A new generation of DIY pornographers armed with phones and webcams is creating porn by the people, for the people.
In December, the Keyhole Sessions, Toronto’s sexy life-drawing class, packed up its easel, threw a fur coat over its scantily clad models, and vanished into the night. All that’s left after three years of charcoal-stained debauchery is a lot of naughty pictures and some horny artists with too much time on their hands. But Sonya JF Barnett, the self-described “madame” who ran the classes, has popped up again, and this time, she’s getting a bit more hardcore.
Barnett spent three days this winter behind the camera (or, rather, an iPhone), shooting her own porno in a rented studio near Adelaide and John. It’s the kind of low-budget, DIY sex film that’s currently putting a frown on the botoxed faces of the fake-tan and fake-tits brigade in L.A.
Called Because I Want You to Watch, it contains only a single model, Nymph, who wanders in off the street and settles down for a quick spot of masturbation. By the end of the five-minute flick, she’s given herself a series of orgasms. Barnett has only released a teaser trailer so far, and it amply exhibits the “alternative” aesthetic familiar to anyone who’s been to her Keyhole Sessions. (Nymph is a lady who likes her piercings and tattoos.)
“My idea of porn, essentially, is shooting a high-end music video that has sex in it,” says Barnett. To that end, she’s currently negotiating the rights to a suitably thumping soundtrack to accompany Nymph’s performance, and hopes to enter the film into the Feminist Porn Awards. She’s also planning to make it, and an upcoming series of films, available to the viewing public online, for about three to five bucks a pop.
On their own, a couple of women in a Toronto warehouse praying for a break in the clouds because they don’t have any set lighting will hardly bring down the multi-billion-dollar mainstream porn industry. But Barnett is surfing a much bigger wave of gonzo-style production. These new pornographers are armed with cheap cameras or smartphones, and are fuelled, variously, by indignation at the porn industry’s perceived abuses, or a burning desire to show their naughty bits to the world.
Mainstream porn, meanwhile, is facing dark days. Reliable sales figures are rarer than pubic hair in the industry, but Forbes puts annual revenues in the US$4 billion range, while a 1998 study came in around US$10 billion. But almost everyone agrees that sales of adult DVDs and printed products are on the decline. Dave Cummings, a 72-year-old porn-industry veteran, guesstimated to the Huffington Post in January that 80 per cent of porn companies that existed five years ago are gone or in trouble. In 2011, Time Warner reported that declining sales of video-on-demand porn titles were hurting its bottom line.
Of course, all fingers point in the direction of the internet. From dudes stroking their egos on guyswithiphones.com to people stroking anything they can get their hands on at XTube, there’s no shortage of free porn online. The general consensus is that if free news doomed the newspaper industry, then free porn must be wreaking seven kinds of havoc in the adult-entertainment world. That’s probably true, but there’s also an increasingly common argument that says the big studios are in trouble because their product is crummy.
“Everything about conventional porn is distracting,” says Barnett, rattling off a list of her bête noires: bad lighting, crappy sets, guys wearing weird-coloured socks. “They don’t consider the actual theme. They’re just shooting the sex; they don’t consider the art around it,” she says.
Worse still, hardcore porn is taking heat for declining standards in real-world bedrooms. According to Cindy Gallop, Oxford graduate, self-proclaimed cougar, and founder of the website makelovenotporn.tv, many young guys have lousy technique because “they believe what you see in hardcore pornography is the way you have sex.” MLNP allows users to upload vids of what they get up to in their real-world bedrooms. For those in doubt, there’s a reference section comparing the porno world (girls love cum on their faces, being called “bitch,” and anal sex) with the real world (for the love of God, ask first).
The staff at MLNP select the videos from those submitted, charge $5 a pop to rent them, and then split the proceeds 50/50 with the maker. It’s a radical model in what has traditionally been a top-down industry, and has the capacity to do for porn what self-publishing did for upcoming authors—except with boners. And the best thing? There’s no time for crappy dialogue. As Barnett puts it, “Online, people’s attention spans are short.”