Twenty years on from his first book, Pornoland, which investigated the pornographic film industry around the world in 2000 – 2003, and which was published by Thames and Hudson in the UK and the US, Stefano de Luigi has revisited his archive to produce Pornoland Redux. A self-published edition with 350 copies, De Luigi has given the subject a more personal vision, with more than half of the photographs previously unpublished.
In this Book Club event, hosted by Ziyah Gafic, Stefano de Luigi discusses how his investigation and vision changed over two decades, as well as the differences between self-publishing and working with a commercial publisher.
Ziyah Gafic: Today I’d like to welcome my dear friend Stefano de Luigi, who’s talking to us from Paris. And we will be talking about with a special book. It’s called Portland Redux, and it’s a book that was published a month ago, in staggering 25,000 copies in various languages and it’s sort of a visual investigation in porn industry. And it’s a project that Stefano has been working on for years in various countries like US, Japan, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Germany. And now he has come back with Redux of that work, which is not really a second edition, because at least half of the content that is in the Portland Redux has never been shown before. So in fact, we are talking about entirely new book, I’d like to just say a few words, housekeeping things, as always, Stefano is happy to take all of your as many as possible of your questions, please use the Q&A box, which is at the bottom of your zoom window, or, and I will aggregate the questions for Stefano or and hopefully, we’ll get the right answers. Stefano. Welcome. Good to have you back.
Stefano de Luigi: Thank you, Ziyah. Welcome to you.
Ziyah: So Pornoland Redux, I will hand it over to you, and I have a ton of questions so I’m gonna be jumping in as much as I can. So think, tell me what, so can you tell me, I’d like to kick off with something. So why did you.. It’s a very simple question. But it’s, I guess, it’s something a lot of things up. So why did you decide to come back with the Redux, and this time in a very special limited edition. So everyone, I’m gonna copy a link here. So it’s a very limited edition, so make sure to check it out, and hopefully, order a copy here. It’s right here in the chat box. So why did you decide to come back after all these years and after such a massive successful book?
Stefano: Yeah, for many different reasons. The most obvious was that I had the chance this year to be invited from by a festival of photography in Italy, that is about love. So they asked me to, to show my work, Pornoland. And that made me go that I just was going back to the archives to see if I could find any new picture that could enlarge a little bit the selection. And then when I when I dig deep in the archive, I discover a lot of picture that I would like to show maybe too many comparing to what is in the in the first edition of the book. So little by little, the idea to make a total new book about this. It’s not the new reading also. Well, that lasts for three years and a half, come to my mind. So I tried to talk a little bit around me to understand if it was the right time if I was not making a wrong decision, because as you said, the first edition was so had a so big impact and was spreading in many different languages. But all the return that I have, and all the feedback I had were positive about the curiosity to see what I found, and also a different reading after myself getting older of 20 years. So I had the total new reading of this work much more intimate. And I think I did, this time, I did exactly what I wanted to do because Despite the fact that the book the first book is a great book, I was, it was my first book. And they were playing big actor as a publisher, big publisher, and I didn’t have all my voice listen, the first time.
Ziyah: So the first edition was published, first by Thames and Hudson, then Contrasto. So Thames and Hudson, obviously one of the biggest publisher of photographic books. And so, before you actually show us the Pornoland Redux. So what would be like the key difference? You mentioned it briefly touched upon that? What would be the main difference between working with the massive commercial publishers versus let’s say, self publishing? What would be what’s your experience, pros and cons?
Stefano: Well, simply the word is freedom, freedom to create your own, and pull out your own vision, no compromise. And so, in the end is much more intimate reading of this work this time than the first time. The first time, we had also the needs to, to make it clear that is, as you said, the visual investigation. So I think that this feeling you could find in the choice of the editing. Many people that were pick it up and put in the book, were a really documentary picture. And, but I did all this trip as because I, in my mind, it’s just one huge trip, but three years and a half in the in this industry, as more is as far as intimate travel like, Alice in the Wonderland somehow, you know. And this time, I’m sure that I get what I wanted to say about the last word.
Ziyah: So can you show us some of it?
Stefano: Thank you very much, going to show this. So I wanted to be sure that everybody understand the contest and why did that, why comes to my mind and why I, I was also very much influenced by the atmosphere all around. Try to remember that I am Italian, I was living in Italy at that time. And a few years before I start to work with this project, a porn star become a deputy of the parliament in Italy. So the porn was a sort of daily bread that all the Italians were eating all the time and all the information or advertising, I’m showing you some picture of the main fashion brand, with their campaign that I could see at that time. Also information the main the mainstream information, television and newspapers and magazine, were regularly interviewing porn stars about everything about politics about daily life issues. So really pornography was all around the daily life of your time. And I had this curiosity to scratch a little bit behind the official speech that all this porn star were giving us saying I do the best work in the world, and I make love and I’m paid for, just really a curiosity to to see what was really in the atmosphere behind the scene; sort of a long backstage trip in the in the industry. So I decided to choose to pick up the most important countries around the world, more or less one or two, for continents that are the main actor in the industry, I mean, that produce a huge quantity of red light, x movies, porn movies. So I pick up three countries in Europe, like Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic, one in Asia, Japan, and one of course in America that was US. Which produce by the way 90% of the all movies produced by the industry, and I’m talking about the year 2000 and 2004, for the period that I realized this project. So you see, on the daily basis, we could see this kind of advertising that is not in fashion anymore, hopefully, but it was really something very normal. And also, on the Italian television channels, national channels, there were a lot of, you know, things that remind to this atmospheres, the body of the women, for instance, were largely exposed. That’s, it’s really far away from me to time. It’s something that this is this picture that I’m showing you is, is my first real project, which somehow lead me to make Pornoland then and is about a long travel on the universe of Italian television. But as you can see, they’re very closed somehow, you know, the subliminal sex is very, it’s very clear, clear reading here. So I’m saying that I needed to have contacts, which is, it’s not a an easy and easy thing to get, because..
Ziyah: That would be my next question. How the hell you get access? I mean, of course, all the actors are used to be photographed or filmed. But it’s quite a different story, when a journalist shows up with a curious camera.
Stefano: Yeah, totally different at the same times. Well, the chance was given me to an assignment I had for an Italian magazine that sent me on a set in Italy. And well, you think that well, where is the news? Well, the news is that in Italy, consuming the pornography is allowed by the law, but producing porn contents, like shooting a movie is forbidden. So I was invited on a set of the porn movie in Italy, because it was forbidden. And that’s allowed me to get in contact with this man that you can see on the on the right of the screen, or the picture, who was the photographer of this industry, a porn photographer, so he knew a lot of people, and he was French. And so I get in contact with him, I sympathize with him. And he told me look, if you want to, really, if you’re interested, these are the picture of the set in Italy, that I shoot for an Italian magazine. So if you want to get inside this universe, you need to come in, in can in June next June, because it sorry, in May, because in Can, there is the main porn festival in the world, and all the actors, all the producer, all the directors converse in this place for four days. So you have the chance, the unique chance in the here to met all the people the same times. I said, Okay, I get in contact with him. So wanting one step was already set up. But I was unsure how I wanted to treat this argument because obviously, I was working for the mainstream industry. And I mean, I was interested to tell the story about the big stage, but I couldn’t take picture of the act, the main act that the pornography show, so I couldn’t take picture of people making love and I wanted to be sure that my techniques was good enough to relate about some atmosphere a little bit only eery, something like that. So I taste this techniques that is cross processing, doing a work outside and I test a lot of different fields. When I said cross processing means slides, shoot as is lights with the same eyes AZA or ISO and deadlock as a negative field. So in C 41, instead of E6. I did a project that was about the Jubilee 2000 in Rome and the results of different kind of film, like me very much I like very much. So I knew before to start this project that with some artificial light, a better film, the better result was given by this film of Fuji or with daily lights. It was better a Kodak for instance, right? And these are the picture and I like very much the this color saw strong acid saturated because it’s exactly, I thought, I’m going to tell a story about a world that is unknown, because everybody’s going to know pornography, but nobody knows what’s happening behind behind the scene, and that’s how the picture from the festival. So I went there in May, and I made the plenty of contacts, indeed. And I discovered one thing very important, because of this law in Italy, the main producer in Italy, because you need a lot of producer, director and actor of pornography, they move everybody move in Hungary, where the production costs are very cheap, and they could shoot their movie without any problem. And that, for me was a big advantage because I start from Hungary because I met a lot of Italian, and they were okay to welcome me on the set, I explained the I explained the project.
Stefano: And they were somehow flattered by the fact that a photographer coming from a main industry of press wanted to talk about the life of the of these people. Because I was very clear, I was very clear on saying I’m not interested in what you produce. I’m interested in you as as people, and I’m interested to tell the people what there is behind the scene of sex that composing the movie, I’m not interested at all in that, yeah, put my cultural reference because just to let you understand what was my state of mind when I start this project for me was sort of on eery trip in this world unknown, it was like a black hole. And I like very much this what is called psychedelic culture. So, that goes very well with the color that I choose, and the technique that I choose to shoot this book. This is Alice in the Wonderland. Okay, so I jumped in a plane and in June 2000, just to to make my contact. You know, it was a very hot contact. So I start, I catch immediately the train and I went to Hungary. And I met this guy, which is an Italian, his name is Gabriel Romagnoli. And he is the boss of all the porn industry in Hungary, which is, by the way, one of the most powerful porn industry in the world, because he cover he cover mainly all the European production for the, with the exception of Germany, and I will explain to you why later on. But everybody goes to Hungary, the actress, the actor, the director, the producer, and I shoot this first step, at the time, I didn’t know that I wanted to do a book, I just wanted to make a good reportage for, the magazine that assigned me it was a magazine affection, and the feedback was were very, very enthusiastic. Because of the angle that I use to tell about this universe. I mean, I didn’t bring any kind of judgment. I just want I was really curious about the humankind behind the face of the actor or the humankind behind the face of the director. And try to understand also the dynamics that the rules that are controlling in this industry, who was the winner, because from the official speech, we could think that the winners of the play the king player, were the king were the actors, but in in fact I discovered that the only king player were the producer and not the actor. And there was also another speech very funny. That’s everybody that’s met me and try to understand what I was doing on the set, because nobody could understood why I was shooting it when nothing was happening for them. Everybody told me, you know, I’m just passing through. I mean, I am here you see me here, but I’m a real actor, or I’m a real director, I did a lot of movie in the official industry or in the men’s swim industry but now I’m doing that for money. And that’s what’s the most of the time the real speech that they I get from from all these people.
Ziyah: Can I just interrupt? What happened to the producer from the beginning? The Italian guy? Where’s he now? Is he still around?
Stefano: I think he’s still around. Obviously, I think the porn industry in this last 10 years has dramatically changed because of internet explosion somehow. So I’m not sure that is still producing a lot. He should also getting a little bit older. But I know that still now nowadays. Hungary and Budapest, in particular, with the studio of moving Budapest are still the center of the production of porn movie in Europe. So I think he’s still around somehow but it’s not anymore, I think as powerful how he was before. So the second step, I decided to go to Germany. Why? Because I discovered that there were two markets in Europe, one market for the north of Europe, like England, like Norway, and all these Scandinavian countries, and this, this movies were produced in Germany. Why? Because the sexuality that was shown was a little bit different from the romantic story that we’re producing in Budapest, that’s part of the market. Fill It Up by Budapest production was more covering countries like Italy, of course, Spain, France, and all the east of Europe. While in Germany, they were produced a lot of movie more on SM, kind of SM or something like that, which we’re addressing to the north of Europe. Getting in contact in Germany was very, get contact in Germany was very difficult. I went first to this porn festival in Berlin, where I met this person who is one of the main boss of the porn industry in Germany, who has a huge studios in Dortmund. So I really, I don’t know how to say in English (Speaks in Italian), How do you say that? Drag, drag him with my project. I really stole I was a stalker, every two days. I was calling him please let me in the end, he said yes. And so I could spend one week in any studio in Dortmund. So I follow maybe five or six different movies, all the speech are not in the book. All the speeches that we are watching are other picture that I used, I pick it up from the archives, but I used only to set up this PDF. And well, at the second step, I honestly I start to think, okay, this is great. The feedback is always very, very encouraging. I need to to go for a book, something like that is a personal project. I like it very much. It’s very interesting. I have a lot of publication in the international press. And I didn’t know but attacking Japan as a third countries that I want to visit. I didn’t realize how difficult it was. I have met in in May 2000 Incan, the only Japanese represented of the industry on Japan. He was a photographer and director as well, and he gave me obviously a business card, which I jealousy. I keep it with me for some times, but I couldn’t do anything without the help the real help of an Italian journalist, which is called Pio d’emilia that today is television star in Italy. He works for Sky channel, and is a person that is a journalist and writer who was living in Japan since 20 years, and he knew perfectly the Japanese culture, how to deal with the Japanese. So through him, I put in contact the Japanese person that I met Incan, and they went to a tea watching the flower blossom blossom in, in Tokyo, and he accepted. So I spent 45 days in Japan, honestly was sort of scooped because I’ve been told many times, and I had to go through also very weird situation like this is a private party, in a skyscraper in Tokyo 25th floor, something like that. Just I show you that just because it was really, for me, it was I mean, it was really innovative eery trip, I mean something that goes far away from from my normal life.
Ziyah: Can I just interrupt you? Can I just interrupt you for a second? At what point did the publisher in this case, Thames and Hudson got involved? Was that later on? Or already somewhere? Can you just
Stefano: No, no. They comes at the end.
Ziyah: At the very end, okay, they picked up the cherry. Okay. Sorry. So sorry.
Stefano: Yeah, it’s fine. So, these are picture of different situation in Japan, because to enlarge also my contact, I was working with two different fixer. One was collaboration with the Pio d’emilia. And there was also another person who was helping me too, when the Pio couldn’t be with me, I needed somebody for translation and fix all the the appointment and the deal on the set, whatever. And was, I worked like a hell, I can remember this period, like very, very intense period of working not only on porn, because at the same time, when I had some, let’s say free time, just to be able to stay in Japan, which is a very expensive country, I accept also other little assignments that I could do in between. So I was working really all the time. And I discover a representation of sexuality very different and very far. I mean, what I’m saying is that things that could be exciting for us or could be not exciting at all, for us are exciting for another culture. And that’s also very interesting how also through the lens of the sexuality, you can understand the culture. For instance, here, this is a set movie sets of a director that is specialized on girls actresses, which give a kick on the balls to a volunteers for half an hour or, or something like that. And he has a specialized clients who are buy all the time, this kind of movie, which honestly is not the best. I mean, to be honest, it’s very disturbing. So this other picture of Japan and we I, you see, it’s really very, very fast. And then I didn’t put Czech Republic that was in 2003, because it’s less interesting to me. I mean, it’s a repetition of Hungary. But I wanted to spend a few moments on the United States. I arrived to United States with this with the feeling that I was having in the end my first real project to be completed, and I was very happy. But I didn’t, honestly I didn’t wait at all what was waiting for me in this month and a half that I spent in Los Angeles, because I didn’t consider the dimension of the industry in United States. Well, now I can tell you, of course, 90% of the world production means a lot of people doing this job. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine the difference that there is between San Fernando Valley, which is one of the the main spots in Los Angeles where the porn movies are shooted and Budapest, so even Dortmund even talk you somehow it was a little bit more the proportion that we’re not at all the same, and I was kind of overwhelmed. So I was lucky to attack US in the end as a computation and the end of the project that that whole project because if I started with United States, I’m not sure at all, that I would be able to, I wouldn’t be able to complete this project.
Ziyah: You mean it’s just simply too big? Is that what you say?
Stefano: There’s too many things going on, too many solicitation, and honestly was, I mean, was really hard to, I was working almost 19 or 20 hours a day, believe me, it’s because I wanted to see everything, I was embedded everywhere. And there were too many things I was in the end, I was really exhausted. And yeah, this is the last movie, in United States, so is the last movie of this chapter. And I knew that was the last movie because when I went to this set the watch, which was which was a science fiction porn movie called Us Alien. The act so the main actor was dressed with this serious movie of the 50s. Like, I don’t know, the 50 feet women tall, or this giant spiders attack the hurt or something like that. This guy couldn’t see anything, and, and in the end, it was very funny. We, I had this, you know, we start to laugh, you know when you can’t stop to laugh, because in one scene, he couldn’t see anything. And so at the third time, they couldn’t see anything. He just pull away his big head of insect and say, I can’t play my role like this. It’s impossible. Everybody started to laugh couldn’t stop for 10 minutes, something like that. Okay, I’m finished here, and then here. Okay, that’s our other backstage movie. Of obviously here the role of the agent, it’s very important. I mean, it’s an industry like all exactly like Hollywood.
Stefano: This is a test, an aids test. Okay, so in 2004, I had the chance, first of all, to have in my book, a great text of the English writer, poets, Martin Amis, which is who is like a rockstar. I mean, he’s very famous. And I’m, I’m quite sure that having his text in the book helped to, I mean, help that the fact that many for any publisher, were very interested to this book and buy the rights for their country. And I don’t think I would never in my life had thought that I could print a photo book at 25,000 copy but it was up and in 2004 disease is Martin Amis that by the way wanted to see my work before to agree to use the text. And here we are, I mean, this is the new book that made by more of the half of the picture that are brand new because I never pull out them from archive It’s a totally different reading of this book, and this project and all they’re 20 years older first of all, so I have another high, I work with in collaboration with the team of graphic designer and an editor that helped me to make a different book, it’s much more intimate, starting from the proportion, the dimension of the book are a little bit thinner than the first one. The sequences and also the choice of the editing, it’s very different, and it’s really an intimate trip. And it’s my diary, I put also some picture of that I shoot of the town where I was traveling, like here, for instance, in LA, because I thought, again, that was a unique trip. Indoor and Outdoor, it was always the same feeling that was following me and, this time, I think I really what I wanted to do with this with this book.
Ziyah: I’m just curious once the book came out, what were the reactions? If you had any feedback from the, for example, the people you photographed, or the people? Yeah, did you have any feedback for the people you photographed? Who ended up selling the book? Or you did? I’m just curious if you had what was it?
Stefano: Yeah, I had a few, like, from a distance from the boss of Hungary, because he’s in the book, obviously. And another thing I did, because for me was very important, I thanks, everybody I met that helped me along the way. Actor, Director, fixer, everybody. The reaction was very keen. I mean, was very nice and sweet, because most of the time the reaction I had that was my god, this happening in the you have seen this happening in the, in the meanwhile, we were working?
Ziyah: Of all the things we did you, you got that?
Ziyah: I think we have time for questions, so there’s a question. How old were you when you started with the project? And what was the most confusing thought you had, when you were in that kind of environment? So how old are you? And what was the most confusing? If anything, obviously,
Stefano: When I started that was 35. And the most confusing thoughts? I had many indeed, but the most confusing was well, honestly, when I was asked if it was interesting to have a movie, where they were animal and humans in so I thought my God, where I am? I mean, I think I don’t know, I was confused that they asked me because, I mean, it was nice and the way they asked but my confusion come from the fact that I thought I was not enough clear to understand the project, you know, because otherwise if everybody would have understood and these people in particular that proposed me that, would have never asked something like that. Otherwise, I was with a feeling that was up and down. I mean, many times I felt sorry for what I was watching. I mean, when I understood that the actor really the last part of the industry, men and women now difference. And sometimes of course when you see the you know, the your own, how do you say that? It was disheartening sometimes to see what they had to face and, in way how they did.
Ziyah: And so here’s a question from Maggie. So in comparing porn films and pornography gatherings, like film festivals, and so on, did the women in Europe see more cognitive of their sexual power than the American actresses?
Stefano: No, I think is the opposite. I mean, from my experience, I felt that American actresses were much more conscious about the power, economical power that they had in this industry. In Europe, especially, I’m talking about Hungary and Czech Republic. Germany was a little bit different, but I couldn’t have enough time to make really a clear idea about all the German industry, but in Europe, in these two countries, for sure, actresses, and actors and actresses didn’t have this consciousness, neither the power to decide anything.
Ziyah: And, a follow up on that would be, again, comparing Europe and US. Did you see, did you notice a distinct difference between Europe and US in terms of stories?
Stefano: In terms of narrative? Yes. In because somehow, but it’s true. I mean, in Europe, the narrative of the little, very little narrative that you could have in the movie, were much more romantic. And then I, I remark, market, many different way to express the sexuality between Europe and in the US, while in Europe is always even I, hypocritically, sorry, linked to a sort of romantic feeling. In US, it’s much more sort of gymnastic. It’s very dynamic. It’s very active, but it’s also less hypocrite, somehow.
Ziyah: Unrelated question, but I think you have time, how long it took to complete the project from very beginning to actually having the book on a on a shelf?
Stefano: Well, following the PDF, it’s around. Let’s say big four years.
Ziyah: Say again, I lost you there.
Four years, it’s the big lens, yes.
Ziyah: Right. Right. And okay, so, as you photograph, different actors from different regions, how easy or difficult was it for you to explain and convince actors, with your project pitch? Did you ever have to, did you have to ever take official release letters from the producers, directors? As these are movie sets, and many of them are models.
Stefano: Yeah. Well, first of all, I remind that this work has been done between 2000 and 2004. And I was accepted by the production, so my release was concerning the production that allowed me to be on the set. So I get this release from the production and the production get the release to be filmed from the actor, so I was covered by this general released, I didn’t have to go through runner after.
Ziyah: Individual, yeah.
Stefano: The difficult was, no, I think in the end, as I told you, the people once they, you know, because I had one people to talk with in the beginning, that was the producer of the movie that would accept or not accept, but obviously, once I was on the set, the people, they all the technicians, the actors, the director, watched me as though a person that was again shooting when nothing was happening for them. So obviously, they were very curious, but when I explain, anytime, I really felt the main feeling was to be flattered that somebody was interesting, really interesting and genuinely interesting on what was the life on the set. Now, so the action was always always very, very positive, somehow.
Ziyah: Is there? Is there any chance, if you can, a little bit clarified more on the reason and why did you opt for cross processing as your main style? That’s one of the questions.
Stefano: As I told, I think, I mean, I was concerned. I was concerned by that I didn’t want to reproduce the reality one to one, like, because it’s cinema anyway, you know, whatever is your taste, but it’s something that make you imagine, figure out something else. So first of all second, I was sure that many thing that I was going to see on the said I couldn’t shoot, I mean, it’s expensive. So I thought, Okay, if you go with the state of mind of like a jump in a black hole, like, because pornography for me for this in our in our not maybe not now but again to 20 years back, for many people pornography was just a black hole that they could maybe imagine that but nobody knew that indeed I mean, not like a cinema industry that you know, the actors, directors and what’s happening on the set, nobody knows anything. Well, I wanted to bring them myself first and give back a sort of generic trip. And this also with saturating colors, would allow me to also send out some feeling that could be of sadness or violence or very weird things, and obviously, they are not natural colors, and that’s tell me very much this purpose.
Ziyah: Brilliant. Thank you very much, everyone. Stefano, thank you very much for sharing this with us. Everyone, thank you for joining us. If we missed anyone’s question, I deeply apologize. This will be also available as a recording if you ever decide to revisit, I posted again a link to Stefano’s book if you get a chance to have a look at it. Stefano, thank you very much everyone stay safe.
Stefano: Hello to all of you because I saw the messages of many people I knew. Thanks very much to join us and thanks again Ziyah. Thanks. Take care.
Ziyah: Take care, bye bye.