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Barbara Nitke carries the torch for controversial photography yet againLatest News ->

Thurs 16 Feb, 2012.

There’s more to Barbara Nitke than a fine art photographer – she’s the woman who, with the support of the US National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), in 2001 filed a lawsuit against the US attorney general, John Ashcroft, to overturn the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The CDA allowed the most conservative communities in the United States to precipitate legal proceedings against any internet content they deemed “obscene”, regardless of where in the country it was hosted.

Nitke v. Gonzales, as the case became known when President George Bush appointed Alberto Gonzales as Ashcroft’s replacement, went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2006. Nitke and the NCSF lost, and Nitke was “appalled” by the decision: “It’s vitally important to keep the internet free for education, the arts and open discussion on sexual topics. This law is a form of unfair censorship that must be stopped” (Barbara Nitke, cited by Susan Wright, “I know it when I see it”, Skin Two no. 58, Autumn 2007, p. 55).

Fortunately for those who appreciate Nitke’s photography, losing an important legal battle on behalf of Americans who produce creative material at the edgier end of the spectrum did not deter her from her own work. If it had, she would not now be seeking to publish American Ecstasy, her “memoir” from years working as a photographer on the sets of some 300 professional hardcore porn films in New York City in the 1980s and early ’90s.

But, as she states in a promotional video made for the occasion, “just because you have to be over 18 to buy the book, nobody wanted to publish it”. So, in the spirit of the person who took on the US attorney general, she’s embarked on a campaign to raise US$25,000 by 24 February to publish the book herself.

Sharon Kane and Carol Cross, by Barbara Nitke.

Nitke says the book is “funny, sad, sexy, controversial”, and – considering it’s a record of “the Golden Age of Porn”, shot with 35mm film, real scripts, acting, lighting, sound and editing – “it’s going to be a collector’s item”. It may well be a collector’s item: notes Nitke kept during the shoots have been turned into journal-like stories for the book; transcribed excerpts from recorded interviews she conducted with the porn stars of the time have been included; and there’s a critical essay by Arthur C. Danto, Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University and former art critic for The Nation. That’s in addition to the seventy colour plates.

Nitke’s campaign has drawn widespread support, and with eight days to go to the deadline, she needs to raise just under $1,000. Those interested in supporting the project can visit Nitke’s campaign site at Kickstarter to pledge an amount suited to their purse; the rewards are many and varied, including ink jet prints from the book, special handmade jewellery, and signed copies of the first edition of the book.

Kickstarter holds the pledged amount from a credit card until February 24. If by the deadline pledges fall short of the $25,000 goal, then none of the cards are processed. Nitke says there is no penalty if she earns more than her goal, and that “any amount helps...most projects are funded by lots of small contributions”.

We also recommend visiting Nitke’s own website, Barbara Nitke Photography.

Text copyright © SomethingDark 2012. Images copyright © Barbara Nitke 2012. All rights reserved.