Professional adult industry actors can be a fickle bunch. For proof, you need look no further than one of Gelf's recent Non-Motivational Speakers series, when one of our scheduled "performers" went MIA, never bothering to get in touch until the ass-end of the weekend. Thankfully, the New York-based erotic photographer Ellen Stagg was in attendance that Thursday night, and was gracious enough to take the mic and enlighten the Lower East Side audience with selected adventures in porn-star portraiture.
Admittedly, Gelf was not Stagg's big break: That would be last year's IFC short documentary series, The Stagg Party. Shot by the burgeoning mumblecore director Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs, Nights and Weekends), the series chronicled Stagg's work, her decidedly non-judgmental purview, and her unflinching pursuit of beauty in the female form. Also, there were titties.
"I love naked women. Doesn't everyone?"
Stagg traffics mainly in commercial and advertising work, snapping pics of Scarlett Johansson and Tenacious D, and contributing print work for MTV and Fox, among others. Yet her spare time is consumed by a not-so-secret pursuit, making glossies of the nubile young talent in the adult industry and posting it on her personal site, Staggstreet. Incidentally, or not, Stagg was recently a cover model herself (in tandem with 30 Rock's Judah Friedlander, he of the custom trucker hat) for Time Out New York's "Singles" issue.
In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Gelf spoke with Stagg about the photography medium, striking the Warholian balance between commercial and personal art, and the one thing she refuses to shoot.
Gelf Magazine: When did you start taking pictures, not professionally, per se, but as something you enjoyed or recognized as an effective medium for yourself?
Ellen Stagg: I took pictures a bit when I was a kid with a 110 camera, but I didn't get really into it until my junior year of high school, when I took a class in photography. That's when I realized it was for me. I got my BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts and I got signed to my first agent a year before I graduated college. That's when I say my career kicked off, because I started working for commercial photo jobs right after. My first job was at Mademoiselle, and then at Vibe to shoot Kelis.
Gelf Magazine: What commercial projects have you worked on? Are there brands or campaigns you routinely work on, or any you refuse to?
Ellen Stagg: I've shot for a ton of magazines and I've done campaigns for Nixon watches, Fox Racing, Southpole, MTV Times Square images, and publicity for Comedy Central and VH1. The only thing I refuse to shoot are cigarettes. I'm not a fan of glamorizing them. I think they are gross.
Gelf Magazine: What's drawn you to the erotic tinge?
Ellen Stagg: I have always said I'm a pervert at hearta good one. I've always been into erotic movies, images, music; so it just made sense for me to take pictures of erotica. Plus, I love naked women. Doesn't everyone?
Gelf Magazine: Indeed. But what do Mom and Dad say?
Ellen Stagg: My dad is very supportive, and is proud of me. I'm very lucky.
Gelf Magazine: The IFC series was directed by Joe Swanberg, somewhat a pioneer of the mublecore film genre. How did the series and that relationship come about? Did you know Joe beforehand?
Ellen Stagg: I met Joe during the fall of 2007 when he contacted me to be in his movie Nights and Weekends, playing a photographer. We then talked about doing some kind of behind-the-scenes video when I was shooting one of my girls for my blog, StaggStreet.com. We shot the pilot with Justine Joli, and then five months later he used it to pitch to IFC.com. They liked it and gave us the green light.
Gelf Magazine: Were you supposed to be playing yourself?
Ellen Stagg: I guess I was playing myself, since I don't act professionally. And I was really shooting while they were filming; he used one of my pictures for the movie poster. Also, Joe is coming out with a new film, Alexander the Last, in a couple weeks and I have another small cameo in this one as a model.
Gelf Magazine: Are all your subjects actresses? Do you consider employing some non-professionals, admittedly a different tack?
Ellen Stagg: You mean my subjects in my personal work? All the girls I shoot are in the adult industry, [including] fetish models, glamour models, and porn stars. I have never had good luck with shooting non-professional models, since regular girls always have doubts afterward and don't want me to show the pictures to anyone. I don't take pictures to not share them. I want to make images everyone can see.
Watch Ellen Stagg at Gelf Magazine's Non-Motivational Speaker Series: Entrepreneurs (3 of 3) in Sexy | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
Gelf Magazine: What's the drive behind your personal work? What are you trying to communicate, if anything?
Ellen Stagg: I just want to make beautiful images of women who like to be naked for me. I like making work that is titillating and erotic because it will move people, either in a good way or bad way. If you like the images and get turned on, awesome; if you hate them and think I'm creating smut, then I've aroused some kind of emotion out of you and I have done my job. I want you to feel something from my work, even if it is just for beauty.
Gelf Magazine: You recently graced the cover of Time Out's "Singles" issue. What was that like? I believe 30 Rock's Judah Friedlander was included in the feature. What's he like?
Ellen Stagg: I did it because IFC.com asked me to. I was on 50% of the covers and Judah was on the other 50%. I got a handful of emails from creeps saying things like, "I'm only interested in having sex with you." However, I have had a couple people come up to me on the street and ask me if I was Ellen Stagg from the cover of Time Out. That's been funny, like I'm a little celeb. I had one guy saying that he wasn't interested in dating me, nor would I be interested in dating him, however he was a big fan of my work. I was like, "Cool, you wanna sign up for my email newsletter?"
Gelf Magazine: You describe yourself therein as a "Brooklyn Barbie, but with a pee-wee bike instead of the convertible." So like, a Huffy, a My Little Pony tricycle with matching sidecar and streamers, what?
Ellen Stagg: I have a chromed-out Beach Cruiser with white walls, spoke beads, and a basket. It looks like a silver version of Pee Wee's bike from Pee Wee's Big Adventure. I've had it for six years and I love it. I bike everywhere.
Gelf Magazine: Obviously between IFC, TONY, and that insane Gelf series, your exposure is ramping up. Any other big projects on the slate?
Ellen Stagg: I've just launched my affiliates program and made T-shirts for Stagg Street designed by the guys at Mishka NYC. Otherwise, I'm traveling to shoot more girls. I just got back from Hawaii, and I'm probably heading to Miami and LA soon, too. I really want to put a book together and pitch it to publishers by the fall, plus do a project with my Holga and do a gallery show within the next year. I'm just expanding, having fun, and making art.