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What It's Like To Photograph People Masturbating (NSFW, For One Thing)

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    Photo: Courtesy Of Katharina Poblotzki.

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    The first time I ever photographed someone masturbating, it was for a small, feminist-porn magazine in Berlin. After the shoot was over, I bought my subject a piece of cake and a coffee, over which he half-jokingly complained that there was something asexual about me — and that it didn't help him during his performance in front of the camera.

    When I was commissioned by Neon Magazine to shoot a larger project on my generation’s relationship with masturbation, I thought about my role in it as a female photographer: Would it put pressure on the guys to perform? Would it be less intimidating for the girls? And, would there be an expectation that I'd help them “get going”?

    Doing a masturbation shoot is a pretty lonely affair for the model. Itʼs you, your body, your private fantasies playing in your head, and no one else; this idea was central to the project. I didn't want to interfere with my subjectsʼ sexual performance in any way. Iʼd try to disturb them as little as possible — to be the unobtrusive fly on the wall instead of a voyeur clumsily knocking things over as I hovered bedside, while they attempted to orgasm.

    I hoped to create a safe atmosphere for my subjects to really let go, and I tried to give them the space they needed to do their own thing. But, honestly, I was just as nervous as they were. I spent several hours with each person before any clothes came off, trying to establish the intimacy I needed for the final act, which usually only lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

    That awkward moment when we finally stopped talking, and they began moving their hands into their pants (with me snapping away), was difficult for all the models. But, I was surprised at how honest and un-staged their performances were. There was no vain posing or over-the-top, fake moaning. I didn't give any direction to the models and every one had a totally different style, a body language all their own, and a method to shut out everything else and focus on themselves. I wanted to capture the tension — sometimes verging on strain — of this part of sexuality. After all, the practice is used in so many ways: as a hangover cure, to kill boredom, or to combat insomnia.

    Masturbation isnʼt necessarily romantic; itʼs not a show for anybody and it doesnʼt have to look good. That was reason enough for me to undertake this boundary-pushing project and put such an intimate act on display.

    Ed. note: The exclusive outtakes ahead contain NSFW content.

    Katharina Poblotzki is a photographer working in New York and Berlin. She brings a sensitive approach and a fascination with human nature to her work, and her portraits often focus on intimacy and personal relations.

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