LONG EXPOSURE

LONG EXPOSURE

Scot Sothern reflects on a lifetime behind the lens in America's underbelly

Scot Sothern

Tracing a dude like Scot Sothern‘s personal history can be a little challenging. At first glance, the most prominent points on the timeline seem oddly scattered–thematically, geographically, and temporally, across a good five or six decades. Sifting through his greatest hits, you’ll find cults in middle America and disappearing tribes in the Middle East. His series of vintage photo essays on Vice finds him draft dodging during ‘Nam in Kansas City, tripping in the San Gabriel Valley with blood-drinking Satanists, and drunkenly wandering the streets of 1980s Cairo. There are too many stories to count, and very few don’t involve either sex or substances. When I asked Scot to piece it all together for me, it felt almost like a gonzo Forrest Gump–if Forrest Gump had been really into taking pictures of hookers.

Sothern spent a solid block of time in the ’80s exploring the seedy underbelly of Southern California, meeting and photographing the sex workers who called it home. Scot’s work from that era was collected and published in 2011’s Lowlife, and through the Vice ecosystem, found the audience it always deserved; the book, along with a handful of solo exhibitions, reprsented a high water mark for exposure in Sothern’s career. But to look at his journey through the prism of any one project is more than a little reductive. A half century spent as a freelance shooter and hedonist have left Sothern with a body of work that’s expansive, fearless and occasionally brutal in its honesty. To put it mildly, he’s seen some things.

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SOFT SHOCK

Melbourne-based illustrator Susanna Rose Sykes makes feelings fun

Susanna Rose Sykes

In the deep, dark depths of the Instagram world, hidden in the cracks between morning Starbucks selfies and gym mirror shots, there exists a contrasting, authentic world of actual art. Though we know all too well by now that the internet is making us both more informed and more isolated (blah blah) it would appear that this paradigm works out well for artists and art fans alike. Today, young, even mildly tech-savvy creatives can enjoy their characteristically emo solitude while employing the good old IG to effortlessly share their work and process with the masses. That’s where, under piles of red-eyed bottle service snapshots, religious memes, and endless ego, I found Susanna Sykes. The 3-by-infinity digital grid revealed a pastel toned world of fruit, tears, and titties – and with just a couple scrolls and double taps, I was hooked.

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LOVE IN THE MODERN AGE

LOVE IN THE MODERN AGE

Spike Jonze's Her and how technology shapes our relationships

Spike Jonze

So Spike Jonze is, and will always be, the fucking man for resume reasons that are kinda beyond listing. But for the purposes of this conversation, he played a founding role in Jackass, and his latest masterpiece Her is a beautiful love story that casts our collective relationship with technology in a light that’s maybe creepy and fucked up and sinister, and maybe genuinely optimistic, depending on where you’re sitting. Personally I’m a little more in the camp that says it doesn’t need to “say” what it’s saying. Jonze will tell you, “It says what I wanted it to say,” which is a good way to preface this video since, basically, it’s a great conversation piece.

Lance Bangs, Jonze’s colleague and the lead shooter on the Jackass movies (he pukes a lot in them), is also the man. And in this 15-minute doc, Love in the Modern Age, he consults a few more of his famous and interesting buddies on love, using the film as a jumping off point. The question: what exactly does love mean in the modern world? Personally, I’m thoroughly confused about my own answers to that impossibly broad question. But watching the kind of answers it pulls out of folks like James Murphy and Marc Maron is totally worth watching. Peep the doc below.

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AN ALTERNATE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY IN CLUB CULTURE

AN ALTERNATE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY IN CLUB CULTURE

A timely exploration of the queer roots of dance music culture

Resident Advisor

“If the roots of electronic music are so sexually diverse, why do today’s audiences need to be reminded of it? Have we forgotten about the queer nightlife worlds of the ’70s and ’80s?” It’s this question that inspires Resident Advisor’s recent sprawling editorial, “An Alternate History of Sexuality in Club Culture.” In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I hit an “electronic” festival or a rave, but given the contemporary bro-step climate I catch glimpses of, it’s easy to see why a piece like this might feel necessary.

Taking the Howard Zinn approach to key movements in the history of dance music, RA’s Luis Manuel Garcia traces from New York discos, to Chicago House, to Detroit Techno, to UK’s ’90s rave scene, all the way up to the present, acknowledging the role of queer and trans folks of all stripes played in shaping each of these subcultures. In doing so, Garcia consults a wide cast of characters and voices, . There’s even a piece on our good friends behind Rhonda in LA.

Honestly, this kind of broad-reaching retrospective is valuable for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there’s the cultural history angle. But for anybody looking dig a little deeper into the massively rich and varied history of dance music, it’s a solid primer. Below are a few dope excerpts, via Resident Advisor.

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SAFE SEX BANG

SAFE SEX BANG

Buzz Bense's safe sex archive documents creative communication that saved lives and fought fear

Safe Sex Bang

“These posters do more than chart the tragedy of an epidemic, of an outsider community reeling from grief, loss, and the decimation of a blooming culture of sexual liberation. The history of these posters is a story of a fight against stigma, hatred and ignorance; of a community stepping up to take care of its own; of finding a way to extinguish fear and build pride and self-esteem; and of devoted efforts of committed activists to communicate a path to health and survival.”

– Buzz Bense

It’s rare these days to find examples of art with a real sense of urgency. Looking back on propaganda posters about WWII scrap metal drives or Rosie the Riveter, it’s easy to lump them in with cutesy kitsch items, rather than thinking about the circumstances that led to their creation. In reality, we’re not too far removed from an era where posters were a vital, necessary form of communication, a pop art form that harnessed the power of good design with the deliberate goal of inspiring action.

In the wake of the devastation brought about by the AIDS epidemic, materials began to circulate that communicated the nature of the threat, and the most effective methods of prevention. Forward thinking creatives applied their craft with purpose, from art-world luminaries like Keith Haring, to advertising professionals, to everyday educators and community organizers. Over time, Buzz Bense made a habit of collecting and preserving those materials for educational purposes, and today his collection stands as a powerful document of an era, in the gay community and elsewhere, when creativity was applied to save lives.

For the last two years, Buzz’s collection has been housed at the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, and starting this Friday, it’ll be on display both in the CSC gallery, and in their inaugural exhibition catalog.

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THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE

Erin M. Riley's woven nudes take it there and beyond

Erin M. Riley

In the age of the Instagram-filtered selfie, artist Erin M. Riley aims to provide a new lens on the trending phenomenon–by reproducing said images as loom-woven tapestries. After happening upon weaving while in art school, Riley cultivated a style all her own in an underpopulated medium. Erin has explained the subject matter of her work as the kind of images you might see through Snapchat, or the type you might delete after a hookup. In a recent interview with Arrested Motion she explains, “I try to take pictures of the condoms after I have sex, the pictures I send to people, pictures of tables at parties, substances and liquids that change the course of events.” Riley notes that the act of weaving allows for moments to become permanent, when they might otherwise be disregarded or shamefully deleted.

Arguably the most intriguing element of Riley’s work is the contrast between subject and medium. While tapestry weavings tend to be associated more with blankets, rugs, and grandmas, Riley allows for these associations to compound meaning in her work. “Tapestry allows images to be given more time, for hookups to gel, for mistakes to be thought over, it’s a way to over-analyze every detail.” And she’s absolutely right. Looking over her work, it’s hard not to become entranced when considering the time she had to have dedicated to every stitch, hunched over a loom to produce a crotch shot or a Hello Kitty glass pipe. With these pieces the Philly-based artist effortlessly opens up the opportunity for dense and meaningful dialogue surrounding the provocative content of her work. Or you can just sit back in awe or giggle. Either way, these tapestries are worth a look. Check out some of her pieces below or check here for her full collection.

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CUTIE & THE BOXER

CUTIE & THE BOXER

Meditations on love and creative partnerships, through the lens of an extraordinary pair of artists

Cutie and the Boxer

Because I even half-assedly wear the title of an artist, Cutie & the Boxer hits pretty close to home. Just peep dude’s face at 1:06 in the trailer above. Artist Ushio Shinohara, an otherwise boastful and confident adult, stands splattered in paint, hands on hips, with the defensive face of a guilt-ridden child, crushed in the wake of his wife’s honest critique. I’d say I’ve been there. And I think anyone invested in creative work has. We wouldn’t be able to produce what we do without the support of those around us, but they can be some pretty difficult critics too. Even when people I love and respect the most are only trying to help inspire me through my painter’s-block or calm my approaching-deadline-induced panic, I often can’t help but feel that the creative struggle is only my own. That I’m an artist…and yes, perhaps from time to time, I am a bit sensitive about my shit. As I create, like Ushio, I joke and jab and passive-aggressively or aggressive-aggressively push my loved ones away. Because something about making art to be hung, judged, hated, loved, purchased, or traumatically disregarded is fucking brutal. And sometimes, tragically, relationships suffer in that process.

Director Zachary Heinzerling’s 2013 documentary, Cutie & the Boxer, positions itself within this very space – between lovers and their art. The story follows Japanese artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko living in New York, with 40 years of marriage and two extensive art careers under their belts. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Ushio’s Neo-Dada-pop creations made him a fixture of both the Japanese art world and Andy Warhol’s New York. At 80 though, he’s now struggling to reclaim that stride alongside Noriko, nearly 20 years his junior, whose role as wife and assistant has taken a toll on her personal identity as an artist. The film is a profoundly intimate journey into the lives of Ushio and Noriko as lovers and artists working to navigate their marriage and careers after decades of ups and downs. Cutie & the Boxer is currently playing in select cities and I seriously encourage you to go see it. Love lessons, life lessons, art lessons, and these sick paintings involving a tiny old man throwing bows at a canvas. For more information about the film, check here, and for a brief look into Ushio and Noriko’s creative life, hit the MORE.

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ALL IMPERFECT THINGS

ALL IMPERFECT THINGS

Humanizing "crime" through Pep Bonet's photographic portraits of Brazilian Transexuals

Bonet

Last month, a Texas jury acquitted a man who murdered a sex-withholding prostitute under the state’s law that allows its citizens to exert deadly force in the event of stolen property. And at this point, I’m surprised this stuff even surprises me anymore. The practice of denying criminalized Americans justice or even basic civil rights has become the rule, rather than the exception. Through a handful of current high-profile cases, the nation has divided itself based on their perceptions of those killed; murdered criminals vs. murdered persons who so happen to have been, or are alleged to have been, committing a crime. Our ‘War on Crime’ appears to have very literally manifested itself in the American courtroom where killing someone doesn’t send you to jail if you can prove that that someone was breaking the law.

When it comes to prostitution, things get really messy. The criminal status assigned to sex-workers in the U.S. allows for their grievous mistreatment by civilians and police alike. Reported acts of violence against sex-workers by their Johns are overwhelmingly dismissed by authorities, and violence inflicted by policemen themselves is even more prevalent. To think that this marginalized population is small and limited to street corners in dark downtown districts is a myth, as only an estimated 20% of our country’s sex-workers engage in “street prostitution” while the other 80% work via brothel, escort agency, solo hustle, etc. In fact, you probably know a handful of people who have accepted money in exchange for sex. And yet our collective stigmatization of sex workers directly contributes to their criminalization and thus the vulnerability they face in both their practice and the eyes of the law – a particularly troubling consequence when considering that the lines of ‘prostitution’ are as grey as an overcast sky hovering above 14th and International (See: gold diggers, sugar babies, groupies).

To offer a humanizing look into the faces of sex-work and sex-entertainment, I offer Pep Bonet’s photography of Brazil’s transexual community. Here, an obviously and unfairly marginalized population who are finding sex-work in those margins serves as the central focus of Bonet’s photo series, entitled “All Imperfect Things”. Bonet captures moments on black and white film with an intimacy that frees his subjects from the grandiose judgments that contribute to their personal and institutionalized oppression – replacing the ‘criminal’ with the actual, individual person. You can view the entire collection and more of Bonet’s incredible photography work here, on his personal website.

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PEOPLE WHO JUST HAD SEX

PEOPLE WHO JUST HAD SEX

Vice ventures inside the bedroom of lovers for some one of a kind interviews

Spider

You’ve gotta give it to VICE, they’re going pretty hard right now. Having reached 2,000,000 subscribers to their Youtube channel in May, with a celebrated HBO collab having just wrapped up its first season, I think it’s safe to say that VICE is (or getting close to) running shit. Someone had to rise in the fall of traditional media right?

I’m gonna get off their jock one time though and focus on the topic at hand. Have you heard of People Who Just Had Sex? You’d think it might be a photo series, or a documentary maybe, but really it’s an ongoing series that Vice initiated sometime last year. With the simple tag line of “Casual conversations about fucking with people who just fucked each other…” the Vice editorial team ventures into the homes of various couples, interviewing them right after they copulate. It’s kinda tight, but a lil’ uncomfortable, but kinda tight.

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LOVERS & FRIENDS

LOVERS & FRIENDS

The Fairoaks Project paints an unforgettable portrait of San Francisco's storied gay bath house scene

The Fairoaks Project

Part of me feels like they can tell us, but we’ll never quite understand. Maybe you just had to be there. As much as I’ve been told, and as much as the ’60s and ’70s have served as a boundless reservoir of inspiration for me, there’s still something elusive about it all. The sense of freedom, and exploration, and radical imagination that defined those decades is something our generation, and others, have tried to recapture, but could never really duplicate. There’s something about a photograph though–whether taken for artistic or documentary purposes, or just as a memento of a moment someone wanted to hold onto–that can communicate a feeling instantly, across decades.

I’d imagine Gary Freeman felt that pretty powerfully when his longtime friend Frank Melleno pulled down a dusty cardboard shoebox, and started to thumb through the treasure trove of Polaroids that would become The Fairoaks Project. In 1978, Frank, fresh off an adventure in Alaska, had found a gig as the night manager at The Fairoaks Baths in San Francisco. Owned and operated by a gay commune, The Fairoaks was known in the late ’70s as a hub for sexual liberation and experimentation, but also close-knit community. Unlike most gay bath houses at the time, also, The Fairoaks was situated on the edge of a largely black neighborhood, and welcomed a steady influx of young gay men who reflected back the city’s rich diversity. It was a place to stay, to find support, to find friends and to indulge. Openness, unabashed sexuality, interracial love, friendship, fucking and LSD: it would be hard to imagine another place so broadly embelematic of the progressive ideals that defined San Francisco during the ’70s. Fortunately, Frank found himself at the center of it all, with a Polaroid camera in hand.

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Fuck Yeah Namio Harukawa

Fuck Yeah Namio Harukawa

Some feelings about rape and "femdom erotica"

Namio Harukawa

First of all, fuck rape. I feel like rape cases have been getting a lot of press lately. So fuck the controversy but seriously, fuck the concept. Fuck the fact that somewhere down the line, man realized that they could physically dominate and sexually force themselves upon their own kind. Fuck the systems in play, be they familial or otherwise, that don’t have the mechanisms or strategies to teach our young men to respect others, or young women to respect themselves. Fuck power-tripping neighbors, uncles, and teachers. Fuck that all my friends have to carry pepper spray. Fuck creepers at the gym. Fuck it all. And fuck that I can’t do anything about it. But, fortunately, because I’m so damn self realized, and don’t just stick my dick into any passed out shit at a frat party because I feel insecure, I take this anger and use it productively. I use it to feel proud of being a woman. I use it to love women, love sex, and love myself, fervently and as best I can.

Now, I don’t know if that’s what Namio Harukawa has in mind when he creates his pieces, but that’s how they make me feel. The Japanese “femdom erotica” artist is best known for his drawings of thick ass women dominating the fuck out of small ass dudes. Harukawa’s images feature consensual sexual acts in which he typically depicts large women sitting on the faces of their petite male counterparts, looking incredibly indifferent. Though Harukawa illustrates women of all races, his subjects are predominantly Asian as represented through their facial features and physical props. And I don’t know if this is his intention either, but I love the fact that Harukawa is seriously flipping the female Asian stereotype on its head here. Where Asian women, too often unfairly and grossly characterized by small frames and a docile nature, are devouring dudes with their massive cakes. Harukawa’s work depicts men in submissive roles as subjects of dominatrix play, and therefore I don’t find that the pieces evoke a sentiment of rape. And I also don’t feel that the injustices of the world would be righted if things were just reversed. Simply put, seeing an image of a huge woman getting her ass ate with the utmost devotion while she apathetically smokes a cigarette just soothes my angry heart. Maybe you’ll disagree. Take a look.

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FEEL MORE

FEEL MORE

Kicking it with entrepreneur and adult industry pioneer Nenna Joiner at Oakland's premier adult gallery

Feelmore

Sex shops are funny. Neon cliches hang above heavily cloaked windows, hailing a “Couples Welcome!” policy, or supposedly enticing DVD rental deals, inviting all-too-obvious questions like, Who the fuck goes there? or, perhaps, Do people not know porn is free on the internet? Inside you can usually find a predictable cast of characters, like the 20-something couple or middle aged man, all awkwardly dodging eye contact and trying not to judge themselves. More than likely, you’ll find some cheap fluorescent pink boa lingerie hanging in the corner, dildos sealed in plastic packaging across the walls, and a few toys you’re surprised anyone even knows what to do with. The radio plays either awkwardly soft or abrasively loud, and otherwise, everyone is silent as church mice. Silent, self-judging, horny human church mice.

Feelmore510, on the other hand, is something altogether different. Billing itself, rather, as an ‘adult gallery,’ the downtown Oakland establishment is that and much more. Neat piles of vintage nude magazines populate the open center display tables, local art lines the walls, classic soul and conscious hip-hop plays over the sound system and founder/owner Nenna Joiner greets you with open arms at the door. Feelmore is eons from the shameful culture of the typical sex shop, exuding an energy of comfort, acceptance, and sophistication. From paddles and vibrators, to flaccid silicone packers and harnesses, Feelmore has it all. “I think sex has definitely progressed in the sense that it’s not one thing or another,” says Joiner, “we just really make everybody feel comfortable as they come in.”

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