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This photo uncovers the dreamy side of porn

Jeff Burton spent the 90s and 00s trading in the crass of the LA adult film industry for Hollywood glamour and atmospheric beauty. Here, he explains how

Taken from the March 2012 issue of Dazed, as part of the Last Shot archive series

LA-based photographer Jeff Burton has an innate eye for atmospheric beauty, transforming the raunch of adult films into quixotic images of Hollywood glamour. He spent the 90s working as a stills photographer for gayporn juggernaut Catalina Video, documenting the schmaltzy ins and outs of the productions. Intent on breaking the formulaic monotony of xxx action, Burton took covert photos in his own painterly, sun-drenched sensibility, creating fantasies that transcend the crass mercantilism of sex for hire. His voyeuristic tendencies and fine art background collide in a dreamy haze of SoCal cool. He recalls his heady days on set.

“This picture was taken in 2000 on a porn set in Palm Springs at a classic ranch-style place with tons of bougainvillea on the roof overhang.

In order to document the set you have to dance around the cameraman, get on the floor and look from underneath, and then you have to get on something high and you kind of lose your orientation because you’re looking to illustrate the action from every possible angle.

Having grown up in puritanical Texas, I wanted to divorce myself from judgement. I really identified with the pets that would be around because they looked at it all so differently than we did; as a human watching sex for commerce, there’s all this heavy-duty psychosexual, sociological stuff, but to look at it fresh was really freeing.

“It wasn’t all the gristmill of sex for hire. There were really beautiful moments, and it could look like a classical painting sometimes with these nude sculptures just standing around” – Jeff Burton

So, I’m up on this roof trying to get shots of the penetration, because that was the job, but it was more interesting for me to deviate from the explicitness of graphic sex (which I was shooting all along), and to make a connection between his actions and his pleasure and the beauty of the bougainvillea that was all around. It looks like he’s making a vowel sound, as though he’s in a glorious reverie, and I enjoyed stretching the narrative, twisting it into a different kind of fantasy that was almost more erotic, exciting and pleasurable.

It wasn’t all the gristmill of sex for hire. There were really beautiful moments, and it could look like a classical painting sometimes with these nude sculptures just standing around. There’s an inbetween-ness to this image that’s like a cinematic moment between points A and B – you don’t know what’s happened before and what’s happening after. I find that there’s a disorienting thing that happens in pleasure, and even though I’m beyond conscious when shooting the pictures, there’s an element of zoning out.

When I was a kid my sister had Hollywood Babylon, the Kenneth Anger book, and it was kind of the first tabloid of its day. I was in love with the idea of distorted glamour, and my desire when I left home was to become an artist and painter. Growing up in Texas, it seemed like there were things going on in the world that were worth venturing out for, and LA seemed to be the place.”