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The following book is available from amazon.com:

'Photo Sex: Fine Art Sexual Photography Comes of Age' by David Steinberg


Photograph by David Steinberg

Nice People Suck: The cover art from David Steinberg's 'Photo Sex: Fine Art Sexual Photography Comes of Age.'

On Our Backs

Santa Cruz photographer David Steinberg clicks his way into the bedrooms of real people to portray the raw beauty of real sex

By Mike Connor

David Steinberg has so much to say about sex, you'd think he invented it. His monthly column "Comes Naturally" has been running in the S.F.-based Spectator Magazine and circulating around the Internet for over 11 years now. The amazing part is that, even with all that, he's never at a loss for fresh and penetrating insights into sex and sexuality.

"Art has a function," says Steinberg during a recent interview at his house in Santa Cruz. "It teaches us things in a different way than going to school and reading an article. But art exploration and sex haven't come together before; or if it does, nobody knows about it. There are dozens of photographers that are doing sex as serious photography--not jack-off photography--with sex front and center."

With his new book, Photo Sex: Fine Art Sexual Photography Comes of Age, Steinberg is showcasing 31 photographers who specialize in capturing explicitly honest images of sexuality. Light years ahead of your average porn pics, these images are noticeably candid and charged with genuine intimacy, which makes sense given that the so-called "models" are not the kind who get paid to pose, but rather everyday people--most often characterized by the wide range of difference in age, race, body type and sexual preferences--engaged in some form of real sex.

Right about now, most of you are undoubtedly thinking, "Grandma will simply adore that book for her coffee table." And though she'd probably never admit it, you're probably right. Because in a puerile culture smitten with images of Pam Anderson, Tommy Lee and Paris Hilton doin' the nasty on tape, it's good to know that someone is trying to loosen the stranglehold that Hollywood and world-porn-capital Van Nuys have on the popular sexual imagination. Because regular people have sex too, and it can get pretty damn hot.

"Trying to validate people's sexuality is my way of being a political activist these days," says Steinberg, who's been a civil rights activist since the '60s. "Sexual issues are all over the news, from abortion to sex roles to gender issues to AIDS; the whole culture is dealing in a very powerful and political way with huge changes around sexual values. I consider my work political in that way--of getting people to honor their sexuality even when it doesn't fit into this narrow channel of what the culture says is legitimate."

While the book may not be suitable for the puritans and the unadventurous among us, it functions beautifully as a sort of sexual litmus test, and even presents a gentle, Fermata-esque confrontation for the viewer that Steinberg hopes might help people to embrace the quieter, darker, amorphous dimensions of their own sexuality. The photos in the beginning of the book are actually quite soft and loving, but like the ascending difficulty of an exercise bike program, the content gets progressively naughtier, with participants experimenting with sexual positions and toys as well as gender and power relations.

"I believe that if you don't pay attention to your sexual desires, if you don't honor or work on what you really want sexually, the emotional price tag will be bigger than you think," says Steinberg. "And if you do act out your sexual desires, even if they make for difficulties in your life, the amount of personal confirmation and satisfaction will be greater than you think, so I tend to advocate for people to honor their desire and take it seriously. There's a lot of misery out there from people who are not happy sexually."

Steinberg has earned the trust of a steady stream of couples who allow him, with his camera and lights in tow, into their lives and bedrooms.

"People who do this end up with pictures of themselves that they can't see in any other way," says Steinberg. "You need someone to grab a moment for you and show it back to you; you can't get it from the movie camera in the corner. When people are looking into each others eyes and are just really connected to each other, that's my job is to capture that. You can just see the love, and I think that's the big payoff."

Photo Sex: Fine Art Sexual Photography Comes of Age, Down There Press; 128 pages; $35 paper, is available at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Logos, Capitola Book Cafe and Camouflage. Check out David Steinberg's archived columns at www.sexuality.org/davids.html or subscribe to his mailing list by emailing [email protected].

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From the December 24-31, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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