Exhibitions, Portrait, Projects

It’s Just Love: Finding beauty and empowerment in the porn industry

Photographer Sophie Ebrard series It’s Just Love offers a beautifully intimate insight into the ubiquitous world of porn.

“Porn has been done before. Porn has been done a number of times,” professes French-born, Amsterdam-based photographer Sophie Ebrard, the featured photographer for Firecracker this month.

“I was very conscious of that, but it was a subject of real interest for me. I was just so passionate, I just wanted to do it, and so that’s how it started”.

Ebrard’s photographic exploration into the polarising, multi-billion dollar industry of porn took four years. She spent the time immersed in the background of high-end pornography sets, the results of which created her evocative new series It’s Just Love.

The resulting images are shocking, but not in a way you might expect. Each image is so soft and subtle, they almost appear mundane.

Ebrard’s photographs exude a graceful stillness and Botticelli-esque quality; she strips away the brash, societal notions the word porn conjures by neutralising and humanising the gaze which usually befall these bodies.

Shooting with a medium-format camera, Ebrard has found a way of focusing on the beauty in the twists and folds of human flesh, and the quiet, intimate and humorous moments that naturally took place away from the performance of sex.

“I had access to an industry that not many had access to, and I wanted to make the most out of it, to really understand it, and I did,” she says. “It was liberating, and the women I met were really empowered.”

The series required Ebrard to step outside her own comfort zone. “A friend recommended to me that we go to a high-end swingers party, to find people to participate in the project,” she says.

“It was my first experience of this kind of thing, I hadn’t seen anything like it, so I was scared and excited,” she explains, unabashed.

“It was not as seedy as I thought it would be, in fact it was reassuring,” she says. “It was the first time I saw someone having sex in front of me. It was not repulsive, but beautiful, I realised how beautiful the human body is, the shapes of the bodies as they entwined. At that moment, I really wanted to have my camera with me”.

A fateful meeting that same evening, with porn director and provocateur Gazzman, gave Ebrard the unique chance to gain unprecedented access to his porn sets, travelling to Los Angeles, Spain and Portugal – and to other, less exotic, locations – to capture the experience.

“The first shoot was in Stoke-on-Trent,” she says. “The first scene I witnessed was a normal, boy and girl scene by the fire. Towards the end of the scene, one of the actors came towards me and greeted me. He gave me his elbow instead of his hand to welcome me to set, from that point on I felt at ease.”

Exhibited to critical acclaim at 2015’s Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam, Ebrard rejected the usual white cube exhibition settings of the festival, instead exhibiting in her own home, where she brought the space to life, decorating it in the style of a decadent, modern day boudoir. Within such a domestic space, she combined audio interviews and custom-matched songs with each of her photographs.

The photographer’s choice to use her home was an easy decision, she says. “You know they say porn never leaves the house, so the exhibition was consumed where porn is consumed,” she says.

“I tried to be there as much as possible for the five days it was shown, because it allowed me to tell stories and jokes, to create a different way of seeing the images.

“I really felt naked in front of people during the exhibition. I wanted to show that I was a woman, someone who had hopefully taste, someone who was a normal person, yet I went on a porn set and saw beauty, and what I experienced is very different from what I had previously imagined.”

Creating such a multi-layered, sensorial experience helped Ebrard to communicate these nuanced views on pornography, often to people who seemed pre-disposed to be negative.  “I wanted people to see and hear people for themselves through my work,” she says.

“I wanted them to hear a girl say ‘I really enjoy what I do for a living!’ Whether you like it or not, I love it – this is a great way of living, I love sex!’

It’s Just Love is far from a radical statement on the porn industry. Yet Ebrard’s ability to transpose the extraordinary to ordinary, to expose society’s harsh pre-conceptions of porn, sex and nudity, allows her to draw attention to the beautiful normalcy of the naked body.

“I’m always trying to look at the beautiful side of things,” she says. “And even in a situation like this where you wouldn’t think you could find beauty, I managed to find it.”

Sophie Ebrard is Firecracker’s featured photographer for March. To see more of her work, go here.

August 2017 Issue:

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