Exclusive: Tyrone Lebon talks voyeurism

Babestation and live sex - this is the photographer's candid journey for erotic zine Baron

Baron’s first issue – a small paperback covered in sheer plastic – launched a new era for the erotic zine. Since then, it's become somewhat of a cult object and for those that can still find one, its pages offer a new perspective on post-modern sex through the work of Bruce LaBruce and artists AIDS-3D. That was a year ago; and for their highly anticipated second issue they enlisted the involvment of photographer Tyrone Lebon. Going from Babestation to Basingstoke, Lebon spent a twelve-month period exploring the evolution of sexuality in today's image-sharing society. From phone sex to live sex, here in an exclusive interview, the photographer talks us through his voyeuristic Baron experience. 

Dazed Digital: What did you uncover during your Babestation experience?

Tyrone Lebon: Listening to the men on the phone was pretty strange. Some are pretty lonely sad characters who call the same time everyday, and were more into chatting than phone sex. Others were ridiculously funny and some were pretty nasty. It made me feel a bit strange about being a man. As far as 'uncovering' anything, I tried to avoid making any kind of judgment and didn't ask many serious questions. It is at the surface of a chain of questions that leads right to the root of what's up in our society. I don't know how interesting my opinion on that discussion is. I just tried to take some interesting images of what I saw. Most of them weren't allowed to be published, as part of the deal with us getting access was that images were signed off by management. But again, I was surprised by some of the images we were allowed to publish and am grateful for the access we were given. And for me with this whole project, the images were secondary to the experience of taking them – and spending time in this environment was really interesting.

DD: Did you watch it as a teenager?

Tyrone Lebon: Weirdly no. I’d barely heard of it before this shoot.

DD: Voyeur or exhibitionist?

Tyrone Lebon: Definitely voyeur.

DD: One of your photographic series documents a couple having real-life sex. How did that unfold?

Tyrone Lebon: I went to Basingstoke for the day and chatted to them. Then they popped a bottle of Cava, rolled a spliff and after a while they ignored me and started making out. Charlotte looked at the camera quite a lot. They would stop for breaks and we would talk, but mostly I sat in the corner taking photos.

DD: How do you think our perception of sex has changed in our image-driven society?

Tyrone Lebon: I'm not sure; I think it’s a very personal and subjective area. Then again, that's what makes it so interesting. Obviously the world’s changed dramatically over recent years with the massive growth of pornography and the internet. Dating sites, sex apps like Grindr and Blendr have both normalised sex, making it less taboo, but must have also twisted people's perceptions when their experience of sex is second-hand, through weird porn or through commercialised filters. I personally would find the idea of publicly publishing my private sex life difficult. I like keeping certain things private. Having said that, I feel honored to be trusted and allowed access into this part of other people’s lives.And I’m am extremely grateful to them for being more open than me, I wouldn't have had the positive experiences I have had doing this project. So the point I'm trying to make is, I'm happy that we are all different.

DD: Tell us more about your Baron films?

Tyrone Lebon: There are two: the first one is funny as it is of one of the Babestation girls in the mirror doing her 'presenting' as if she was chatting to a guy on the phone. It's edited to cut my voice out. She was teasing me about how red I had gone while filming her... The second was filmed by my assistant Hanna who sat for two hours filming the girls on the phone and is just a montage of what they say to the callers.

DD: You also used found imagery from your grandfather’s surgery archive, why did you want to set that against other highly-charged sexual imagery within the magazine?

Tyrone Lebon: My dad is also a photographer and speaks about the lineage between his father's occupation as a plastic surgeon to his, as a fashion photographer, linked by the shared preoccupation with external beauty. I think overall this project for Baron was about showing a variety of images that relate to sexuality – not just sexy stuff. So these plastic surgery images, and the images at the start of a man having a hair transplant, are as important or maybe more interesting than the photos of naked sexy girls or big dicks that we see all the time...

DD: How would you describe your 12-month Baron experience?

Tyrone Lebon: It was a shared experience with Max Pearmain (who was guest editor for this issue) and the Baron team - Jonathan Baron and Matthew Holroyd. For the most part we put the word out that we were looking for people who were interested in being photographed and people got in touch with us. This felt more comfortable for me, that people were coming to us with a desire to be shot for an erotic magazine rather than having to persuade people to do it, who weren't 100% into the idea. Once we actually started I found it pretty varied. Sometimes pretty challenging or disturbing, and other times really pleasurable or natural. Overall it was exciting to be challenged and have to think about things that haven't come up in my other work.