A Brief History of the Casting Couch
If, as a modern person living in the early part of the 21st century, you’ve spent any length of time diving into the world of online porn, you’re likely familiar with the casting couch series. If not, let me summarize:
The scene starts with a model entering through a door into what looks like the back office of a strip mall. She is there for what she believes to be a casting in a legitimate film. The male agent (offscreen) who has brought her in, promptly directs her to take a seat on a black leather sofa; the casting couch. The walls are sheet rock, the room is bare and devoid of character. It is almost clinical in appearance. The agent talks of fortune and fame and begins asking the aspiring actress a series of questions. As it progresses, the model, prompted by the agent, begins to strip out of her clothes. Not long after, the agent makes his onscreen appearance as he and the model engage in a rigorous game of “hide the salami.”
It’s the modern-day equivalent of the coeds who invite the pizza delivery guy in or the handyman who comes over to fix the plumbing and everything gets super porny super quickly.
Enter the Mid-Century Couch
Shortly after moving to Columbia, South Carolina, I purchased a mid-century styled couch for my new place. For the seven years prior, I had been living a fairly minimalist lifestyle and had very few possessions. As I set up the couch in this new and barren apartment, I thought about shooting on it and what that would look like. Absent of pretty much any décor, it reminded me of the casting couch series. Except for the fact that it was actually a nice couch. And that’s when the idea formed for the series:
Photograph models on a couch stripping out of their clothes in true Casting Couch porn fashion. Except the couch is nice. And make it art. Not porn.
For reference, my shoots, if they aren’t strictly fashion or swimwear shoots, generally run in this format. The model starts off clothed and then works down to whatever level of nudity/erotica we’ve discussed. Throughout this, I’m of course shooting, directing the model as needed for poses or styling, adjusting technical and environmental details and so on, and then taking the occasional cigarette break. Running sets like this, we end up with shots ranging from fashion to wherever we end up. It’s a pretty consistent process.
So taking what I was already doing and packaging it up with this lovely couch would bring the concept of it all right out front for questioning.
It’s worth questioning why we hold the perceptions we do with regards to nudity and sexuality, and even why we often wrap morality up with it. How did our views evolve, personally and collectively? What shapes them? Are they independently developed views or simply inherited or cultural beliefs? For something as important as human sexuality, I think it’s worthwhile to do a little introspection and evaluate our beliefs and dispositions. As with everything in life.
It’s worth questioning, too (and maybe even moreso), why there is even a smidgen of stigma with adult-oriented work.
From personal experience, since the beginning of my photographic career with models, I’ve gotten a lot of side eye as anyone who works in this field does, whether they’re models or photographers. I’ve had potential clients pull jobs from me once they realized the breadth of my work. I’ve had people talk to me as though I lacked a moral compass because of my work. I’ve had people shut me out of their lives because of my work. And frequently, the work that I do is simply glossed over or ignored. Like it’s an unusually large mole on my face that everyone is trying to avoid looking at. It’s not generally conversational.
But these are just my personal stories. Sometimes funny, sometimes curious, sometimes disheartening. The only takeaway to be garnered from me sharing them is that everyone in this industry has stories just like them. Everyone. Models have especially nutty tales. And terrible ones. The shame and guilt and judgement that gets hurled at them is not only unconscionable, it’s unjust. And then there’s the safety of it all, an entire topic unto itself.
As I mentioned, this project is intended to provoke thought and encourage meaningful discussion. I’m happy to have a discussion about these topics with anyone interested and can pick that up in the comments or in private messaging. I’m not going to do it here in this overview, however, as I don’t want to steer the conversation anymore than I already have.
I hope you find this project meaningful and interesting. And I hope you like the work. 🙂
Project Challenges and Thoughts
It’s no small challenge to photograph a variety of models with only a couch for the décor while trying to find the art in all of the shots and make every shoot different. And too, it’s a couch and how much can a person do with a couch?
One of the larger challenges was to not grow entirely exasperated with this project. Model, couch. Model, couch. Model, couch. For years. At one point, I was entirely done with it. And then I realized that no, I wasn’t at all done. I think my frustration grew from the fact that it didn’t feel like I was doing much more than this. And the flatness of it all could be exhausting but then I would realize it was fine because it was only mirroring flatness.
Having models jump on the couch, sit on the arms and the back of it (while not falling off), and getting stains on it from food and drinks, and general wear and tear has taken it’s toll. I spent about two weeks intensely cleaning spots out last year. Mostly, though, it’s a great couch. Crazy uncomfortable, though, for actual use. That might be as a result of what I’ve put it through.
Something unexpected: I’ve found that the couch is a great first set for a first shoot with a model. With every first shoot, there’s an initial period where you’re both getting comfortable with one another. So typically, the first shots are usually the most awkward or don’t quite hit right. That state works well for this project as it really mirrors the Casting Couch (the porn version). Very basic shots to start but then when we both find our groove (the model finding hers in front of the camera, me finding mine behind it), then we create some art. Great art if everything vibes right.
The couch shoots have evolved slightly. Mostly, I’ve allowed more décor into the shots while still keeping it pretty minimal. I have other ideas I’d like to incorporate into the project. Nothing that would take away from the root of it but just adding a little flair.