"For me, women are the most interesting and rewarding subjects to shoot. I truly believe that sexuality is engrained in every aspect of our lives, every decision we make. So it makes sense that I should work with something so fundamental and important."
That's Ashley Fontenot, the L.A. photographer Canada's cable show SexTV noted as "garnering wide acclaim for her intimate and fetishistic digital photographs" in an August 2003 broadcast.
Fontenot became involved in the adult industry around 2000, which she also identifies as "the first time I picked up a camera."
"Originally, I never started out shooting what I am now," Fontenot reveals. "But over time, I began to fine-tune what I was shooting and figure out what it was that I wanted to shoot. That, of course, was partially clothed, beautiful girls."
Fontenot's never had any formal training, but has learned from experience - as is deliciously obvious from her sites, AshleyFontenot.com, a personal project and a pay site; RedRoomMedia.com, a content site; and Fetish Exposures, "a kinky site for perverted people."
"I shoot as much as I can," she says. "Sometimes people ask why I shoot so much... but I can't imagine not shooting all the time. It's just what I do."
As far as Fontenot's gravitation toward cyberporn, she says, "The adult industry has always felt like home to me. I can shoot what I want without being judged, and you get to meet some pretty interesting characters." Of course, the adult Internet industry is not without its hazards, and she recognizes that. "Instability within the industry makes me nervous, but I don't think I'm alone. We work on somewhat of a fringe, hoping that we don't get cut off. For example, the Visa debacle - that's a mess. Like many other Webmasters, I worry that other companies will follow suit... or perhaps something will be ruled obscene.
"It's ironic that an industry that is so strong financially is also one of the most fragile, depending upon the whims of a few."
Cross-marketing, guerrilla marketing and promoting herself in alternative formats has also been a Fontenot forte, and is contributing to the artist's success. She credits a very open approach for this: "Everything has been a work in progress for me. I'm always several steps ahead of myself in terms of ideas to try and things to do. In hindsight, all of this looks logical and simple. However, the truth is that everything was - and is - trial and error. I tried to not listen to advice that people would give me or follow the standard rules of doing things. Pretty much everything has been grassroots networking for me. And I've become aware that in addition to my photos, I am a part of the product that I've created. Now it's getting to the point where I am expanding in several directions, and so I've been looking at larger successful companies to see what they're doing and how they handle structure and growth as well as the services they offer their customers."
From this stems her advice to people starting out: "One: Don't listen to other people's opinions, listen to your heart. Two: Don't follow the 'How to be a Webmaster and Make Money Fast!' crowd. It's too saturated; distinguish yourself from the heard. Three: Define what it is that you're trying to accomplish, do your research, and then make your marketing plan the most obvious one. Four: Don't give up. Five: Don't burn bridges."
Though her work is patently eye-catching, the artist herself finds it difficult to pin down exactly what makes an Ashley Fontenot image.
"My lighting style is very unique in that I tend to overexpose the girls slightly, which gives them a seemingly flawless complexion. The pictures are high-gloss, but at the same time, they're imperfect, which gives them an accessible feel. I don't give the models much direction, so the poses are more natural. The colors are tweaked a certain way so that they feel slightly surreal.
"I like to think it's how I remember things instead of what they really looked like when they happened. The models I select are based on my personal taste rather than some type of 'niche.' I shoot Goth girls, fetish models, centerfolds, porn stars, ethnic girls, tattooed girls, as well as the girl next door. I find them all beautiful in their own unique way. I also dress the models I shoot - so again, my personal taste is evident in the photos. Lingerie, stockings, rubber - *drool*."
The most challenging thing for Fontenot about doing her work is "walking the fine line between making art and making money." She says she's aware that this is a capitalist society, and that in order to shoot as much as she does and afford things - "like my studio, wardrobe, Website costs and equipment" - she has to subscribe to certain consumerist standards, that perhaps aren't as genuine to her. "Some artists probably would consider this selling out," she says. "I prefer to call it financing my dreams. I've been called a snob for not making certain sacrifices in my vision in order to make a buck. As long as my work can sustain itself and continue to grow, I'll be a happy camper."
Relinquishing control of her creations is also a sticking point for the Imageress. "I've recently had to hire a Webmaster and a PR rep... I also have an assistant on a great deal of my shoots now. This has been a one-girl operation thus far - it's my life - but it's getting 'too big for my britches,' as they say."
Being published more widely in magazines and producing a book are on the event horizon for Fontenot, and on the sites side, "I've just started adding video and am updating [AshleyFontenot.com] on a daily basis now." She says she intends a dramatic site expansion, but right now, the details are "top secret.
"RedRoomMedia.com is now offering video, and I'm anticipating a complete overhaul of the site with a more intuitive navigation system and shopping cart," Fontenot adds.
She's also involved with the network hub/support system Women In Adult as their creative director. "WIA is a great place for professional women in the adult industry to meet other women and network. I would advise all women to get involved and join," she enthuses. "We hold regular networking events to empower and support women in the industry."
In her early 20s, the photographer has already accumulated the wisdom of an industry vet, and says that at the end of the day, " you can never take yourself too seriously - especially in this industry!
"I respect my work a great deal, but I also know that people wouldn't be joining my site if it had bunnies and flowers on it. It's an adult pay site - men wank off to my photos - and so, I can afford to buy panties for my models. It's pretty neat.
"I've learned to find humor in what I do."