At first glance, the title of photographer Samantha Wolov’s latest work seems to be a misnomer. Now showing at the Seven Gallery, Wolov’s Anti-Porn Project is a collection of ultragraphic images of men and women having real live sex—two young women entwined, a bare-breasted woman in the throes of an orgasm, a headless shot of a man masturbating—
rendered in vivid color and sensuous lighting.
But it’s not pornography, insists Wolov. “Porn is supposed to be artificial, a fantasy,”
she explains. “I’m trying to get people to feel arousal through reality. You can hopefully look at a picture of a blowjob and think of your own blowjob experience.”
The project began as an assignment for a class that the 20-year-old American University art-history major took this past spring called “The Radical Image.” As Wolov contemplated that term, the first thing that came to mind was sex. “It’s taboo and scandalous,” says Wolov. “But everyone loves it, and everyone talks about it.”
Wolov looked at a lot of pornography while researching the project, and she wasn’t aroused by much of what she saw. “If you look at Playboy, you have these pictures of women—#that most men will never have access to—who are posed, making eye contact, just sort of lounging naked,” says Wolov. “That isn’t real.”
So she rejected that aesthetic and recruited her friends to let her shoot photos of them having plain old sex. In Wolov’s photos, there is no eye contact made with the viewer, nothing is staged, and nothing is simulated.
“This is real, raw sex,” says Wolov. “That really is a guy getting a blowjob. That really is semen on a penis.”
Though Wolov usually sketches out a plan and discusses comfort levels with her subjects, the shoots are fairly simple—she started one by saying, “OK, go down on him, and I’ll take a picture of it.” Once her models are off and running, she circles the room, trying to frame her shots as best she can. She estimates that she’s shot about 15 different friends—but she’s approached close to 50.
She’d like there to be more diversity in her photographs, but people willing to be photographed having sex don’t exactly grow on trees. “You want to know why I took a picture of a guy masturbating?” says Wolov. “Because that’s who I could find.”
Wolov is quick to point out that her photo shoots don’t turn her on. “This is work for me,” she says. “A penis isn’t a penis through the lens
of a camera. It’s all line and color.”
Wolov readily admits that what she’s doing isn’t groundbreaking—which is why she doesn’t want viewers deconstructing her work. “This is just sex,” she says. “Don’t think about it. If you do, it ruins it….Just look at them and enjoy it.”
Though she has no intention of stopping her project as long as people are willing to get naked for her, she knows that the likelihood of its turning a profit is low. “There’s no market for what I do,” Wolov chuckles. “Nobody wants a picture of a spermy penis on their wall.”—Huan Hsu