A Life’s Work: Project X

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A Life's Work: Genital Archivist by Grant Stoddard

By this time next year, Erin Lonergan will have seen 500 sets of genitalia. Since February, the twenty-nine-year-old founder of the Archivist Genitalia Project has been setting up a custom-made booth at parties in New York City and convincing strangers to let her take Polaroids of their naughty bits. Lonergan plans to sew the pictures into a quilt, which will be displayed alongside stylized drawings that correspond to each photograph. Lonergan came to Nerve to talk about her work — and to spend some time in the bathroom photographing staff members who wanted to, ahem, give to the arts.
Grant Stoddard

So when did you start taking an interest in strangers’ wedding tackle?

The project originated in college. I started chatting online, and I would get these e-mails from men responding to my chat profile. There was this guy, Bob, who sent me a picture saying, “Hi, I’m Bob, this is my cock. What do you think?” I thought it was fascinating. So I put a note on my profile, saying “send me pictures of your cock.” I got 700.

Why did you start the project?

I’m going to be thirty this year, which is a huge thing. Being twenty-nine and single, having all of your friends being married or divorced, and you’ve been going through lover after lover. I came up with the quilt idea because I’m alone. I’m trying to wrap myself in all this sexual experience to keep myself warm and to fill that void. I’m working through my issues.

Did you set out to make some grand artistic statement?

I actually just thought, “Wow. I’ve had a lot of lovers.” I have a tendency to get very intimate with people quickly, and I don’t want to look at that as bad. I’m trying to make something beautiful out of it.

Is there a certain type of person who comes into your booth?

No, I’ve been surprised every time. I get people who I thought were very shy, who I’ve met previously and were like, “I’ll never do this.” I want them to be comfortable. I put myself out there and did it too, so I know what it feels like. I had never exposed myself to anybody before, and I wanted to know what everyone was going through.

Who took the picture?

My friend Bunny did. He actually came in and was like, “Okay, it’s your turn.” It frees you: it gives you a little bit more confidence about yourself.

How do men’s and women’s attitudes differ toward the project?

Men are the first ones in line. Women are more skeptical. Men  . . . they don’t care. Balls out — they’re going to do it.

Literally! Suppose a man were doing what you’re doing, how would that affect the participants?

People would think it was more perverted. You think of porn.

Have you had people jerk off in the booth, and if so, do you tell them to stop?

I can’t tell them not to, if that’s how they want to present it. It’s all very nonsexual for me, which I didn’t expect. I thought I’d be in this frenzy, but it’s the complete opposite. Once I was offered money to touch a guy’s dick. I just laughed. Then you have the guys who say, “She blew me while I was in.” Then the next guy comes in, and I have to tell him, “No, I don’t do that.” That’s happened twice, and I was offered money once. Out of 290 people, that’s not bad.

You give people the option to have the curtain open or closed. What percentage close the curtain?

Probably about 70 percent.

Do bigger exhibitionists have larger penises?

A lot of the exhibitionists that I have met are actually not really big or even small.

Were you surprised by the genitalia in the Nerve office?

Um, in some ways. Everybody was very kind and curious.

Are you at a point where you can guess what a guy’s penis size is from his physical attributes?

No. So not true. Some of the most petite men have the largest ones I’ve ever seen. The biggest guys, the ones you would expect to have the biggest ones, are smaller. That whole stereotype — like how big your hand is or how big your foot is — is so not true.

Do you ever remark on a guy’s size to his face?

No, never. I try to tell every single man, “You should be proud of what you have.”

Oh, I thought I was special!

[laughs] I don’t specifically say that to every single guy. It has to do with the chemistry that I have with the person.

Do you ever worry that you’re going to be sick of seeing genitals?

Some nights I get tired — once it hits 4 a.m., and I’ve been doing it for about eight hours. I’m like, “Oh God, I have so many more to do.”

Any new trends in pubic grooming?

I’ve seen some pretty fancy ones. There was one girl that shaved her pubes into a V.

What do your folks think?

It’s funny; while I’m doing this, I’m looking back at my family’s humor about sexuality. I have a grandmother who collects perverted monks: you press the head, and their penises come out. My family was very  . . . open. Like, my parents would be sitting at the dinner table, and my grandfather would strip naked and run through the room.

As a participant, it took me back to a time as a kid in the schoolyard at six or seven: “Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.” Unfortunately, the other kids did that. I was the kid who smelled faintly of urine.

At first it was like that. I would think, “He’s showing me his peepee!,” and I’d get a little giddy. I couldn’t believe it was happening. But by the end of the first night, I was more interested in the people, and the interaction. It’s no longer about the genitalia.


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