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‘Technically Intimate’ Offers a Revealing Portrait of the ‘Sexting’ Phenomenon (NSFW)

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When Chicago-based photographer Evan Baden first embarked on Technically Intimate seven years ago, homemade pornography and sexting were just beginning to gain momentum. Couples were making and selling their own sex tapes for profit, and individuals were snapping nude shots and sending them away for the remote enjoyment of a sometimes uncontainable audience.

What drew Baden first to websites like sellyoursextape.com was an uncertainty about new technologies and their influence over definitions of sexual activity; where intimacy once necessitated physical contact, it could now unfold on a screen. Scrolling through the pornographic photos and videos of others, he felt that many had been staged not for the mutual pleasure of the parties involved but for those that would be consuming the final product. In some ways, he suggests, the trend paradoxically represented an alienation and separation between partners, and private acts became public property, regardless of the consent of those pictured.

For Technically Intimate, Baden envisions and stages the circumstances behind real photographs that he has discovered online. When asked why he chose not simply to appropriate the original shots—a question he has heard many times over—the photographer stresses that to do so would be to re-violate the privacy of those who have had their trust breached. Often, he explains, the people in these pictures are unaware that the image has spread across the web. He suspects many of the young women whose photos appear on these websites to be underage, and to redistribute them would be not only unethical but a punishable legal offense.

The majority of Baden’s re-staged moments feature women because those are the images he found most often on the Internet. The manifold pornography sites seemed to be directed mostly at heterosexual men, and when he searched for male nudes, he found that most were aimed at gay men, concluding that throughout his expedition, “all of the sites, whether they featured males, females, or couples, were all geared towards male viewers.” The pictures featuring males were typically penis snaps, whereas the female-centric photos seemed more carefully and thoughtfully constructed.

In response to the anonymity of up-close shots of sexual organs, the photographer chose not to recreate the image itself but rather to speculate about the scenarios from which it was born. He wanted to make photos that cut to the core of the fact that these are real people, not disembodied parts. In order to ensure that his models’ rights were not violated in any way, Baden sent out an advertisement over Craigslist looking for people who wanted to participate because they were interested in the project. He only invited unpaid volunteers who were over the age of consent. With all, he conducted interviews and incorporated their point of view.

Since 2008, when he first released Technically Intimate, Baden has noticed a shift. Young adults who see the images these days don’t find them shocking or unusual; sexting has become a part of mainstream culture. The photographer doesn’t condemn its practice; instead, he asks simply that we consider the safety and privacy of those whose bodies are distributed without consent. “I do find it interesting that even after seven years, the work seems to be more relevant than ever,” admits the artist.

Technically Intimate is a part of Patrick Remy’s book Desire: New Erotic Photography, published byPrestel. Evan Baden’s work will be on view this fall at NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf.

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All images © Evan Baden

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