Words: Nicci Talbot
I had an email from Barbara Nitke this week, a NY-based photographer whose work I love. She explores the beauty of all forms of love, sex and passion and was acclaimed by The Village Voice for her quest ‘to find humanity in marginal sex.’ Nitke has launched a video campaign to raise $25,000 to pay for the design, production and distribution of a photo book of her time ‘behind the scenes’ on porn sets in New York in the 1980s. I’m happy to support her by making a pledge and in return, I’ll receive a postcard, print or copy of the book.
American Ecstasy is a memoir in pictures and words based on the 12 years she spent working as a stills photographer – and effectively PR lady – on 300 hardcore shoots. Back then, the internet was in its infancy and there were no DVDs or laptops. They shot real 35mm films on big movie cameras and great care went into the scripting, acting, sound and editing process, which could last for days. ‘It’s hard to imagine now,’ she says, ‘but back in the 1980s people lined up outside of real movie theaters to watch feature length sex flicks. It was the Golden Age of Porn. There was a thriving X-rated movie industry in New York City, and that was where I got my start as a photographer.’
The book is a nostalgic view of those times before the industry moved out to LA. The photos are explicit yet also funny, sad and intimate – which sums up the contradictions in the porn industry as a whole. She captures those moments when the masks are down – when the actors are resting, laughing, bored, vulnerable, or staring into space.
It also features a selection of written stories Nitke wrote about her daily life on the movie set and clips from her interviews with porn stars of the day. Plus a critical essay by Arthur C Danto, Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University and former art critic for The Nation, who compares her work to that of Robert Mapplethorpe.