About The Scott Photographs
There are things that you just don't expect happen in real life, like your all time favorite porn star showing up at your front door one day. But then again, sometimes these things do happen – which is how I came to make the Scott photographs. It was 1989, when the 70's – that time of sexual expansiveness and carefree attitudes – were becoming a dim memory. The reality of AIDS by now had replaced much of the sexual exuberance that had come with the exploding gay liberation movement, set off by the Stonewall rebellion.
After Stonewall, in the 1970's, sex had become political. It was evident to so many us then, that the world had been getting it very wrong about gay people for just about forever. If the past could get something so basic as who we were so wrong, what else had it got wrong? Certainly when it came to sex the behavioral prescriptions and the social assumptions of the past were suspect. Everything needed to be rethought and reinvented. We were in no mood for sexual or social restraint; it was a time to experiment abundantly, devise new rules and find new wisdom. In fact, there was a moral and political obligation to do so. Sex was fun, yes, but it was also serious stuff. Then, in the early 80's came the shock of AIDS, and with it fear, anger, depression, grief, withdrawal and confusion. Our political energy moved from the intimate sexual and personal realms to the public realms of medicine and government. With that shift pornography took on a new importance in the lives of many gay men, changing from a casual diversion or an educational medium to a sustaining refuge, a place to withdraw and take stock. At least this was how I remember it being for me, in those years.
So it was right at that moment in history, on a fall evening in 1989, while porn occupied my center stage, having just turned off the lights and closed my eyes for the night, that the phone rang announcing the improbable. It was my lunch buddy Scott Tucker. Scott, a prominent Philadelphia activist and writer, spent much of his day working at home alone, as I did. We had fallen into the routine of meeting for lunch, for human contact, to gossip and to figure out how to fix the world. “Do you know who Scott O'Hara is?” he wanted to know that night on the phone. He'd like you to photograph him tomorrow, can we pick you up and go to breakfast?” My mind raced, was this a joke?! Had we discussed my passion for Scott, my favorite porn star; my hunt for any video he might have made the slightest appearance in? I couldn't remember. I was convinced it was for real, eventually, after getting a plausible explanation of how the two Scotts had met. I forget now just how, perhaps at a writers' conference they were both attending, or during the year Scott Tucker reigned as International Mr. Leather. At any rate, Scott O'Hara liked to seek out artists he admired and volunteer to pose; he was passing through town and my name came up. I got out of bed, checked my film supply and set up some lights. In the morning, when I answered the door, there he was. It was a moment of suspended reality where I thought of people stepping out of the screen in a Woody Allen movie.
At breakfast he talked about his attitude toward his work in sex films. He wanted authenticity, real sex, not staged – a spontaneous unfolding of the action; a kind of directed documentary, rather than the totally scripted artifice that was the dominant norm. It was my perception of this willingness and desire of Scott's to be real and vulnerable that had drawn me to him in his videos; he seemed relieved to find that I got it, and I was happy to find that I hadn't been deceived. It was those same qualities of his that allowed us to work together so well, that made it possible for me to make the kind of photographs I wanted. Later that morning I didn't feel like I was photographing an actor, or a stranger.
He came back three more times before he died; each time he was greatly changed in appearance and circumstance, but his quality of openness and vulnerability remained, as did his love of performing sexually for an audience or a camera.
For me the photographs from 1989 were a reaffirmation of life, a start out of the withdrawal that had come with the shock of AIDS. The Scott photographs in the years that followed were all really more of the same. They are about, in part, the refusal to give up on life or on life's pleasures. A triumph of a spirit over AIDS.
IMAGE: Scott, 25.10, 1989 (detail)