Thursday, September 26, 2013

After Porn Ends (2010)

I was drawn to the title After Porn Ends because I was curious to see if it was a feature that would address the stigma that's applied to individuals who work in the "adult industry". Naturally, though, I maintained some fear that it was going to approach the issue from an anti-porn stance. But After Porn Ends works effectively as a documentary because it doesn't appear to have an agenda. Therefore, it's in a good position to actually present the truth, which is complex and multi-faceted.

Personally, I believe the strength of this documentary is the way it humanizes those who have worked in the porn industry (they are people, just like everyone else, and neither superheroes nor monsters), and especially the way it demonstrates that nobody's experience in and attitude towards the porn industry is universal. This documentary interviews a variety of retired porn stars, both men and women, whose opinions about their work in the sex industry, and its effect on their lives, vary between the positive and the negative, and include those who regret working in porn, as well as those who couldn't be happier about it.

Because, in reality, that's how people are. Some people get into porn because they're desperate, and they learn to regret it. Others seek fame and fortune, and find that it's not something they have a problem with. You simply can't stereotype everyone in the industry either as being forced into it, or happy as a bumble bee. And one of the most pertinent points made by one of the interviewees is the fact that some people are just designed (whether by genetics or their upbringing) to thrive, emotionally, in the world of sex work, while others are not. And when those who are not find themselves in that industry (for any number of valid reasons), it's only a matter of time before they realize that it's not for them. But their experience shouldn't necessarily cast aspersions on everyone else's who gets involved with it.

The other important theme in this documentary is indeed the stigma that results when one decides to enter any form of the "adult industry". And the overwhelming conclusion by those interviewed is that working in the adult industry cuts you off from other opportunities in life, and that the stain is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. There is some voice given to my perspective - that this stigma is harmful and hypocritical (what's truly degrading is not working in porn, but consuming porn and then disparaging those who have provided that service for you) - but rather than question the validity of this shaming culture, it is largely accepted as a matter of fact, which itself could be used as a pretty good reason to avoid working in porn.

I understand that I do have a bias, but I think that good sexual health and the freedom to express one's sexuality is far more important than the spiritually-based doctrine of purity in abstinence, and conservative viewpoints about love, and the structure of human relationships. But rest assured, even if you don't agree with me on these points, I think you can still enjoy this documentary, because that is not part of its mission statement. I recommend it to anyone who has a stake in the great porn debate, no matter which side you may align with.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why in the World?

You might ask - and this is most probably true if you are not sexually attracted to me, but also if you are, yet believe that acts of sexual intimacy should remain private - what reason I could possibly have to publicly share, for example (since I just did this), a picture of myself with a dildo in my ass. First and foremost, there is the issue that I am a model, and an erotic artist, and basically what I'm doing is what would be commonly referred to as "porn". You might not agree with porn, but I do, and it's something I enjoy being involved with. If, then, pornographic images of me, personally, are not your cup of tea, then you might simply avoid them, but that would at least explain why it is I do what I do.

But there's another side to it, and it's this. Through my erotic photography - and most specifically, my erotic self-portraiture - I am following the philosophy, as spoken by one Mahatma Ghandi, of "being the change you wish to see in the world", as well as practicing a variation of the Golden Rule, which I would phrase thusly: "do for others what you would have them do for you".

Unlike most consumers of pornography, I do not feel ashamed and do not express hypocritical views whereby I will enjoy my consumption of said pornography and then turn around and criticize it to maintain my social standing. And also unlike the majority of pornography consumers (strictly speaking statistically), I am, although not female, above a certain standard of attractiveness (at least by certain opinions), which makes me more viable than average to serve as a model in pornographic pictures (and videos).

So, here's the thing. As an extension of my sex-positive perspective, I am not ashamed or appalled by any person's public, sexual display (provided basic standards of where and when this occurs, so as to minimize the possibility of unnecessarily shocking prudes). In my vision of the ideal world, if I come to know or know of a person in the world that I am attracted to, I would love for the opportunity to see that person in sexually compromising positions. It may be true that I'm asking for a shortcut to wining and dining, but at the same time, I'm not asking to actually have sex with them - I'm just talking about pictures, here. So imagine, for example, I cross paths with a hottie on the street. It is my desire that I should have access to images of, for example, that same hottie naked, on all fours, with a dildo in her ass (or maybe not that specifically - that's just today's example).

Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), I don't want to force people to pose for pornographic images against their will, but I would be happier if there were less stigma so that more people would be in a position to volunteer (enthusiastically, even) this service. There would still be those who are not interested, but those who are would not be so easily talked out of it, and those who aren't sure would be more likely to give it fair consideration. And by doing it myself, I am showing what a good sport I am, and that I am not asking of others anything that I would not do myself. In the meantime, people who are attracted to me (and not uptight about pornography), can get the benefit of viewing my images. In this way, I am giving back to the community of porn-lovers, and not simply being a non-productive consumer.

Does that make sense to you? If not, it may be because you hold certain beliefs, alluded to above, about the privacy of sexual intimacy, and possibly the importance of its being couched within the context of a committed relationship. You are also, probably, not entirely familiar and/or enthusiastic about the practice of consensual voyeurism and exhibitionism (which I do not deny is an important element of the appeal of these impersonal, non-contact, porn-related activities). Which is fine. You're free to have those beliefs, and live your life accordingly. But I have different beliefs, and this is how I express them. :-)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Principles of Exposure

Introduction: It's been almost five years now since I upgraded from amateur point-and-shoot technology and bought my first, real, dSLR camera. It was several months before I was ready to start shooting in manual mode, but less than a year after that, I felt confident enough in my understanding of the principles of exposure to write a simple guide for other photographers at that stage: beginners with point-and-shoot experience who were ready to take the next step and learn the basics of manipulating exposure.

I also had the clever idea of weaving my own style of erotic photography into the project, starting with a play on the word 'exposure'. The first image in what was to be a series demonstrated light exposure by drawing a parallel to exposure of the model's body. I had it in my head to do other shots with similar parallels related to shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO Level, but I never got around to finishing the series. That was in the spring of 2010, and now it's nearly fall 2013. But I've revisited the idea, created all new images (and mostly new descriptions), and finally finished the series.

Here it is!

The Principles of Exposure

At its heart, photography is a process that captures and records light. So, an important question to ask yourself before taking a shot is, "am I getting the right amount of light?" Without adding or subtracting light to the actual scene (e.g., switching on a lamp, closing the blinds), there are a number of parameters that can be adjusted within your dSLR camera to modify how much light the camera picks up.

Understanding how to manipulate these parameters to control the exposure (the amount of light the camera reads) is one of the fundamental skills that separates the amateur snapshot photographer from the serious hobbyist or professional. Knowing how each of these parameters works, and the effects it has on the image your camera records, will help you to intuit which of them needs to be adjusted to get a proper exposure in any given situation.

The question of "proper" exposure is, itself, often a subjective one. But modern cameras do a pretty good job of guessing, so you should learn to read the exposure meter on yours. Photos that are underexposed (not enough light) will come out dark and shadowy, while photos that are overexposed (too much light) will be bright and blown out. Either of these effects may be desired for artistic purposes (e.g., silhouettes, or high key photography), but generally you want to aim for that happy medium.

Underexposed images will be dark; overexposed images will be bright - aim for the middle.

Shutter Speed (side effect: motion blur)

When you "click the shutter", prompting your camera to take a picture, a gate opens, allowing light from the scene your camera is pointed at to reach the sensor (or film) behind the lens, to record the image it sees. The amount of time that gate stays open is determined by the shutter speed, which you can adjust. Fast speeds (often measured in fractions of a second) yield short exposures, and slow speeds (often measured in numbers of seconds) yield long exposures.

The longer the shutter is open, the more light the camera will pick up, increasing the exposure; but if you or your subject is moving, a slow shutter speed will produce an image with motion blur. This may be desired in some instances, where you want to depict movement (such as the headlights of moving cars, or the running of water in a stream). There are also some neat tricks that can be done with long exposures, such as light writing and ghost effects.

A fast shutter speed freezes motion; a slow shutter speed introduces motion blur.

However, often a clear image with sharp details is desired, especially in cases where you want to freeze some kind of action (like moving athletes or wildlife). This requires a fast shutter speed, which inevitably reduces the exposure. If you're shooting in low light conditions, I suggest using a tripod for stability. Additionally, you may have to consider adjusting another parameter to ensure that the exposure is bright enough.

Aperture Size (side effect: depth of field)

Aperture size is the size of the opening the light passes through when you click the shutter, and is another parameter you can adjust in your camera. Larger apertures take in more light than smaller apertures, resulting in a brighter exposure. Aperture sizes can be confusing to read, because they are measured in "f-numbers", with the number being the denominator of a fraction, so that f/1.8, for example, is a larger aperture than f/8.

A large aperture produces a narrow depth of field, where only objects within a small distance from the focal plane (where the lens is focused) are rendered in focus. Any objects beyond that distance will appear blurry. This creates an aesthetic effect that is very popular in photography (see: bokeh), and it also helps to focus the viewer's eye onto a single object in the image.

A large aperture yields a shallow depth of field; small apertures go deeper.

However, if you want objects at different distances from the camera to be simultaneously in focus (like a person's face, and the finger they're pointing at you), you'll need a wider depth of field, which can be acquired with a smaller aperture. But beware, your resulting exposure will be darker - you'll have to adjust some other parameter to brighten it up. You may also notice that with small apertures, points of light show up as star bursts.

ISO Level (side effect: noise/grain)

The last of the three important parameters you can adjust to modify exposure is the ISO Level. ISO Level refers to the sensitivity of the camera sensor (or film, if you're not shooting digitally) that records the light coming through the camera during an exposure. You can increase the sensor's sensitivity in order to pick up more light, without adjusting either the shutter speed or aperture size. This is especially handy when you're shooting in dark environments, and you need a quick exposure to reduce motion blur. However, the cost of greater sensitivity is a grainier image. You should try to use the lowest ISO Level possible in any situation, but don't be afraid to bump it up when the situation warrants it.

Higher sensitivity picks up more light, but produces grainier images.


If you're desperate, and there's just not enough light getting to your camera, no matter how you adjust the shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO Level, you always have the option of using your camera's flash. I use this as a last resort, however, because not only does it change the look of the scene (a candlelit dinner, for example, will lose its ambiance when lit with a bright flash), and look more amateurish (since amateurs who don't know how to adjust exposure more often resort to the flash in low-light conditions), the light produced by a direct, head-on flash is harsh and often unflattering. Use it sparingly.

Ambient light is more dynamic; direct flash is harsh and unflattering.

Of course, at this point, you may want to consider experimenting with alternative sources of light (like off-camera flash), or looking for a faster lens (which can be expensive). But then, we're talking about other areas of photography, and that discussion is for another day.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sexual Chronicles of a French Family (2012)

It occurs to me that, given my specialties, it might be fruitful to record my opinions of the erotic/sex-related films that I watch, which I have done only very sparingly up to now.

Well, this morning, I watched a delightful surprise of a little film titled Sexual Chronicles of a French Family (currently available on Netflix). It, well, chronicles, in a documentary-like format, the lives of each member of a French family, specifically as relates to their sexual fulfillment (or lack thereof).

The conflict begins when the teenage boy in the family gets caught at school filming himself masturbating in class (it was a dare). His mother is forced to acknowledge the fact that, as is so frequently the case, we teach kids about the dangers of sex, but leave them helplessly floundering when it comes to seeking sexual fulfillment.

So, the mother embarks on a quest to open a dialogue about sex within the family, and we, the viewers, are treated in voyeuristic fashion to each member's personal sex life, from the teenager dying to lose his virginity, to the elderly widower who regularly visits a prostitute, and everything in between.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much sex was actually in this movie, and although you don't see anything explicit*, it gets really close. Consistently. But the other thing is, although it's not unerotic, the sex feels very real, not like porn sex, and it seems to serve the purpose of fleshing out the characters and not simply existing for titillation's sake. The only thing that stood out to me was the fact that I didn't notice any of the characters ever experiencing orgasm.

Nevertheless, I feel that this film portrays a very healthy, sex-positive attitude toward human sexuality, even on topics such as prostitution and exhibitionism, which are frequently sensationalized for dramatic effect. The film does not ignore the importance of contraception, and there is a healthy balance between male and female nudity. One of the characters is even bisexual.

I feel I can recommend this film highly, although I doubt most people will be in a proper frame of mind to truly enjoy it. At least with regard to my experience of the American mindset, viewers either want mindless titillation (that goes out of its way to avoid incidental male eroticism), or they want a comedy where they can be free to giggle every time a character mentions a sex act. This film is neither. It is much more enriching, and much more fulfilling, than both.

* Yep, Netflix duped me into seeing the censored US release of this film. Fucking Americans. :-\