Ellen Stagg is a tall, blonde woman with the laid back personality of a West Coast surf nymph. Her brown eyes are soft, but direct. They travel to the back of her head when she looks for the right way to articulate a certain sentiment.“Everyone I’ve met in the porn industry doesn’t think my work could be porn.” Her eyes come back and focus on the coffee in front of her. “I’d say my photography is erotic, but not porn. Porn is made to titillate the viewer. It’s made for a certain audience to pay. My work is to excite me and to collaborate with the model. I don’t let my images get dictated by my viewer. If they don’t like something they don’t have to sign up for my site and buy my artwork.” She shrugs her shoulders and smiles. “No one’s walking into The Metropolitan Museum of Art and going, ‘oh my god that’s porn!’ because some tits are out.” She picks up her coffee and takes a sip.
Ellen Stagg takes pictures of porn stars, that’s the simple way of putting it. The longer, more factual way is that she takes beautiful portraits of women in their natural state. Some of the pictures are sexual, though none over the top. When they’re posed, it’s for the shot, for the framing, not for some schlub to jerk off to in a dark room with the blue glare of a computer screen… Though if that’s the response it elicits, Stagg doesn’t judge. Ellen was born in Easton, Connecticut. Her father worked in industrial supplies, while her mother kept house. The house was in the woods, surrounded by a swamp and a pond, an appropriate simile to the religious view points in the household, with her father an atheist and her mother a devout Catholic. Her father always jovial and willing to joke. Her mother quiet and negative.
For the most part she lived a sheltered life, days at private school, weekends at the country club. WASP 101. Her first recognition of sex, came with from family trips taken to Europe. “My dad always collected little statues from Europe. When you pulled a string it would show a penis, or he’d get a big vase with a penis on it that you pour water out of. A lot of phallic trinkets from Europe. He made sexuality seem kind of funny and open, rather than something taboo and inappropriate. I think my work is beautiful, but I think sex in general can be funny. It’s nice to have a good sense of humor about it.” And the transition from outcast in middle school to new girl in high school came with a sudden burst of male attention, Stagg wasn’t used to. Her first kiss was in a pool at a country club. “We made out there and he felt my boobs. It was fun. For the majority, sex is always good fun for me. My close friends know me very well. They know I’m not promiscuous. People think I am because of my job and my verbalizing about sex, but it’s not the case. If I was going to have sex with someone, I’d want to make sure the emotions are there. ”
Ellen had always had a proclivity to any art form, from painting to drawing. In high school her talent flourished. She was a year ahead of her peers in art studies, so senior year they created an advanced photography class specially for her. “I was diagnosed as dyslexic, art was something I could get my fingers dirty with. I understood it.” She was accepted to the School of Visual Arts in New York City, which is where she began experimenting with erotic photography, asking friends and classmates to pose nude for her. After graduation she started booking commercial work through an agent, but it wasn’t until she met porn star Justine Joli, that her vision truly took form. “I met Justine Joli six years ago through a fellow photographer. She was the first model who would spread her legs open for me. Wanted to be naked for me. I was like, ‘Now I get it!’ You should work with pro nude people for nude shots.” After a successful series of shoots, Joli introduced her to other models and actresses in the business. They immediately took to Stagg. A female photographer, with a professional eye and a knack for nudes. “They say I have a different style because a lot of the porn industry in LA is very cookie cutter. They like working with me for that reason. It’s a bit more artistic and unusual.”
Still, it’s difficult for Stagg to break through to the mainstream in the way some of her male colleagues have. “Terry Richardson can take a pic of his dick with a model. If I take a picture of my vagina, everyone takes it as me trying to get attention. There’s a fine line with what you can do as a woman. The equality with the sexes, we’re still very far behind.” But she’s taking the necessary steps, working with KarmaLoop TV on exclusive behind-the-scenes shoots. She’s working on uploading a live webcam to her site, so that viewers can watch her process on set. “The internet is an awesome place for sex and sexuality. I do hope they do something about pirating laws, because the women in the industry aren’t making money like they used to. But there’s this younger generation that’s a lot more open minded to things, which is a double sword, because they’re open-minded to trannies, but there are sixth graders who think anal sex is ok. You’re too young! But they’re exposed to so much. I think the majority of the country is so conservative, that it’s kind of scary. The people who are most scared of it are those who are extremely into porn in a closeted way. Or they’re afraid of their own sexuality and have to point fingers.”
As for the future, Stagg intends to keep showing in galleries and online. She’s in the process of a new series, working with canvas, rather than the printing paper she’s shot on in the past.
For more info on Ellen Stagg and her work visit www.thestaggparty.com
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