I discovered George Pitts — photographer, writer, and painter — when I came across his stunning portraits in the erotic magazine Quite Frankly. I visited his web site, where I was thrilled to learn that he is working on a book of portraits of Mature Women, aged 35 or older.
I contacted him to volunteer my mature self for his project, and was surprised when an artist of his stature actually responded. Sadly, the geographical divide between us prohibits our working together. Can you hear the shards of my broken heart spilling across the floor?
He did, however, agree to let me ply him with questions about his craft, his views on how the culture treats women in general, and his book of erotic portraits of women 35 and older. Read on for his thoughtful and eloquent answers.
You’re currently working on a book project of nudes of mature women. How did this project come about? What got your interested in working with older women?
When I turned forty, I looked around the cultural/media landscape, and noticed that there was little sensual or erotic representation of women aged 40 and older in America. I’ve always found the so-called “older woman” as compelling a subject as young women. It’s a result of my social interactions, my sincere and enduring love for my wife, my Feminist leanings, and my lifelong attention to World cinema, particularly French cinema and its its passionate regard for mature women, particularly Beatrice Dalle, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling, and others.
Apart from the range of younger women whom I photograph, that includes women of all races, diverse professions, differing sensibilities, and varied body types, I possibly bring a more reverent quality of attention to the mature women that I portray. Before I embarked on this work as a formal commissioned project, I always photographed older and younger women alike, because it interests me, and contributes to a more complex (and hopefully more generous) appreciation of women.
I asked you to send me a few of your favorite photos of older women. Why did you choose the ones that you did? Why are they special to you?
My selection touches on joy, affection, beauty, and allure. The pictures epitomize the range of feeling and attention to craft that engages me.
There’s a stereotype of older women being less comfortable with their bodies and sexuality. Have you found this to be the case, or not?
Largely untrue, I’d say. Perhaps older women are more cautious about who they reveal themselves to, given the media fixation on the “young girl.” I don’t want to generalize, but the conversations about living and selfhood differ with older women, and those conversations reinforce and sustain my desire to photograph women eloquently, and at times, intensely. And I’ve heard the Darwinian theories about men naturally gravitating towards younger women for procreative reasons, but what does that say philosophically or spiritually if that is the case?
As subjects, younger women have sometimes been described as less willful and more amenable, which is said to be more to the liking of men, but if that is the case, then perhaps this explains why our culture is inundated with a plethora of interchangeable images of girls. I think it’s critical that images of this kind surface in our cultural discourse as a result of choosing to photograph mature women.
Your portraits are erotic, and in some cases, explicit. How do you create a feeling of safety so that women can be comfortable with this level of intimacy?
My demeanor is that of a gentleman, and normally calm. Often my subjects are extensively aware of my work, so they don’t have difficulty imagining themselves in certain scenarios. Just as often my conversations with subjects will exceed thirty or so e-mails, particularly if they live outside New York City or abroad; and in such instances models explain their levels of comfort, or make it perfectly clear what the limits are in revealing their bodies.
Imparting a feeling of safety requires sensitivity, thoughtfulness, good humor, and a degree of candor. I think it’s also important to realize that very often the subjects relax into a comfortable explicitness or vulnerability because there’s a trust between us. There are certain kinds of erotic photos that I repeatedly capture, because parallels are being drawn to the unconscious gestural behavior that many women have in common.
What’s the difference between boudoir photography and erotic/art photography?
Boudoir photography tends to be more stylized and predictable in the number of set-ups deliberately explored by the photographer and model. There is a specific market and a clearer set of expectations regarding pictures in the boudoir genre; and from what I can tell, the pictures tend to fulfill the model’s desire for a series of pictures to share with a beloved, or are done for her own pleasure. Boudoir photographers may feel they’re performing a more commercial service, and not be so preoccupied with creating an innovative contemporary range of pictures.
Whereas the art photographer is driven to represent their own ideas about beauty, desire, sexuality, and the existing zeitgeist. Art photographers probably collaborate differently, in a less overdetermined manner, as they pursue images that are more novel, or freshly conceived; and if they have designs on meeting the taste of a publisher or the art world, the visual look of their images may reflect or exceed cultural imperatives, and embody elevated notions of sublime beauty or incomparable stylishness, or the transgressive tendencies that define an era.
The solely “erotic” photo may have a limited market or shelf life, often ending up exclusively on the internet, and lumped in with other no less erotic or sexually frank images. These images are rarely seen as artful above all, but they tend to be what the populist audience wants to see, and I’m sure that audience sees more art in those pictures than I do.
What would you say to a woman who thinks she’s too old/not thin enough to pose nude?
I would say that I respect and covet them the way they are. And I would hope that my aesthetic approach would reflect that sentiment.
When you reflect on your current project, what have you learned that’s surprised you?
I suppose the fact that I’ve kept doing this project through thick and thin.
When will your book be released and how can we find it?
I honestly don’t know when this book will be finished; but subjects continue to reach me, largely as a result of word-of-mouth, referrals by subjects previously captured, suggestions by the editor compiling my work, and the extensive networking that I’ve resorted to over the years. I think I’ve almost done enough pictures for possibly two books at this point. Depending on certain conditions, the book could have a wide distribution and be found at some of the remaining bookstores, or ordered online.
If there are any women in the New York area, on the East Coast, or visiting here, who after reading this piece, or seeing a few of the pictures, are interested in being photographed for this project, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the notification on my web site:
George Pitts is a photographer, writer, and painter. His paintings, drawings, and photography have been shown in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions in the United States, Japan, and Canada. He is an Assistant Professor in the Photography program at Parsons The New School for Design, in The School of Art, Media and Technology.
His writing and essays have been published in: The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, S Magazine, Nomenus Quarterly, Hotshoe: Contemporary Photography, Next Level, aRude, Camera Obscura, The New Tough. His first book of poetry, entitled “Partial Objects,” will be published in January 2015.
Photo of George Pitts by Erik Madigan Heck for Creem Magazine.