2. The Use of Performers in Commercial Pornography

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
2

The objective nature of photography confers on it a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making...The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it.

-Andre Bazin[922]

The leap from "picture making" to photography was an event of profound cultural significance; it was, in Bazin's view "the most important event in the history of plastic arts."[923] It was, as well, the single most important event in the history of pornography: images of the human body could be captured and preserved in exact, vivid detail. As with every other visible activity, sex could now, by the miraculous power of the camera, be "freed from the conditions of time and space:"

"Sex" in the abstract, of course, remains invisible to the camera; it is particular acts of sex between individual people which photographs, films, and video tapes can record. Unlike literature or drawing, sexually explicit photography cannot be made by one person: there must be a photographer and one or more persons being photographed. This use of an actual person as the object distinguishes such photography from all other types of sexual material. No study of filmed pornography can thus be complete without careful attention to the circumstances under which individual people decide to appear in it, and the effects of that appearance on their lives.

Nor is this an academic or trivial exercise. The evidence before us suggests that a substantial minority of women will at some time in their lives be asked to pose for or perform in sexually-explicit materials.[924] It appears, too, that the proportion of women receiving such requests has increased steadily over the past several decades.[925] If our society's appetite for sexually-explicit material continues to grow, or even if it remains at current levels, the decision whether to have sex in front of a camera will confront thousands of Americans.

After a brief clarification of terms, we begin our examination of the issues surrounding pornographic "performances" by reviewing the extent to which those issues have been faced by previous commissions and by the courts. We then turn to a brief overview of the kinds and quality of available evidence on the subject, and a summary of what that evidence shows. In conclusion, we consider

three areas which the record suggests should be of serious concern, along with recommendations for federal, state and local action.

Notes

  1. The Ontology of the Photographic Image, in Classic Essays on Photography, (A. Trachtenberg ed. 1980), pp. 237, 241.
  2. Id., p. 241.
  3. Houston Hearing, Vol. I, Diana Russell, p. 288. In Professor Russell's random survey of San Francisco women, fourteen percent stated that they had been asked to pose for pornographic pictures. Id. p. 285. The survey did not examine how many of these women actually posed for such pictures. A national random survey of Canadians revealed that as many as 60,000 people in that country had been used in pornography as children, and perhaps an equal number as adults. 2 Sexual Offenses Against Children, Report of the Comm. on Sexual Offenses Against Children and Youths, Min. of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, (1984), p. 1198 (hereinafter the Badgley Report).
  4. Houston Hearing, Vol. I, Diana Russell, p. 287. (Younger women statistically are far more likely to have been asked to pose for pornography, with twenty-four percent of those aged twenty to twenty-four having been asked as against two percent of those over sixty.) Because "pornographic pictures" may not have been clearly defined in the questions included in the survey, it is possible different generations of respondents interpreted the query differently.