, is more important now than ever. We mistakenly thought mainstream network television was ready for a mature conversation on sexuality, but we realize we expected far too much and far too soon." 

In many ways, social media is the landscape where we share our most intimate information — how we're feeling, our everyday achievements, our sad lulls. But it's important to note that a sext or a sexually stimulating image isn't always intended to be shared with a larger audience. Most often, photos of a breast and or a crotch shot are snapped so we can engage with intimacy, engage our sexuality, and bridge our distance, all by using the tools of modern connection at our disposal.

Image via Constance and Eric.