The golden era of porn through Barbara Nitke’s camera lens

by • 31. August, 2015 • All, Featured, Interviews, Photography, SexComments (0)3523

The golden era of porn by Barbara Nitke

Have you ever heard of the golden age of porn? An era also known as porno chic that began in 1970. Barbara Nitke was back then a young girl in her 20s and had just moved to NYC, the city of desires. Somehow, she entered the grounds of the American underworld porn industry at the time. She grew up as a spectator and witness of the erotic business. Barbara played around with her camera in rooms where other people were playing around with each other and different adult toys. In sets where people went by nicknames such as Miss Jones, Linda Lovelace and Little Oral Annie. In playgrounds where everything revolved around and served pleasure.

During Barbara’s 12 years in the business, she was exposed to more naked bodies, erections and sexual awkwardness than most have experienced in their whole life. She has come out with two books on the topic: Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism (2003) and Barbara Nitke: American Ecstasy (2012). We had a chat with Barbara about the stories behind her fascinating images.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Barbara Nitke: I was a kind of lost soul when I was a kid, with no idea what to do with myself. I landed up in New York at eighteen, and decided to become a writer. But then I discovered I hated sitting in front of a blank page of paper all by myself – I’m way too much of a people person.

When did you move to NYC and what fascinated you about the city? Do you feel the same kind of fascination towards it today?
Barbara Nitke: What I have always loved about New York is the delicious feeling of being anonymous in the crowd – free to just watch everybody. I love the fact that the city never sleeps, and at any hour you can find just about anything you’d want. I also love that New York is a melting pot of so many different kinds of people who come here from everywhere in the world.

The golden era of porn by Barbara NitkeThe golden era of porn by Barbara NitkeThe golden era of porn by Barbara Nitke
What or who got you first introduced to the porn industry of the 70s?
Barbara Nitke: A couple of years after I moved to New York I started a relationship with Herb Nitke, whom I eventually married. He was a promoter and gambler, who eventually became a porn producer because there was so much money to be made in the business at that time. He produced a famous movie called Devil in Miss Jones. And in the early 1980’s when he made the sequel to DMJ, I asked for the stills job. That started my career.

Did you care what your friends of family thought about your interest and relation to this industry back then? What about now?
Barbara Nitke: There was always some awkwardness around the fact that I was married to a porn producer, and then eventually working in the field myself.   But I count myself lucky that I was the black sheep of my family, so I expected everyone to disapprove of me and that gave me a huge amount of freedom.

Have you ever studied photography or have you learnt everything you know from assisting on the movie sets?
Barbara Nitke: I am mostly self-taught. When I took up photography, I read a lot of photo textbooks and took a couple of photography classes. But I always say that I really learned everything I know from working on porn sets. The crew people were all straight out of expensive film schools, and they were generous with their knowledge. The porn stars used to let me practice my lighting on them in our spare time between shots. So it was the perfect place for me to learn my craft.

When shooting on porn film sets, do you think the ‘stars’ feel disturbed by your presence, or has it been the other way around and they feel some sort of consolation in your being-there taking an interest in them?
Barbara Nitke: That’s a great question! I think being a woman always helped me in porn because I had a natural solidarity with the female porn stars, and I wasn’t threatening to the male stars. As time went by I became very close to all of the talent and felt protective of them. I hated hearing people outside of the industry put them down as easily manipulated victims. I saw them all as much more complex people who had every right to be respected for their struggles and their choices in life.

Have you ever witnessed any meltdowns or regretful behavior in any of the porn actors/actresses while shooting?
Barbara Nitke: LOL!!! All the time! We worked very long hours, on tiny sets that were always boiling hot because of the movie lights and the lack of air conditioning. Viagra hadn’t been invented yet, so we all lived in fear that the guys would loose their erections and make our day even longer. Everybody was on a short fuse. I remember one incident when the camera operator asked an actor to move a bit on the bed. The actor was on edge because he had been having a difficult time performing that day, and he just blew up. They were screaming at each other, and all of a sudden the actor lunged at the cameraman. The lighting guy jumped on top of him and pinned him to the bed. He was afraid the cameraman would kill the poor guy! It took hours to calm everybody back down, and we worked very, very late that night.

How have the content and realization of pornographic movies changed when you compare its Golden Age to the contemporary industry? Has the ‘magic’ around this way of doing film disappeared?
Barbara Nitke: I’ve often wondered what it would be like for me if I was just starting to work on porn movies today. It’s hard to know, but I suspect it would be much different. There was a kind of magic to shooting film rather than video, and having a big crew, and also feeling like we were all doing something revolutionary. I doubt that people working on porn shoots now have that same feeling.

How much are you still involved in it?
Barbara Nitke: I have moved on from the porn world, although I’m still in touch with some of the people I worked with back then. We share a bond together that’s maybe similar to how you feel about people you went to college with, and it’s always wonderful to see someone from back then.

The golden era of porn by Barbara NitkeThe golden era of porn by Barbara NitkeThe golden era of porn by Barbara Nitke
The golden era of porn by Barbara NitkeIn your series called ‘Resurrection’ you are dealing with transgender/sexual performers. In current media, the portrayal of trans people seems to be a new trend. Do you think many people attach a different meaning to your work now compared to 30-20 years ago?
Barbara Nitke: Yes, definitely. I created the ‘Resurrection’ series back in the 1990’s when I was working on fetish porn movies. The images are about gender play as well as many other kinks that were popular as mail order videos back then. The images were so far from the mainstream that people had a tough time accepting them. But now, they’re pretty normal. I love that!

Who do you see as an average buyer of your work and where would it hang in one’s private collection?
Barbara Nitke: The people who buy my work are bold, big city types who usually hang the work in their bedrooms, although sometimes they buy it but don’t hang it. Of course I’m waiting for the day when it’s acceptable to hang my work over the fireplace in everybody’s living room!

How do you like the role of a writer compared to the one of a photographer? How does the power of words differ for you from the power of stills and imagery?
Barbara Nitke: I think the two roles are similar in a way – in both cases my goal is to create a separate world for my audience. I want to show them how I feel about certain people, especially people in what could be called the underworld. I prefer doing that through photography because I love the spontaneity of anticipating a moment and being there for it. Or in other cases, finding a way to help someone release very personal moments in front of me and my camera. I walk into every shoot unsure that I can do it, and I just have to trust that if I stay in the moment it will happen. Then there’s a rush when it does. It’s all very immediate.  Writing is different because I experience the moment first, then digest it, recall it and desperately try to find the right words to convey it. I can do that too, but it’s not nearly as satisfying for me.


The golden era of porn by Barbara Nitke

What is your next project going to be about?
Barbara Nitke: I have just started a new project that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I created a cheap motel room set in my living room and am setting up various cinematic situations to photograph as stills. The characters are archetypes from my past – desperados on the lam, running away from either the law or their past. I’ve been casting actors and also real people in the roles and it’s been hugely exciting to see the various story lines come into being.

To see more, go to Barbara Nitke Photography.

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