Exclusive Q&A: Artist Jonathan Harris on Documenting the Lives of Lesbian Porn Stars

Jonathan Harris
Lesbian BDSM starlet Dolores Haze is going for the money shot. She's on her knees, furiously masturbating in front of a set of cameras for feminist porn pioneer Jincey Lumpkin's new feature, "Therapy." Jonathan Harris, computer scientist, online artist, and documentarian, is filming her too, only he continues rolling after the rest of the crew has packed up to leave. The shots last only 10 seconds: Dolores lying on the couch in a post-coital daze. Dolores getting on the subway and walking home. Dolores calling a friend because she accidentally locked herself out of her own apartment.

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Harris filmed nine women who work in lesbian porn in New York over 10 days, in 10-second intervals, and spent 24 hours with each one. This week, he launched the intimate interactive documentary detailing their lives. Similar to Harris' 2006 project, "We Feel Fine," which measured an aggregated universe of multi-colored emotions on blogs, "I Love Your Work" works like a tapestry of plot points that can enlarge. Each row designates a different female subject, and you can click on each individual teaser shot contained within. In its entirety, the project is six hours long.

In an exclusive interview, the Voice spoke to Harris, who has won three Webby awards, spoken at TED forums, lived with a family of Inupiat Eskimos to document a whale hunt in Alaska, and previously exhibited his work at the MoMA. We asked the artist what it was like to follow these women continuously--stepping into their showers, beds, and shoots--and how the experience has affected Harris' own views on human sexuality since.

You haven't explored lesbian porn before. Why dive into this subject and this community using this particular online documentary platform?

I think I'm generally drawn to marginalized or misunderstood stories and communities. I did another project years ago with a family of Inupiat Eskimos documenting their whale hunt in Alaska. Whale hunting is very politicized and a lot of people have a lot of opinions about it, and also this is a group of people that most don't know a lot about, or have a sense of what their everyday lives looks like. I think I'm just very interested generally in subject matters that have a built-in drama to them, but once you explore them, you realize they're like everyone else. Lesbian porn is such a salacious phrase, just those two words, but once you get into it you realize these women's lives are just like anybody's lives.

You know, the format of the project itself made me think of a vagina. There are folds, expansions, some parts that are particularly internal...

You mean the tapestry? The interface where you move your mouse around and things open up for you?

Yeah, it's very vaginal.

That had not occurred to me, but maybe that's buried somewhere in my subconscious. I've been looking at the wardrobes of Georgia O'Keefe, so maybe that was somewhere in my mind.

Jonathan Harris

How would you recommend viewing and approaching this project, interface-wise?

There's a few things going on there. In a way it's meant to mimic the dynamic of porn in general on the internet. It's so abundant and so instant and so plentiful. You watch something, and when it's not working for you anymore, you open up a new browser tab and you watch something else. That was very much the feeling I wanted people to have: Of, "Oh my god, there's so much here. I could spend hours looking at this, but the moment something is boring I can click to another thing." But you're not watching porn most of the time. You're watching people brushing their teeth and riding on subways and checking their email in the way that most people watch porn. There's not really an editorial perspective, it's just samplings of reality. I think you often find yourself getting hypnotized by it, and you find yourself watching clips for 30 minutes and you don't look away. I also think it's totally cool to watch it all back-to-back, and watch all six hours of it like a movie. You can also jump around.

These women spend a lot of time in front of the camera--they already have a distinct relationship to it. But there's a different relationship between a documentarian and a subject. Were some initially uncomfortable with you filming their real lives? How did that dynamic change?

It's an interesting question because when there's a camera in front of you it fills you up with energy. You know that you're not only performing for the person behind the camera, but also your words and your actions are being captured forever. But at the same time, because it's so continuous, for 24 hours, at some point you reach a turning point where you can't take it anymore, where you just give up or act normally. It's hard to pinpoint where that moment occurs, but to me it felt like it did occur in all of the women's lives at some point during the day.

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