Shooting sex: how to make art, not porn

When it comes to sex, how do photographers and directors capture intimate moments without making porn? We explore the challenges creatives face when documenting explicit content

For decades, the porn industry has dictated the visual language of sex, laying out the framework for the kind of lighting, camera angles and even music that accompanies adult content. Which means that photographers and directors capturing intimate moments have a careful line to tread. Put one foot wrong, and you’re in the realm of the voyeur. But for all its risks, sex and intimacy still fascinates imagemakers.

“I think there’s an intense honesty that comes with intimacy, coupled with a vulnerability, but also a strength that I find in people when I shoot them,” says director Matt Lambert, whose commercial work and personal projects often feature sexual imagery – particularly focused around the LGBT community. “There’s obviously the standard socialised flow of how people go through a moment, so you watch that unfold with each person, but everybody’s different so there’s this constant curiosity. It’s also incredibly empowering for people, because I’ll shoot them and there’s an intense anxiety and nervousness, and when it’s over they feel so wonderful and liberated.”

There’s also a feeling of liberation for the person behind the camera, according to photographer Sophie Ebrard. Several years ago, while on the hunt for people to take part in a project involving nudity and sex, Ebrard landed herself an invite to a high-end swingers party in London – which she describes as a “real eye-opener”, but probably not for the reasons you’d assume.

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes