As a professional photographer I specialize in commercial, celebrity and erotic work. Late last year, I got an e-mail from a total stranger asking me to be in his film. The first thing I thought was, "great he has seen the pictures on my erotic website (Staggstreet.com) and wants me to get naked." But if there is one thing that I have learned in this business, it's to always keep an open mind. I got in touch with him and asked him to send his prior films.
I got the package a couple of days later from Joe Swanberg, a well-respected independent film maker. I watched his feature Kissing on the Mouth" and totally loved it. It was incredibly raw and made me think about my own work. Joe's film inspired me, so I agreed to be a part of his upcoming project.
A couple weeks later, he was in New York and we went out to lunch. We talked about everything, from relationships, to our own art. We realized we had a lot in common with our work and the fine lines we are always trying to not cross. In addition, people often mistake our respective photos and films as real and find it difficult to see where our work ends and our real lives begin.
I told Joe that I had always wanted someone to document my photo shoots, to show my fans how funny and light-hearted my job really is. When I shoot my models we talk about everything: men, politics, food and our pets. Even though my pictures are sexy, sensual and beautiful, I'm also having fun behind the camera, laughing and just being one of the girls with my subjects.
Joe thought this was a great idea and offered to film me and one of my models when he was in town. I called up my favorite muse and good friend, adult film star Justine Joli. She made sure that she was available, and flew in that morning to be shot by us both.
Months went by and I kept bothering Joe, in the nicest way possible, to see the footage of Justine and myself. Joe then called me up, telling me he had been in touch with IFC and they had asked him to pitch a documentary web series to IFC.com. He asked if I would be interested and if so, said we could use the footage with Justine as a "pilot." I had seen his initial footage and felt he totally understood my vision. This is how our collaboration on The Stagg Party began.
Once the series was green-lit with IFC.com, I was very excited. My first shoot that was filmed for the series was with my models Ariel and Mandy Morbid. I asked a fellow art friend in the neighborhood if I could shoot at his loft. It ended up being 98 degrees out and he had one little air conditioner for his whole huge loft apartment. It was so hot we would have to take breaks to stand in front of it to cool down, and my models ended up posing in a cold shower, leaving hand marks all over the concrete walls.
After that New York based-shoot, Joe and I talked about the fact that most of my models were based in LA and we planned a trip, since I regularly shoot women in the adult industry there. I can't pay my models; however adult actresses always need new pictures for content on their websites, so we work out the shoot for trade. That is one of the main reasons I shoot women in the adult industry, besides that they are comfortable with their bodies and won't be conflicted two weeks later when their pictures are all over the internet and their boyfriends don't understand.
I photographed a lot of my regular subjects including: Jelena Jensen, Madison Young, Ryan Keely and new ones, like Charlotte Stokely, Joanna Angel and Renee Perez. The pictures ranged from fetish/latex modeling by Courtney Cruz and Shelby Jones, to glamour with Asa Akira. The trip went by in a flash. Each girl had a different story and a different way of modeling for me as a photographer and Joe was there to capture it all on film.
When I got back to New York, Joe filmed my brother, agent and myself. He filmed me in my every day life: from getting up in the morning, to talking to my designer about revamping my site (StaggStreet.com), to hanging out with my cats and making sure my pictures are beautiful, polished and up to my own standards of arresting photography.
I feel like Joe filmed the whole spectrum of what I do in my everyday life and I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with him on the project. Joe is a real artist and IFC.com gave him the freedom to pursue his artistic vision. The only problem that reared its head when I was shooting is that sometimes Joe would be in my shot and so I would move and this in turn would ruin his. It was funny having two artists, who are always so in control of their own work, learning to work together and trying to find the right fit.
But now after seeing the series I believe I couldn't have asked for it to be done any other way. It's just what I wanted and I hope it shows the audience an intimate portrait of a much-misunderstood industry.
The documentary series The Stagg Party premieres on IFC.COM on October 13.