Elyse Butler, Sexual Tension and the Underside of the Porn Business as Art


Drake watches lighting guys set up for the scene she is about to perform in while makeup artist and friend Shelby Stevens caresses her hair comfortingly. Drake says, ‘I will never be in a movie if Shelby isn’t doing my makeup, I just love her.’ All the while, director Armstrong looks on to see if the scene is how he wants it to look., Photo by Elyse Butler.

59th College Photographer of the Year In what is sure to be a controversial decision, Elyse Butler, of the Brooks Institute of Photography, has won the Gold prize in the documentary category for the 2004 College Photographer of the Year competition. Butler’s series of photographs are entitled “Sexual Tension” and explore the underside of the pornography industry through the lens of the still camera.

Similar in style to Larry Sutlan, whose photo series on the porn business “The Valley” went on display at the MOMA in San Francisco earlier this year, Butler has put together hard-edged images of sexuality and human emotion that can rarely be seen in the final product of pornography.

As the relationships between pornography and art, personal expression and victimization, truth and commerce, become redefined, transposed, blurred and manipulated, the term “tension” in the title of Butler’s work seems apropos. And as the connection between camera, photographer and human sexuality can take on drastic and significantly different meanings, Butler does a relatively good job at pulling truth out of something where truth is generally not found.

The cliché “a picture paints a thousand words,” has been horribly overplayed. However, the truth is that good photographers make you feel with their images in ways that text simply cannot. They can be impactful and powerful and make you question the way your world exists. They force examination of justification, compartmentalization and our cultural acceptance. Whether you agree with her work or not, Butler certainly makes you think and pulls this off in her fine series. (Thanks, Boing Boing)

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