On Dreams and Screens

Ira Lupu

2019 - Ongoing

In 2020, relationships have been rendered increasingly remote, occurring over video calls on the other side of a screen. "On Dreams and Screens” investigates how intimate and real you can get through a web camera, and what emotional patterns are likely to be formed after hours spent in the online fantasy machine. It scrutinizes the liminal space where a real body transitions into a virtual one, and vice versa.

Online webcam models turn out to be experts in the field of screen-based human bonding — their livelihood depends on it. I focused on a group of seven Ukrainian girls in their twenties who have extensive camming experience. I photographed them and talked to them in moments of self-contemplation — in the places of their childhoods, favorite nature spots, and at home. What have they learned? Who are they? What do they have to teach us?

Ultimately, I seek to understand the paradoxical relationship of intimacy and distance, connection and disconnection, in a world newly transformed. As someone who has much experience with long-term, long-distance relationships, these are questions that I have long been asking myself. How do these relationships affect a person’s self-image? How does the virtual gaze seep into our day-to-day existence? Who do we become when we exchange desires over a keyboard?

Eastern Europe is one of the biggest hubs of web models. So additionally, I strived to demystify sex work in my native country, and to provide a more nuanced portrait of my roots. To navigate consent and privacy with careful attention, I was looking for visual strategies to avoid straight portraiture while sustaining an intimate connection with the viewer. All to celebrate the “On Dreams and Screens” girls, who became my dear friends, beyond any fantasies or clichés.

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  • "It was the most inexplicable, magical morning. I worked on a web camera for the whole night. All fatigued, I opened up the window.

    And as if I was tripping, I started perceiving the trees, the people… I saw a kid crying, or a homeless person, and I felt their pain. Probably that was a side effect from bonding with men on the chat for the whole night.

    Then, I decided to take selfies. And I saw some other face. "It's not ME. IT'S SOMEBODY ELSE!". I saw their whole life, and they started crying too."


  • Marina's set is typical for webcamming.

    “Camera makes you look like a movie star. And that's amazing. Camming is like a game for me, where I need to achieve goals and collect bonuses.”


  • Anya with a stranger in a typical Soviet tramcar.

    "Online communication is really different from being with someone in real life. Anytime you feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, you can exit that interaction. You can just click a button and you're gone."


  • A pillow in a hotel room where Alexandra just took a few selfies.

    "Being raised in a religious, conservative family, I was always told that an expression of sexuality was a bad thing. I have this inner shame. But when I started camming, I realized that these things are normal."


  • “It’s a vicious circle. I don’t know how to live in this world because I feel too much.”


  • Anya in a village house in the Carpathian mountains where she lived during childhood.

    “It's a really weird concept because it's pornographic, it's sexual. But a lot of these things often don't even matter. Because people are there to talk to you.”


  • "I consider my clients to be my friends. But I often have nightmares about meeting one of them in real life."


  • Anya smoking in a swimming pool.

    "Believe me, webcam modeling is much more about human bonding than it is about pure sex.”


  • "I’ve always been this tallest girl in the class. I've never felt cute and sexy and had hard time accepting my body. Camming was a way to try to deal with my insecurities and to learn how to interact with males. At some point, I reached a personal breakthrough.

    Now that I’m not camming anymore, I feel some of the long-term, detrimental flip sides. But I’m still happy I got this experience."


  • Painting in a traditional Ukrainian steam bath ("banya") in a Carpathian village house.


  • “The bright side of camming [in my life] is, it allowed me to be accepted. At the age of 15, I spent the first money I earned from camming on simply having a cup of coffee after the dancing class with other girls. It made me so happy.

    On the other hand, camming is a trap I got into because I have been traumatized. It’s not my calling and I’m not enjoying it. But after you get a taste of money, it’s hard to let them go.”


  • Dasha taking a selfie at the salty shore of Kuyalnyk estuary, her favorite place to go for nature walks.

    "The need to stare at yourself for hours while you perform online really shifts your self-perception. Now I find myself meticulously tracking all the tiniest imperfections in my appearance.”


  • Dasha looking away at the top hill of the Kuyalnyk sanatorium. An A+ medical student, she is not very much inspired by online sex work, but it helps her sustain a comfortable lifestyle.

    "The worst part is when you have to pretend you have feelings for someone on the other side of the screen. I hate that."


  • Stripper stiletto heels that Iryna wears for her streams. Camming requires a lot of props to build up your own character over the web camera.

    “If a serial killer kills people, it's part of their personality. If you're showing your pussy for money, it's part of your personality.”


  • Tasha's freshly made tattoo saying: "An analog girl in a digital world".

    “Instead of lying about feelings, I prefer creating a fan base of mentally stable people who understand that it’s your job. You have a connection [with these people] and it’s very sensual, but it has nothing to do with love.

    It’s just very high quality porn. Like a lucid dream: you can control the process of something that’s out of your world, something so beautiful.”


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