Review – Barbara Nitke’s AMERICAN ECSTASY (2012)

Review by Catherine Gigante-Brown

Some of the most compelling images in AMERICAN ECSTASY (2012), Barbara Nitke’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 Nitke’s stark accompanying prose, reveal a dichotomy of emotions, from shame to boredom, loneliness to elation—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 cigarette… the cast and crew mobbing a lone performer masturbating on a tufted chair… a man’s face contorted in ecstasy… two women curled against each other in repose, surrounded by an armory of sex toys… a celebrated director in shadowy profile… 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 Stanislavski’s method acting. Brilliant!


AMERICAN ECSTACY’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 man’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. “Looking back,” she writes, “I 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.”

Art critic and philosopher Arthur C. Danto, who wrote the book’s forward, rightfully calls Nitke “an artist of singular merit.” With this important photographic memoir, Nitke has ensnared the essence of “the jizz biz.” AMERICAN ECSTASY is an essential addition to any erotic library, and is as vital as Robert Mapplethorpe’s work in the artistic documentation of human sexuality.

- Catherine Gigante-Brown

AMERICAN ECSTASY (2012) is available at and on


Catherine Gigante-Brown is a freelance writer whose work covers many genres. Along with Robert “The Harrad Experiment” Rimmer, she co-wrote two biographies for Prometheus Books (Mistress Jacqueline’s Whips & Kisses and Jerry Butler’s Raw Talent). Her first novel, The El, was recently published as an ebook by Volossal Publishing ( To contact Gigante-Brown, email her at


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Text printed with permission from Catherine Gigante-Brown. Images used with permission from Barbara Nitke.

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