LOS ANGELES — Deborah Anderson is hardly the first high-profile photographer to make art photos of porn stars. But, she asserts, with "Aroused: The Lost Sensuality of a Woman," she’s doing something different and unique.
The British lenswoman is renowned for her fashion and celebrity photos — they’ve appeared in high-end publications from Vanity Fair to Playboy — and no stranger to eroticism. (One critic opined that her “distinctive sensuality is located somewhere between classic French erotica and Helmut Newton.”)
She says that with "Aroused," she’s attempting to recover a sensuality that’s been lost in the blatantly sexualized images of pop culture, including porn. Her aim is to provide some “insight into the interior lives of the most sexualized women on the planet.”
"Aroused," featuring 15 porn stars, will have three incarnations: a fine-art coffee-table book (Anderson’s third), a documentary film about its creation, and a gallery show in various art capitals, including Los Angeles.
Right now she’s immersed in her job, working in a small, comfortable house tucked away in the hills above Sunset Blvd. The living room holds a makeup chair where porn legend Francesca Le, her hair in rollers, is being fussed over by a makeup artist and hair stylist. They giggle and gossip like old girlfriends.
Francesca is the ninth woman to be photographed. “Mike called me and talked me into it,” she says, “and I’m so glad I did it. The people here are wonderful.”
Mike would be industry veteran Mike Moz, the project’s executive producer, who chose the subjects and got them to participate. So far, besides Le, they are Teagan Presley, Belladonna, Lisa Ann, Lexi Belle, Tanya Tate, Misty Stone, Allie Haze, Asphyxia Noir, Ash Hollywood and April O’Neil. Kayden Kross and Katsuni are also scheduled with two more still pending.
Anderson is elegant, attractive, articulate (crisp Brit accent), and very friendly. One can sense the rapport she has with her subjects. Between sips of tea, she speaks eagerly about the project.
“Porn girls don’t always have a chance to control how they look on camera. They have no choice about who creates their images. ” She wants to give them a chance to “live in my high fashion world. I want to take the mask away, humanize them, see past the stage names, have them be truly beautiful.”
All the women appear naked except for a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes in fluorescent colors with perilously high heels. They are in fact the highest non-platform-shoes (120mm) the iconic shoemaker has made and are not yet on sale. They were given to Anderson by company co-founder Tamara Mellon, a friend, who “loved” the idea of the project.
The girls’ flesh tones, she said, “are very pale, but the shoe is very bright.”
As well as photographing the girls she talks to them about their lives, careers, aspirations. A film crew documents everything. The interviews have offered some surprises. “The ones who said they didn’t want to talk couldn’t stop talking. Often they would reveal something they’ve never revealed before.”
She’s been touched by her subjects’ reactions. “They look at the pictures, they’re moved. They don’t always get seen in that light. Lexi Belle called Mike Moz and said, ‘Thank you. This is the first time I left a set and I felt like a woman. Thank you for Deborah.’ That meant a lot to me.”
Above all, she was impressed with the women who sat for her. “Ultimately they are great women, they are the girls at the top of their game. They are smart and sexy — money-savvy successful businesswomen who love what they do.
“It has given me incredible insight into the world of pornography.”
When Anderson is called away to prepare for shooting I spend some time with Francesca, who is happily fielding questions about the porn industry that keep pouring out of the makeup and hair stylists: the mechanics of double penetration, the pay scale for interracial sex scenes, and — the most crucial — the best way to enjoy anal sex (“Use a Hibachi on your clit, it helps relax you”).
It would seem that Anderson isn’t the only worker on the Aroused Project who’s gaining an insight into porn.
Photo of Deborah Anderson (left) on the set with Francesca Le by Heather Burgett.