If I’ve learned anything from interviewing JT, it’s that “no one ends up in the adult industry by accident” and “when you fall, you have to land somewhere.” The porn industry is a well-oiled machine that consists of many operating parts. When the economy tanked it affected everyone, from actors and directors to stylists and photographers.
I contacted JT through Zoey Holloway, the MILF porn star featured in last month’s column. JT’s been a porn photographer for over seven years, but due to the recession he’s taking more mainstream work. I never met JT in person, since I’m in New Orleans and he’s in Los Angeles. According to his website, JT is an imposing 6’5” and 230 pounds of lean muscle with a buttery smile and a floppy brown dog close at hand. On the phone, JT was guarded. What I thought was reticence to open up was extreme shyness. He’s used to hiding behind his camera and guitar, not being exposed and questioned.
We talked about his shyness and his good luck with job contacts like Playboy and Fox Magazine. But, what is luck exactly? Is it timing and good looks? Intuitive opportunism? We agreed that luck is relative and confidence and drive are better things to cultivate, especially when a person lacks self-esteem or has been told his whole life that his talents are not worth pursuing.
When JT was in New York in 1998 he held a 9-millimeter Beretta to his head, but instead of pulling the trigger he fled to Los Angeles to finally pursue his talents. Hungry, he picked up his camera again and began shooting porn stills, an unlikely place for a guy like JT to land.
The Rumpus: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
JT: I was born on a military base in Virginia and we moved every 3 years. I lived in Germany, Indianapolis, Japan, Maryland and New York. For my parents, school was everything. I come from parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents who grew up poor and made something of themselves: doctors, lawyers, military officers and respected community organizers. My parents were very linear and traditional. My dad was a military officer and a police chief, my mom was a nurse and later an elementary school teacher. Their hope for me was that I would be a doctor. Anything short of that was unacceptable and a disappointment… I was discouraged from all of my dreams because they were “dreams” and not “real pursuits.”
I failed 8th, 10th, and 11th grades repeatedly. Finally, at age 17, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Since I kept failing school, I was grounded from ages 8-17 so I spent the formative years of my life alone. The things I enjoyed were stripped away from me in an effort to motivate me to work towards earning them back, but it didn’t work. I just learned to do without joy. I was a withdrawn, angry, depressed kid. I was always told what I did wrong – never what I did right; “doing right is what you’re supposed to do, so you shouldn’t expect praise for that.” I grew up believing that I was stupid and that I never did anything right. I never learned how to talk to people. Talking to girls terrified me. I’m still very much that kid sitting in his room in his own little world. You’d think I’d just get over it at some point but knowing your operating system has a virus doesn’t mean you know how to get rid of it.
Rumpus: So you were sent away?
JT: I was sent to live in Nashville to finish my last year of high school when I was 17 in an attempt to get my grades up. I went to live with my uncle and my two cousins. I think at that point my parents were just worn out and didn’t know what else to try. I’m pretty sure it was my uncle’s idea, to give my parents a break and me a new environment. I remember my uncle telling me that my dad thought he had failed in raising me. I finally graduated high school and then I worked odd jobs: fast food, cooking fried chicken, loading TVs, stoves and refrigerators into trucks.
Rumpus: How did you get interested in photography?
JT: I always loved gadgets. My Dad bought me my first camera when I was 11. I dropped hints for years and wanted to take photography in school but I was too young. I taught myself the basic technical stuff. I didn’t have an actual “photography teacher” until college. I loved this book of Herb Ritz nudes; his fine art nudes and his simple composition inspired me.
In my twenties, I had a job as a care provider for autistic people. One of the guys went to the same camera shop every day at the same exact time, so I took him and asked the owner of the camera shop questions about developing film. He handed me 10 rolls of film and some photography magazines and over the next 6 months processed a lot of my stuff for free. One day he gave me an entire garbage bag full of film. Around that time my cousin called me out of the blue. He was a graphic design illustrator. He told me to apply to the School of Visual Arts in NY so I did. I was offered a large scholarship. I was 27 years old when I enrolled.
Rumpus: Do you take pictures because you refuse to talk, can’t talk or are you a voyeur?
JT: I’d have to say because I can’t talk. I have no game and I’m a social retard. I also consider myself a voyeur because I wanted to participate, but I was too shy. I have an aptitude for photography. It came easy for me. I tend to give up on things that challenge me. I have the “You’re a loser, you’ll never beat this” mindset. And, because of the ego boost I constantly seek and need, photography has proven to be the thing that generates a pat on the back and kind words instead of intense ridicule. Taking photos has also been my main means of income for the last several years.
Rumpus: What was your introduction to the sex industry?
JT: I went to my first strip club in DC at age 17. It was like going to an art gallery. I would sit in awe of the shapes I saw and the lines of the women’s bodies. When I was older I saw my first Picasso and Van Gogh and it reminded me of the women in that strip club. They were nude, curvy bodies of all ages and they danced on a platform stage in the middle of the club.
Rumpus: How did you go from fashion photography to porn stills?
JT: It was gradual. I learned in school that I don’t always know what I want or what I’m trying to say. I’m usually looking for some kind of vulnerability. New York fashion models had some vulnerability but the LA based porn models are more guarded and conditioned to think something is sexy, so it was a challenge to get them to disarm. I would ask my dancer or model clients to dance for themselves, to get into that headspace.
I hadn’t picked up my camera in years when a dancer friend of mine came over and said, “let’s go take some pictures.” We walked to a little park and she started taking her clothes off. It was dumb luck. Someone saw us but no police. It was pretty secluded. She was a stripper and oddly enough decided to strip after a conversation with me — so she claimed. We were at a club where I was working as the sound guy. There was a contest for concert tickets. Two girls took off their tops and won the tickets that she wanted. She obsessed about it and called me later that night (like 4am). I said, “What’s the big deal? They did what they felt they needed to do to get what they wanted. They were comfortable with it, why aren’t you?” A few weeks later she called me: “Guess where I’m working?” She was stripping.
Rumpus: How did you get a job as a photographer in hardcore porn?
JT: No one ends up in porn by accident. I don’t care if you’re a secretary in a production office or if you’re a performer in a gangbang — you’re in the adult industry because you chose to be there. My girlfriend at the time was an aspiring fashion model. Her photographer liked me and took me on as an assistant. I was in school in NY and stopped showing up for classes because I needed to work. I lost my scholarship, dropped out and hit the road with Playboy for the next four years. The girlfriend went to Paris to model and we broke up. I was crushed. I quit Playboy because my boss was mean and I couldn’t deal with it.
I got a job in the Twin Towers working for American Express doing graphic design, a totally dead end job. At this time in New York I was living with 6 people and I was the only one who was employed. They were potheads and ex-cons and played loud music in the basement until 6am. One night I went into the basement. I knew where the guns were kept. I wanted to change something- get control over my life. So I got out a 9-millimeter Beretta and put it to my head. It just made sense to pull the trigger. That scared the hell out of me. I gave my two weeks notice and moved to Los Angeles with $24 in my pocket and a guitar. I had applied to the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
Rumpus: Then you got back into photography?
JT: I was asked to take headshots for musicians at school. One of the projects we had to do was make mock press kits. The administration of the school hired me to take and do the photo finishing for the kits and that helped. I had applied at Virgin Records, Tower, Guitar Center, Sam Ash and Home Depot and nobody would hire me because I was “overqualified.” Then I saw an ad for a room in a house. I lived in a woman’s living room for $250 a month.
Rumpus: You dropped out of school again to work in the sex industry?
JT: Yeah. I started working regularly and dropped out of school within six months. I got a job working for an associate who owned a website that provided advertising for escorts. From there I got hired by Playmates to shoot their headshots and work came my way. The guy I assisted for at the escort service called me years later and asked me if I would be comfortable shooting stills for hardcore porn. I said I was more than comfortable with it. I began shooting for Vivid Alt, West Coast Productions, and Danny’s Hard Drive. I’m freelance now. I’ve been shooting for Fox Magazine for six years and I shot stills for 25 websites for Pistol Whip.
Rumpus: Why did you do it for so long and what do you love about it?
JT: I love girls, women, whores and sluts. I love naked bodies, erotica and sensuality. Being in porn allows me to be around women who are uninhibited. Women who, in my mind, would otherwise not give me the time of day and even if they did — I would just stumble over my words or clam up. However, working creates a comfortable dynamic because I’m focusing on the job and not on my insecurities. After I do a good job, I get some kind of approval and acceptance. Yes, I’m that fucked up.
This is a job and for many of the women it’s only one of their jobs. Many of them work corporate jobs. I’ve met a biochemist and an EMT who do porn for fun. But the most surprising one was the girl from Hawaii whose grandmother suggested she do porn. Her grandmother picked out the porn guy, Jack Venice, for her to be in the scene with because her grandma thought he was hot. She got to turn to him and say, “My grandma thinks you’re hot.” He held up a sign for the grandma that said, “You’re next.” I’ve never laughed more during a photo shoot.
There is sad stuff like junkies who destroy themselves with drugs. That’s hard to watch. Also, the level of denial that some people have is surprising. They have five teenage kids and think their kids won’t find out. Or they say, “My fiancé thinks I’m only doing girl/girl.” The thing is, it’s on film forever.
Rumpus: Have you experienced or observed a lot of racism in the porn industry?
JT: I was raised around all ethnicities, military bases and suburbs. I wasn’t raised in the hood, in the projects or anything like that. It’s a common misconception that most blacks grow up totally underprivileged. Many do but there’s a vast population that didn’t. There were enough whites and non-whites around me that I was able to witness “everyone” go through common trials of life. I was raised to know what it meant to be a black male in America and the obstacles I was inevitably going to encounter but I’ve never cared that I was black.
In the porn industry, there’s major interracial stigma and this whole hierarchy surrounding it. A girl will have interracial sex off camera but on camera, it devalues her. If a white girl fucks too many black guys, she won’t be worth as much and girls will hold out as long as they can to get the most money they can before they do interracial. The hierarchy goes girl/girl, boy/girl, anal, double vag, double anal, interracial. They’ll do three or four guys but they’ll hold out for a long time before they’ll give in to interracial. Or, they’ll do it with one guy in particular. Hispanic or Asian girls doing scenes with white guys is not considered interracial. The term “interracial” only refers to black men. Also, black men are expected to have these extra enormous cocks.
Photos by Romy Suskin
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