Walter Pfeiffer on porn saturation

The iconic, highly charged photographer on why internet porn has killed our imagination

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Walter Pfeiffer

Since the early seventies, Walter Pfeiffer has teased out the sexiness of his subjects. His portraits of young boys – many cast from the streets of Zurich, are often homoerotic, highly-charged and fuelled by a certain “wildness” that he has come to associate with youth culture. One thing is certain, Pfeiffer's boys are always beautiful and uninhibited. “In the early years, it was never are you gay? Are you not gay?” he tells me over the phone. “They [his subjects] accepted me and what I did.” But in today's digital age, with society's carnal fascination with pornography and our access to “dirty” imagery, things are beginning to change. What's more, Pfeiffer believes our porn culture is killing our imagination.

“Today, everything is forbidden,” he explains. “Back then, it was more free and people were more open for fantasy. Now, I guess the internet is killing the fantasy a little bit – or I would rather say the imagination. Don't you think?” It is a question that leaves a strong impression on me during our conversation. In the virtual world, anything is accessible and very little is censored. Take pornography for example, a subject that has its own rich history, in an online realm it is no longer confined to one medium – there are videos, GIFs and stills. Every possible scenario, fantasy or desire is played out on the internet for all to discover. In that sense, one is no longer left to imagine.

“It kills your imagination because everything is so real and so sharp,” he continues. “Everything is so dirty. You have all variations and maybe it is a little bit frightening for the young ones.” As our conversation develops, it becomes clear that the internet has also had a big impact on the way models view him as a photographer. “They have all those images before them, so they are afraid to go in this direction. They wont do it. This was not the case in the early days. We just tried out, but you had to have this distance with your subject to bring them that far. You cant get too close.”

Much of Pfeiffer's work is about bringing his subjects to a certain point. Seduction, of course, plays a major role in creating this dialogue between himself and the model, but a lot of it is down to Pfeiffer's own instinct. “I was never a reporter. I was always more interested in the sexiness of the person, and I still am. I had no plan, I just had to do it. It was always the situation I was in and then we had do the best we could. I was always ready for spontaneous things that even if it was the model who gave me ideas. I never had a script or anything, I just did.”

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Walter Pfeiffer

Pfeiffer's early works are particularly intriguing. In 1980, he released his seminal photo book, Walter Pfeiffer 1970 – 1980, which contained a series of highly-charged images, many of full frontal male nudity. The book contained no text and was not well received by the art community, but only by a few small gay circles. “It was a time when nothing like genitals existed in photo books. Nudes were mostly of women and you never saw a man like this, full frontal in the early eighties.” This early reaction to Pfeiffer's work reveals a great deal of how much has changed. The book was later re-released and many of these early works can now be found on the internet, where it holds no shock value compared to the other images we have access too.

Walter Pfeiffer is now in his late sixties and he continues to work with highly-charged imagery. His views on porn and the internet are fascinating, particularly when he talks about the past – “the days when you had to buy all those expensive magazines or you had to to go to the movie theatre to see a sex film.” But as our conversation draws to a close, it is clear that Pfeiffer is not simply reminiscing about the past, but is concerned for the new generation of youth who have become captivated by the internet. “In the early 70s, I went to a porno movie with a girlfriend of mine and it made such an impression on me and now this is common place,” he explains. “It is so strange, I mean nobody thought about this then. Now the times have changed a lot. The only thing that worries me are the young ones that grow up with these things and how they develop. It is such a new situation. We don't know it yet, but maybe in ten or twenty years time I will have a big after effect.”

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