Review byÂ Catherine Gigante-Brown
Some of the most compelling images in AMERICAN ECSTASY (2012), Barbara Nitkeâ€™s stunning visual memoir of her career as a New York City porn set photographer in the 1980s, depict people fully clothed. The images, and Nitkeâ€™s stark accompanying prose, reveal a dichotomy of emotions, from shame to boredom, loneliness to elationâ€”and practically everything else in between. Before Nitke, no one dared to take an unflinching look behind the ripped, velvet curtain with such unabashed candor and intimacy.
A Mohawked starlet smoking a thoughtful cigaretteâ€¦ the cast and crew mobbing a lone performer masturbating on a tufted chairâ€¦ a manâ€™s face contorted in ecstasyâ€¦ two women curled against each other in repose, surrounded by an armory of sex toysâ€¦ a celebrated director in shadowy profileâ€¦ an actress, hair draped across her delicate breasts, staring wistfully into the camera. Each scene captures an erotic epoch populated by (almost) household names like Ron Jeremy, Nina Hartley and Vanessa Del Rio. At one point in the narrative, an actor compares maintaining an erection in a hot, crowded room to Stanislavskiâ€™s method acting. Brilliant!
AMERICAN ECSTACYâ€™s text is just as artful and insightful as the photographs, unearthing conflicting emotions and unabashed bravado. Nitke has the unique eye and ear of a woman allowed into the inner sanctum of a manâ€™s world. She treats her subject with respect, validity and reverence.
The book is a journey, a quest by Nitke to understand her own sexuality as well. â€œLooking back,â€ she writes, â€œI think part of my compulsion to be a part of the porn world was that emotional roller coaster ride, which made normal civilian life seem way too tame.â€
Art critic and philosopher Arthur C. Danto, who wrote the bookâ€™s forward, rightfully calls Nitke â€œan artist of singular merit.â€ With this important photographic memoir, Nitke has ensnared the essence of â€œthe jizz biz.â€ AMERICAN ECSTASY is an essential addition to any erotic library, and is as vital as Robert Mapplethorpeâ€™s work in the artistic documentation of human sexuality.
-Â Catherine Gigante-Brown
Catherine Gigante-Brown is a freelance writer whose work covers many genres.Â Along with RobertÂ â€œThe Harrad Experimentâ€Â Rimmer, she co-wrote two biographies for Prometheus Books (Mistress Jacquelineâ€™sÂ Whips & KissesÂ and Jerry Butlerâ€™sÂ Raw Talent).Â Her first novel,Â The El,Â was recently published as an ebook by Volossal Publishing (www.volossal.com). To contact Gigante-Brown, email her atÂ firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Text printed with permission fromÂ Catherine Gigante-Brown. Images used with permission fromÂ Barbara Nitke.