Double Exposure: David Rimanelli on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders's XXX

By Rimanelli, David | Artforum International, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Double Exposure: David Rimanelli on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders's XXX


Rimanelli, David, Artforum International


IN 1990, I DID A FEATURE on '80s-era gay-porn idol Jeff Stryker for Interview magazine, where former Artforum editor Ingrid Sischy had recently taken the helm. I had pitched a story on Stryker--and also one on Porsche Lynn, a star of the straight adult-film industry at the time--and the idea was received with considerable enthusiasm. I met Stryker at a West Hollywood bistro. The substance of our conversation, to the extent that I can remember it, was exceedingly banal: Mr. Stryker seemed unwilling or incapable of providing any deep insights into his chosen career, or even some titillating details, although he did chat amiably about his hobby, marine tropical fish tanks. But this lack of eloquence or nuts-and-bolts information scarcely mattered. The premise had always been that pornography was gradually entering the mainstream of American culture. The very fact that Interview was running the story demonstrated this very process, albeit perhaps not in a manner that would satisfy most logicians. The magazine flew Stryker to New York, where the artists McDermott & McGough photographed him to his great advantage in their characteristic blue-tinted, Olde Timey style. Simply by doing a multipage feature on a "famous" porn star, Interview, with its heterogeneous readership and its perpetual focus on the up-and-coming as well as established celebrities of movies, music, and fashion, bestowed, however briefly, the imprimatur of mainstream American pop culture on the star of such flicks as Powertool and Bigger Than Life.

Fourteen years later, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the tremendously successful photographer of presidents, Supreme Court justices, movie and music stars, famous writers, and the full panoply of artists, dealers, and critics who constitute the art world, has turned his large-format 8 X 10 Deardorff camera on the parallel universe of pornographic stardom. In October, Greenfield-Sanders releases XXX, a trifecta of projects--"Triple X, triple venues," he says--devoted to a selection of exemplary stars culled from the realm of adult film: a book of photographic diptychs depicting with candor yet tact thirty porn stars, first in their street clothes and on the facing page, naked; an accompanying exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery; and an HBO documentary, sort of like "Real Sex with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders." He approaches his subjects with the same crisp, unencumbered style he brings to any public figure, be it Madeleine Albright or Monica Lewinsky, Peter Halley or Kenny Scharf, Susan Sontag or Julia Child. Simply put, Greenfield-Sanders is Mainstream par excellence. Having photographed Hillary Clinton, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, George and Barbara Bush, and--the day before I met with him to see a rough cut of the HBO documentary--George W. and Laura Bush, he certainly provides a species of legitimation to the subjects of this latest body of work. And they know it.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Timothy's slumming a bit, going outside his usual purview," says Nina Hartley, a legendary figure in the porn biz, where she has worked steadily for twenty years. "Porn is a huge cultural engine that no one takes seriously. Timothy does. Absolutely, XXX is legitimation." Aside from being one of Greenfield-Sanders's models, Hartley joins Nancy Friday for a conversation in the book, "2 Good Girls Gone Bad," and contributes her own essay, joining a celebrity crew of eroto-penseurs, among them Salman Rushdie, John Malkovich, Wayne Koestenbaum, Francine du Plessix Gray, John Waters, and Karen Finley; Gore Vidal introduces. Hartley also acted in one of the great movies of the 1990s, Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, playing the wife of Little Bill (William H. Macy), humiliating him at every turn with her outrageous, living-the-life extramarital sexual exploits. Certainly many of this movie's fans (me for one) probably didn't know about the mainstay, if not mainstream, of Hartley's filmic endeavors but loved her performance anyway. …

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