FOREWORD by Alessia Glaviano, Senior Photo Editor at Vogue Italia.
Is our relationship with our bodies, sexuality and gender identity a result of biology or a social construct? Is there such thing as “right”, “wrong” or immoral sexuality? Are the moral degradation and the loss of dignity to which those women who decide to ‘sell’ their body are subjected to be imputed to the type of profession they have chosen or rather to the society’s stigmatisation of it?
These are some of the themes I found myself reflecting on after analysing ‘The Act’, Julia Fullerton-Batten’s work on women engaging of their own choice in the sex industry; escorts, strippers and adult entertainment performers. Those, who share freedom in the way they exploit their body and their sexuality.
Fullerton-Batten’s photographs are staged: she created a set meticulously for each one of the portrayed women on the basis of their act. The fictional dimension is emphasized by the use of film set lighting and Julia’s decision to show set design elements in the photographs including her somewhat unique use of the black wall of the studio as a backstage.
Showing the ob-scene – meaning what is off-scene – acquires in the artist’s photographs multiple meanings. As well as laying emphasis on the fabrication element that is intrinsic to the photographic medium, the images echo the performing aspect of the star’s role, the drama of her performance ripping away the veil of hypocritical pretension that seems to demand that such women are always and only represented as victims, martyrs looking for atonement and not as working girls, who in their own right are capable of self-determination. Such meanings are given further prominence by the prevailing aesthetics, which are deliberately vivid and vibrant and reference a pop sensitivity, hence are a foreword to post-modernism and a reflection of the society in which we live.
I believe that Fullerton-Batten has intentionally chosen to address her themes in such a way not to ward off her audience, but to lead the viewer to meditate upon what (s)he is not able to understand at first - if what is being portrayed in the image can be judged positively or if, on the contrary, is to be seen as something despicable. Indeed, the ambivalence of the artist’s images shot through her eyes free of prejudice and judgment at the time of exposure becomes the perfect metaphor of the paradox of the obscene, something that attracts and repulses at the same time.
The enigmatic and controversial photographs of Fullerton-Batten are able to seize this paradox, amplifying the ambiguity, raising questions and giving viewers cause for thought.
Fullerton-Batten recites: “during my meetings with my models, both before and during the shoot, I sensed that they tend to live their entire working lives as if on a stage. They are women who are proud of their bodies and choose to use their bodies in order to make an income.”
Different in ethnicity, social class and cultural background the 15 women surveyed talk about themselves with honesty, reveal faceted personalities, with peaks of boldness and vulnerability. What they all share, from the escorts to the stage actresses is an incredible ease in showing their naked bodies. This ease emerges strongly in the video interviews and it again leads me to think about this extreme paradox, because what eroticises nudity is its intrinsic link in the collective consciousness to a moment of intimacy, not one for the eyes of everyone.
Fullerton-Batten describes a common trait of her models to be a "high degree of self-respect, certainly well above the norm". I wonder if their pride is not a form of defence, if their body language is genuine or rather the result of an endless performance, which begins with the different roles they perform during work hours to cross over afterwards into a forced persona in their everyday lives. They constantly adjust their own perception of themselves and reality. Is their perception not redundant? This is a valid question for each and every one of us, female and male.