At home with April Flores and Carlos Batts
It's about 10,000 degrees in Hollywood, and just under that at their place south of Franklin. They're breaking the rules by letting the dog on the bed for a picture.
Batts, born in Baltimore, started shooting stills for Hustler when he moved west. He is one of the few people I know who work in the adult industry for whom that work is a part-time job. "Carlos Batts" is also his real name, and his other work has appeared in print, in frames, and online all over the world.
And that is where the problem lies. It's one of those good problems that doesn't involve someone losing a kidney or the rent going unpaid.
Is what Carlos Batts and April ("Fatty D") Flores do "porn"?
A little about April and Alter Ego.
Flores is a voluptuous Latina raised in West Covina. She was always comfortable in front of a camera but didn't pose nude until Batts and she hit it off after meeting at a gallery opening in Echo Park in 2000.
"Her skin radiates light," Batts said.
"I thought 'I'm a photographer, I'd like to take your picture' was a pickup line," Flores said, "but I was open to it.
"I thought he gave me the 'I wanna fuck you' look. Turns out he gave me the 'I wanna photograph you' look."
("They're similar," I said.)
They discovered that she worked at the coffeeshop around the corner from his apartment.
"We met in June and I was pretty much living here by September," she said.
They began shooting what would eventually become Alter Ego, a series of vignettes featuring Flores in solo scenes, in wigs and different outfits, with friends, with a pre-op (now post-op) male to female transsexual (there is no dialogue in the movie, but when EK injects Caverjet into his penis he looks off-camera to indicate "it's not as painful as it looks"), and having some snacks.
I assumed Flores was someone with no body image problem at all, but it wasn't that simple.
"I would lose a lot of weight and not be happy," she said. "The decisions to be happy came slowly."
Batts' first book of photography, "Wild Skin" (Edition Reuss, Munich) contained a note from his publisher. "His pictures are direct, wild, erotic and do not seek to flatter," it read. "His models are full of curves and corners."
Batts cuts no corners in presenting playful and loving images of his wife.
Of their first shoot, Flores said, "He said 'I want to put you in a bikini.' Now I'm a big juicy woman. I had a half a second of 'What?' and then I jumped into it. I thought of myself as a bowl of fruit or a piece of clay."
"She's very considerate," Batts said. "Before we go out, she asks me if I want her to smell like marshmallows or cherries."
Can what you do when you're in love be porn? Is it porn when there's commerce involved? Each scene of Alter Ego is lovingly framed, lit, scored, and constructed, but there are women fucking each other with dildos in it.
Sure it's porn, but that doesn't mean it's soulless.
Michael Ninn could have made Alter Ego, or Andrew Blake, but it would have seemed cold. (What would Batts have done with Catherine?)
The question is how to market a series of what appears to be erotic wedding presents Batts and Flores gave to each other. Currently, Alter Ego is for sale on Flores' site.
Batts, having worked in the porn business, is adamant that what they're doing not be lumped in with traditional porn fare.
"Every artist should handle sex, and violence, and humor," Batts said, describing the artist's journey like a medical resident's rotation. "People are doing radical things, but the way we look at art is reductive. We've got iPods but we're still living in 1946."
Flores got to work with Belladonna recently. She's not worried about the categorization so much, though Batts is very concerned about how they are not to be perceived.
"I'm not 'The Black Photographer' and she's not 'The BBW'," Batts said (He had earlier mentioned that BBW-lovers get upset when women are falsely labeled as BBWs. "She needs to put on 50 more pounds," he explained).
"We just hope our passion for life inspires people."