Industry photographers like JFK lead lives that frat boys only dream of. They spend their days snapping shots of fellow hedonists doing what they do best. But adult entertainment photography isn't one of the vocations you'll find on high school aptitude tests, or even in the wildest dreams of most young men. And while there seems to be something too decadent or too sacred about receiving payment for the privilege of taking photos of beautiful people in the nude, there are exceptional photographers doing just that in order to feed a thriving adult industry.
Who they are and how they do business may not have been part of any discussion anyone has ever had with guidance councillors, but the mystery of the profession ends here. So do any misconceptions about it being a job handed down from the heavens.
The Daily Grind
"I get up at seven or eight in the morning and then a lot of times I go until two or three the next morning — one steady stream," JFK said, describing his hectic conference schedule. "You have to shoot the parties when they're happening. You can't take time out or you miss something. Sometimes I do 22 hours straight."
JFK almost strictly shoots conference photographs, citing his love of live events and reluctance to deal with the set-up and sirens when shooting content. He started in 1999 taking pictures at shows as a fan, but eventually began posting his work on his site. That's when things really took off. He has shot 39 industry events over the past year, and although he occasionally hires people to shoot events he can't attend himself, he's usually away from home three weekends every month. Despite his busy work schedule, he says that it really hasn't affected his relationship with his wife.
"In September, I was home for six days," JFK said. "We've been married since 1975, so it's not a new thing. I think it may even strengthen the relationship because she has her own space and I have mine. She does all the work. I take the glory."
There has to be a back end that makes this all worthwhile — and there is. JFK is hired by companies to shoot events and, in return, they get their logo attached to the pictures on his site. In the beginning, he charged a dollar a photo, but it was hard to sell the idea to companies beforehand when he had no idea how many shots he'd take until the show was over. Now he's moved to set pricing. Companies will pay around $3,500 per show for photo rights, and sponsorships for larger shows sell out six months in advance. If you've missed the chance to brand with his photos, JFK also offers banner ads on his site for individual conferences starting at around $2,000. Aside from the money, and despite the hardship of working long hours capturing stills while everyone else parties, it's still that initial passion that keeps him working.
"I love the hustle," he said. "Capturing the moment . . . you have one chance to get that shot. I find that exciting — trying to capture the essence of what is happening at a party, people having a great time, making asses of themselves. I just love it."
While a typical Sunday afternoon finds JFK sitting aboard a plane, winging his way home to Toronto from a conference at some foreign destination, back in the city of Los Angeles, a group walks into a local Denny's. They are a motley crowd of porn stars, editors, hangers-on and, of course, a photographer. The photographer with this group is Dr. X. The 39-year-old has been shooting content for 18 years and, after an afternoon of flash bulbs and nakedness, he wants nothing more than a Meat Lover's Special — a slice of honey ham, crispy bacon and a couple of sausages next to hash browns, eggs and three buttermilk pancakes — and the chance to go reflect with his friends on the work they've just shot.
"Denny's is three blocks from my house," Dr. X said. "You come down, in a sense, from shooting. You unwind and you get a better perspective in your head from what you just shot. When we sit down and relax, I get into a better frame for editing."
Consider the meal a brief reprise for a man who is something like the James Brown of adult entertainment — the Hardest-Working Man in Porn. Dr. X knows the photography game is all about hustle and hard work. While he admits he's not the greatest photographer in the world, through sheer diligence and volume, he always manages to get great shots, even if it takes seemingly endless hours. You can't walk the red carpet at an industry party without crossing his path. And whatever he shoots in a week, from the previous Monday up until Sunday afternoon, must be filed, edited, labeled and posted for print publications by the following day. Like JFK, Dr. X also has his beefs with his chosen career, but they're not about the long hours spent at work.
Killing The Burnout
"For business, it's important for me to keep the initial enthusiasm [for] why we do what we do," Dr. X said. "We all go through phases of burnout. There are times when I think I have the world's coolest job. Then there are times when I don't."
One of those times included a recent moment during which there was too much confusion at the event to do a good job. Other than occasions like that, Dr. X says he loves what he does. He's in the process of getting his agency, EMMAgency.com, off the ground. Webmasters won't find any set prices for his photographs on the site, though, as prices vary based on circulation, traffic, photo size and how the photo is being used.
One photographer whose shots you probably won't be able to buy is Michael B. His official title is director of operations for Klixxx Magazine, but he started shooting in adult 13 years ago while working for Playtime Magazine, an adult publication based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Unlike Dr. X and JFK, his primary job involves more than snapping shots. Klixxx covers the online adult industry and publishes monthly, so Michael may spend as little as five days each month dealing with photography. The rest of his time is devoted to sales and other areas of the business.
"I never wanted to be just a photographer," Michael said. "I just never felt that would be my forte, so I've always been on both sides of the adult magazine business."
Michael says that he prefers the regular pay of working with the magazine instead of the uncertain nature of working for himself. He enjoys shooting webmaster events for the company, but even they have their downsides, such as when people get angry after their pictures are printed or posted. He says that happens rarely these days and it's certainly much better then when he was shooting content.
"When I was with Playtime, I'd go into a strip club to take pictures and half the girls wouldn't want to have their picture taken," Michael said. "The other hard part for me is after taking the pictures, taking them to the person. You get a little nervous when you go up to show them the pictures in case they don't like any."
These photographers say they love what they do. It's a career that keeps them in the center of the action in an industry they're passionate about. And although not every shoot is as perfect or any day as easy as it could ideally be, there is an understanding that each man shares about the work they do.
"My background is blue collar, middle-class people, but I understand the value of a dollar and I understand what work is," said Dr X. "Whatever bitching we do, we are some of the luckiest people you'll ever meet in your life."