Keep your pants on... Deborah Anderson's new documentary Aroused features all the biggest pornographic actresses in the industry, but it makes you see them as women, not sex objects. Photographer Deborah Anderson filmed Aroused on the set of her book, which features adult stars like Allie Haze, Alexis Texas, Teagan Presley, Asphyxia Noir, Misty Stone, Lexi Belle, Lisa Ann and Belladonna in states of undress, but states of sensuality, not sexuality. Aroused premieres in theaters this weekend, but we took some time with the filmmaker to discuss the film's intriguing philosophies towards erotica, hardcore pornography, women as women, women as sex objects, and sex as a business.
CraveOnline: There’s a famous Gloria Steinem quote, and you include it in your movie, that “the difference between erotica and pornography is lighting.”
Deborah Anderson: Yes.
Now, I believe she meant that as a broad, overarching condemnatory statement, but I’m interested in your perception of that because you’re a photographer.
Absolutely. I love how I stumbled across that quote. She actually, the woman who quoted that, was a porn actress turned photographer, I believe. So she understood the logistics of what it is to light a photograph. For me it was so spot on, because I always wanted to get involved in shooting a porn actress and giving them a different viewpoint from the audience, and to be able to light it the way I light things, which I thought would be completely in contradiction to a normal porn shot, let’s say, where I always felt they’re never lit well. [Laughs] Really easy does it lighting, so for me it was the perfect synopsis of why people look at my work and see it as erotic and sensual, and not pornography. Really it is the delicacy that when you place a light in a certain place, and you see the contours of a body in a certain way, it’s not obvious and it’s not in your face. So there’s something for the viewer to feel intrigued with, so it makes a big difference.
How much pornography did you watch, either on your own or in preparation for this documentary, to understand how your style would be different from their norm?
You know, I think as we’ve all seen [porn] somewhere, somehow, whether it’s entertainment or stumbling across or whatever happens. We’ve seen porn, or at least understand it. We’ve seen documentaries on porn. For me, I didn’t need to look at that to make this movie. This movie was very much going to be… in my heart, it was always going to be an art piece about the making of this book, which is my third book, and what came from it was this stream of conversation with these girls that lends itself to the end result, which is really a dialogue about these women and why they choose this as their job. For me, I actually knew none of the girls except for Belladonna. I’d seen Belladonna’s work. So when I met her, I said, “I’ve seen your work. You’re amazing.” She was so thrilled. She was like, “Oh my god, you’re amazing.” The other girls, I had not seen their work until after the fact. I wanted to meet these women as women. I did not want to meet them as porn stars. I knew that if I had seen their work before, I possibly wouldn’t have had the same… possibly grace, let’s say, or humility, or humanity to present them with the questions that I wanted to have them answer.
This is a very informational documentary. You’re trying to introduce people to these actresses as human beings beyond their persona. How necessary do you feel that is? I sense that porn is starting to become a little more ubiquitous, but do you feel there is still that enormous disconnect for most people?
Yeah, because everyone’s looking at porn sex as something that should all be doing in their bedroom, and they don’t assimilate that with the reality of what it is to have a normal sexual relationship with somebody. And the addiction that comes with the ease of being able to download porn at the touch of a button… people are really disconnecting with the true essence of true essence of who we are as humans, and what the whole idea of sex is to start with. So I did feel it was necessary, and I had people, male viewers watching the screenings – I’ve done a couple of private screenings – and they can’t sit still. They’re getting up to get a drink and they’re running around or asking silly questions, and I’m like, “What’s going on there?” And I realized they don’t want to hear these women speak. That doesn’t feel settling to them. They see them as sex objects, and I think it is a necessity to have these women be heard.
Do we have the same reaction to fashion models as well? Do we want to have them on a pedestal?
Well, it’s a totally different thing. Fashion models aren’t entertaining us, they’re just showing us a way to look good. It’s all about imagery. When you’re looking at women who use their bodies to sell a product, which is sex, and you have a mass amount of people… Fans of the women are addicted to porn, want to use it for their own entertainment and so on and so forth, [so] it’s a totally different thing when they start talking. As you know, sex, still, somewhere in there… People don’t just sit around a table and discuss their sex life, you know? People don’t just sit there and talk about what turns them on. Conversations are usually drawn about movies and things, and travel and food. Sex is always a little bit taboo, and a little bit funny, and a little bit giggly. So the idea of these women who perform in front of audiences to a mass degree, to have them actually say, “No, I am a woman, I do this and I do that outside of this universe,” I think for those that are taken by the sexual act that [these women] perform, I don’t think they are prepared to see them have a conversation. [Laughs] It’s just too personable.
There’s another quote you put in your film, and I wish I’d written it down. “We don’t see things they way they are, we see things the way we are?”
Basically. That quote, Anaïs Nin, she’s my favorite writer. She wrote about erotic stories and such, but she never was an erotic writer. She fell into that because of circumstances living in Paris, she didn’t have any money, and how should would draw breath on and bring to life the sexual act… She’d spend pages describing, literally, the guy coming close towards her lips and kissing her ear. She’d spend pages describing that, but the heat in that moment was just phenomenal for me, which lends itself to a lot of photography, and the way I’d shoot something, This beguiling scene. You look at an image and see something possibly would have would have happened before, and something possibly could happen after, but in that moment that one image tells a hundred stories. So Anaïs Nin meant to say that we see things as we are, not what they are, and that’s everything that we do in life. We might see and be upset at something, and they might not even notice, because they’re not coming from that aspect, and that’s what this is. These girls are seen in a certain way, but they’re not being viewed from if you were to walk a day in their shoes. They’re being viewed as these sex objects, or “Look, they can get naked and they can do those things on camera. They must be this, this and this.” There’s a lot of assumption and a lot of degrading of these women, and I believe that this movie was really about showing that we all have a choice in life, and we all have a choice as to what we desire and want to have as our experience in this lifetime. To sit and point the finger at these people and be like, “Oh my god, this is this, and this is that, and I don’t appreciate this or that,” I think really determines where [the viewer] is standing and where their own comfortable feeling when it comes to sex. That’s why this dialogue is interesting to me, because everybody has a different point of view because they’re standing in a different place.
Did you ever think about possibly including a dissenting voice in order to help sell that contrast? Or do you feel that it’s understood that there is this stigma?
I think again, everybody sees this from a different place. I never had the stigma, but when I had dinner with friends prior to making this, watching the difference of reaction at the table was what promoted this desire to do it. Some people were in denial that sex in porn exists, and they’d be sitting next to their wife pretending they didn’t know the girls that I was about to shoot. The wife was looking in disgust at the husband. “What, you know these girls?!” Wow, what are you not discussing? What are you not communicating in your relationship? I think that has a lot to do with it. Yes, we’re all having sex. You know, 99.9% of adults, consenting adults, are having sex.
At some point!
Kids are having sex! What are we teaching our children? How are we looking at sex? These women are at the forefront of their game. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there, because you look to the right, up on a billboard, and you see the Calvin Klein ad with two kids fornicating, wearing a pair of jeans and selling that brand. Sex is a power that is being held in every different part of the world when it comes to trying to sell a brand. A drink. You know, “Drink this vodka with my boobs in your face and you’ll be far more powerful than if you didn’t have this.” It’s like, well, what are you trying to say? I just felt like this is an imbalance in the way in which we are looking at that very sensual, sort of animalistic connection that we all have.