NEW YORK CITY—After a twenty-five year delay, New York photographer Barbara Nitke's "American Ecstasy" series is set for its gallery debut at the One Eyed Jacks Gallery in Brighton, England. The show opens April 4 and will be on view through June 4, 2014—and it's being financed through a Kickstarter campaign.
"I discovered Nitke's work on a photography blog by chance, and it leapt out immediately," said gallery owner Matt Henry. "Not only for its devoutly humanistic approach to such charged subject matter, but also for its perfect attention to lighting, color and composition. Few photographers have the emotional sensibility to draw out a compelling story from the everyday, and the ability to balance those elements in the frame in a way that viscerally entices and enthralls. Barbara Nitke is one of them."
The show derives from Nitke's American Ecstasy book, also financed by a Kickstarter campaign, which was published just over a year ago. The book is a memoir in pictures and words of the twelve years she spent working as a still photographer on New York porn sets throughout the 1980s, just at the end of the Golden Age of Porn.
"We shot real 35mm film and huge movie cameras, unheard of in the business today," Nitke said in an "Artist's Statement" accompanying her Kickstarter campaign. "The shoots lasted anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, with a crew of at least twenty people. A lot of care went into the script, the acting, the lighting, sound, editing—all the aspects of real movie-making. We worked twelve to eighteen hour days, at very low wages, with no overtime pay. Lunch was a loaf of Wonder Bread laid out on a table with a bunch of cold cuts in sweaty white deli paper, followed by pizza for dinner eight or ten hours later. We usually shot in the summer, and then couldn’t run air conditioning because the sound mics would pick up the noise.
"We bitched and complained about the working conditions, but in the end most of us didn’t care," she continued. "We were filled with dreams of our future glory as famous artists, directors and producers—and of course the thrill of our current outlaw status. We were part of an elite corps who shot live sex for a living, in all its natural, dysfunctional glory. We were cool beyond words."
Hailed as "an artist of singular merit" by critic Arthur C. Danto, who wrote the foreword to the book, Nitke concedes that her work is difficult to categorize. Her photographs, while undeniably explicit, reach beyond the sex machine image of the industry to reveal the humanness of the actors.
Often shot between takes when the actor's porn star masks were down, the images are deeply intimate. Semi-naked starlets huddle together between takes, staring out into the distance with combat soldier stares. A director in a baseball hat steps into the frame to give Nina Hartley a few notes on her performance, as the actor underneath her keeps right on going.
Backers of Nitke's Kickstarter campaign will receive discounts on the large sized, limited edition prints offered for sale at the exhibition, as well as discounts on smaller prints and the American Ecstasy book.
To request photos or an interview contact Ms. Nitke here.
Pictured: Ron Jeremy "on the job" in the early 1980s.