Changing the Preconceptions of Pornography

"Somewhat strangely, porn is ahead of the moral standoff: it’s completely open about what it does and, whether you agree with it or not, it’s actually creating something." French photographer Sophie Ebrard questions the perception of porn, finding only love and beauty.

© Sophie Ebrard, from the series It's Just Love

Sophie Ebrard followed an internationally known porn director, Gazzman, for a four year period around the world on his movie sets. It's Just Love is a photographic journey that encompasses and portrays the human relations in the sex industry - it looks to humanise the actors before the camera and offer a window into the softer side of an industry still surrounded by taboos and prejudices.

What drew you to this project? How did you meet Gazzman, a porn director?

A year into being a photographer, I decided to push my boundaries and try to access the world of porn, sexuality and nudity. Most of the people I was photographing back then were my immediate family or friends, and I didn’t feel like asking them to be shot naked! So I went to a swingers party in the hope of finding candidates.

That night was a real eye opener. It was the first time I was seeing people having sex in front of my eyes and I just I found it utterly fascinating and beautiful. As it was fate, I met Gazzman, a famous, high-end porn director. We talked about cameras, instantly clicked and then I got an invitation that was too good to refuse. Two weeks later, I was on a porn set in Stoke on Trent, in the UK. That’s how the project It’s Just Love was born.

How did you decide on the title, It's Just Love?

It’s always been funny the reaction people have when I tell them that I’ve been shooting on porn sets. People immediately think it’s disgusting or seedy, when in fact my experience was very different. I discovered a world that is very professional and human; I made friends along the way. And I felt that there was a lot of love in the making.

It’s Just Love came from that understanding, but in fact, it’s just an industry like any other, and that it’s really just about love. It’s Just Love is not about making a statement about porn. I’m not here to judge. I’m just here to say that when it’s done properly, porn can be beautiful and I have found beauty in it.

© Sophie Ebrard, from the series Its Just Love

You photographed several unguarded moments, such as the ironing of shirts, the polishing of nails etc. why is that?

When you shoot personal projects, it’s the only time when you don’t have to “get the shot” as you do when you shoot for a brand or a magazine. You can just wander around and see if you like the moment before deciding to shoot. You can decide not to shoot for an entire day if you don’t feel like it or can’t find anything that you like.

Personal work is quite liberating. It’s good for your soul, it’s really what defines you. So to answer your question, I did not have any pre-conceived idea of what I wanted to shoot before going on these sets. I just wanted to experience the moment. When I shot an image it was mainly because it was resonating with me. Something that I saw that was either beautiful, funny, or touching. All these images that you mentioned are one of these feelings. That’s who I am.

I like finding beauty in mundane places, capturing the beauty in people and if there is a touch of humor, I’m happy. Most of my work has these 3 elements. Not only the It’s Just Love series. For example, when I was on set, I was trying to express the life I witnessed; far away from the pre-conceived idea of the industry. My images are not set up. It’s all about anticipation and understanding of what’s going to happen next in front of your camera in order to press the shutter at the exact right time.

Were you aiming to change people’s perception of the porn industry?

I guess I wanted to humanise the individuals in front of the lens and show a lighter side of the industry. I wanted to catch unguarded and human moments. An interaction between a number of like-minded people; a means to making a living and an enjoyable profession just like any other. It always struck me that pornography is the largest and most profitable market in the world today. However, the industry and its works are still subject to widespread scrutiny and taboo. Somewhat strangely, porn is ahead of the moral standoff: it’s completely open about what it does and, whether you agree with it or not, it’s actually creating something.

© Sophie Ebrard, from the series Its Just Love

Several of the locations seem to look like very classical environments. Can you talk about where the films were shot?

The films were shot in the US, UK (Scotland and Wales), Portugal and Spain.

I feel very fortunate to have met Gazzman and to have been able to follow him on his sets as they are most of the time quite glamorous. The production usually rents out a big house. Gazzman and his girlfriend shoot a few films in a few days.

My best experience was in Inverness. I just loved the house and one of the actresses was so gorgeous she is in most of my images.

How long did you spend on each film set?

So a total of 6 different trips, and I stayed on an average 4 to 5 days each time, sharing rooms with the actresses. I feel very privileged to have had access to such a closed world. That’s the beauty of being a photographer. You can choose the worlds you want to immerse yourself in.

Were any of the moments posed? 

I never meant to set up any image. It’s pure documentary. That’s the beauty of it. When the moment is gone, you can’t replicate it.

© Sophie Ebrard, from the series Its Just Love

I understand you exhibited your project in your apartment in Amsterdam. How did that come about?

The work was exhibited during Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam this past September. It was curated by Roderick van der Lee, co-founder and board member of the Unseen Photo Fair. From the beginning, it did not feel right to exhibit the work in a blank space. I wanted the exhibition to be more of an experience. And I didn’t want the images to shock in any way.

My house felt like the perfect setting for the exhibition as it was minutes away from the main festival fair, and it had all the qualities to make it into something special. An open space right on the street, with wooden floor and a lot of character.

The only thing is that I had to move out! I worked with Gina Geoghegan, a Swedish Art Director based in London to create a “French boudoir” feel. We repainted, re-decorated the entire space, we even added some walls and curtains. We also added sound, music, moving image, and smell…It was an entire experience. I believe people were grateful to know me a bit more and feel that they were witnessing something special being in the photographer’s house.

Porn never leaves the house - it is mostly consumed at home, which made it the ideal location for the exhibition.

What’s next for It’s Just Love?

The exhibition will tour from April this year. It’s now going to Kyoto as part of KG+. With my experience from the previous exhibitions and this one, I have now created a sort of tool-box that can travel all around the world. It contains all the furniture, wallpaper, objects (including the stuffed animals) that created the exhibition and made it the experience it was. So, if a small gallery from Mexico, Peru or China wants to exhibit the work, they can get in touch directly!

I now would like the exhibition to travel to unexpected places (not necessarily big cities like New York and Los Angeles) and get the world to talk about it.

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To learn more about It's Just Love, visit Sophie's PHmuseum profile.

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Born in the French Alps, Sophie is a self-taught photographer and director. She started her career in the bright lights of advertising. Ten years later, and with a fairly impressive job title to her name, she took the bold leap to leave it behind and follow her love for photography instead. Sophie’s first solo exhibition was at the renowned Unseen Photo Fair during 2015 in Amsterdam attracting a lot of press and setting her work internationally. Most recently, her work was exhibited as part of the Taylor Wessing Portrait prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

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