Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

3 minute read

Exposure

Empty Porn Sets Reveal The Strange World Of XXX Interior Design

Photographer Jo Broughton spent almost a decade documenting the stage sets of adult films.

  • 01 /12
  • 02 /12
  • 03 /12
  • 04 /12
  • 05 /12
  • 06 /12
  • 07 /12
  • 08 /12
  • 09 /12
  • 10 /12
  • 11 /12
  • 12 /12

At first, Jo Broughton's photographs look innocent. A teenage girl's bedroom. An empty class after a physics lesson. A room full of pink and blue balloons. But then you start noticing the details. The dildo on the wardrobe. The high heels and panties on the floor. The bottle of lube carefully tucked away out of sight.

They're all empty porn sets—and stripped of their writhing performers, they reveal an aspect of pornography that has since more or less been lost in the Gonzo age: the role of interior design.

Broughton started photographing these sets in 1997. A student at London's Royal College of Art, Broughton was looking for a side job, so she applied for an ad to be a photographer's assistant. When she showed up for her new job, she met Steve Colby, a pornographic photographer with a thick Yorkshire accent whose first words to Broughton were: "Have you ever seen a fanny upfront?" (In Britain, this means something decidedly different than it does in the States.)

Broughton hadn't, but soon she would. For the next two years, Broughton worked for Colby part time, making tea and coffee, painting sets, ironing bed linen, doing the lighting, and cleaning up fluids. She discovered that many porn actresses she met in Colby's studio were introduced to it by their boyfriends—who often sat on the sidelines during a shoot, watching—or their mothers, who also made pornography for the over-forties set. "For a long time I had quite a problem with what was going on there, I was quite conflicted," Broughton recalls. "I was green as grass; I'd never ever walked into something like that before." Over time, though, Broughton came to think of Colby and his fellow pornographers as a sort of oddball family.

Broughton also came to love the space of the studio. She felt comforted by the way sunlight would stream through the windows, illuminating what she calls "echoes of the chaos" that the performers had left behind them that day. "It was very strange in some respects, because I was in this space where I felt safe and accepted, but other people perceived it very differently," she says. In fact, Broughton more often felt threatened by the world outside of the porn studio at that time than the one inside it. She says that people would call Colby's studio every day, screaming obscenities into the line, while one actress she knew—who shot porn to pay her way through school—attended her graduation ball, only to discover that a classmate had posted her "work" all around the venue.

Which is why, when Broughton finally quit as Colby's assistant at 21, she lied about exactly where she had been working. Colby, ever kind to her, gracefully wrote Broughton a letter of recommendation for the Kent Institute of Art & Design, identifying himself only as a portrait photographer. But Broughton stayed loyal in her heart to Colby, living at the studio and even doing work for him as a cleaner for the next 10 years. During this time, she shot the bulk of her Empty Porn Set photos. She only stopped the project when Colby retired in 2007.

His timing was serendipitous. Around the same time, pornography went big on the Internet—and society's whole attitude towards porn seemed to change. "Thanks to the web, porn seemed to become more extreme, but at the same time, more accessible, so the public became desensitized to it," Broughton says.

Which is what makes Broughton's photographs so interesting, and in a way, so sad. They reveal a forgotten era—an era less obsessed with gonzo extremism than recreating what now seem to be relatively quaint sexual fantasies. The design of these sets isn't sophisticated, true, but no one films porn on sets at all anymore. Looking at Broughton's photos, you can't help but feel that something has been lost, and it's not sordid. It's surprisingly innocent.

All Photos: Jo Broughton

loading