Oh, all those emaciated, blue-eyed girls garnished with silicone bubbles in their chests and minutely airbrushed to exude that gleam in their rump…Oh yeah, making all the meathead musclemen scrupulously paging through their copies of Maxim and FHM wet their pants. Or those cover girl soap opera stars in their gluttonous mountain of make-up and spurious fairy-tales – you know, it’s what “Guiding Light” is trying to sell to you on campus now. But none of that ever caught the eye of photographer Carlos Batts. Rather, he’s chosen to radiate the diversity and natural defects of the feminine aesthetic in his work. That said, this is not for the weak-eyed.
Having shot for magazines such as Vibe, Hustler, While You Were Sleeping (and, yes, even Maxim), Batts has visually deciphered hundreds of women, in addition to shooting artists such as Snoop, The Distillers and Danzig. In 2001, he published Wild Skin – dark, almost brooding photos of women in his hometown of Baltimore in murky and nebulous lighting. His newest book, Crazy Sexy Hollywood, dropping October 3rd, has an overall brighter feel because of the California backdrop, but Batts’ models aren’t the archetypal Roxy-clad Cali blondies hanging on your bathroom swimsuit calendar.
ou see, whether the girls here are utterly nude in piercings and erotic, “give-it-to-me-now” poses, or midgets with whips and oversized breasts, doesn’t matter. There’s no text with these shots because they speak for themselves and it’s the craftwork (the setting, lighting, angles, color and mood) that make these worthwhile – ultimately, you get an eerie, but truthful depiction of a woman you may usually overlook. Talking on the phone from L.A. recently, Batts let us in on the secrets of his trade:
L&A: Where do you draw the line between art and pornography?
B: It’s not about objectification all the time. A body part is body part, regardless of whether it’s a vagina or not. I don’t see a line because it’s more about how you present the picture. I’ve been around pornographers and their goal is to make their image as cheap as possible, it’s all about ejaculation, to be crass. If Helmut Newton shoots a naked woman, is that porno? It depends on what context they’re in.
Many of these pictures are quite erotic. Would it bother you if viewers got off on them?
That’s not the goal. I try to make a pretty authentic photo of a woman and if people are aroused by that, then it’s cool with me. There’s already been millions of women in photos, so I try to do something interesting with color, lighting and tonal value.
How do you get your models so comfortable that they freely expose themselves?
I just get people comfortable by not forcing anything on them; I just let them be how they are. It’s not the ’50s with Hugh Heffner anymore…now women are much more in control of themselves. The idea here was to create an alternative Hollywood – there’s transsexuals, midgets, porn chicks, bodybuilders…The cover pic of a blonde is like the pseudo-fantasy of what someone in the Midwest would want to see in Hollywood, but then you open up the book…
Wild Skin also focused on female eroticism. Could you elaborate on your fascination with sex and women in photography?
When I first started shooting, it was darker storytelling, collages, body paint, weird lighting. My intent wasn’t to be erotic, but I’m bored with stale black and white pictures of women in black backgrounds. I try to be as explosive as possible and provoke the model and get her to be adventurous, whether it’s standing on a rooftop, being naked in a city or even penetration. This might be a bold statement, but I want to be extreme and I try to outdo photographers before me.
You create most of your sets and style most of your models. Often, there seems be an element of fetish involved. Why is that?
I try to avoid most clich