August 15 2019

Looking back at our films in the Atrophy Portrait series.


The history of traditional portraiture is about status and branding. With ATROPHY PORTRAITS we were interested in breaking down those layers of constructed perfection. Initially in renaissance portrait painting, women are often pictured in a profile view, detached and passive, ready to receive.  This painting was one of the first to have the female subject engaging. John Berger talks about how Manet's painting Olympia confronted this by confronting the gaze of the viewer directly. 

The subject meets your eyes without appeasing or smiling, which in the 1830's was challenging, there are parallels between the expressions in the film and this painting.

And so in sex, submissive women are presumed to be passive, detached receivers of the desires of others. This isn't always the case. The role of 'submissive', and the potential for transcendence in consensual degradation is powerful. Endurance is powerful. Subverting perfection is powerful.

Emotion in sex is interesting, we're used to dealing in expressiveness (both ecstasy and pain) - something like our film Attrition is an example of heightened emotions on film. This series is uncomfortable for me in a different way, it's the detachment rather than the emotion that captures your attention. Looking back at this film it's taken on a lot of different very complex layers for me and adding another film to the series expanded what I thought it could be and mean. I see it more than ever now, as a film about endurance about unbreakability and defiance.

These films are designed to be watched on a portrait screen, for example your phone. A portrait needs a frame and now more than ever our phone screen is our frame. (I mean it's shot in 4k so ideally you have one of those 4k rotatey monitors to watch it on, but that's probably idealistic...) 

Moth is one of those people who is the kind of beautiful that makes you look at every photo of her twice to make sure she's real. Not just pretty in that kind of flat way, she's someone you stare at. The kind of beautiful that's emotive and difficult to read and you almost feel like she's on different plane of existence. Rust works with wood and everything he does is like sculpture. We shot this in the dying Los Angeles sun with the intention that it would move from light - dark with the slow breakdown of the portrait.

We shot this film with Moth being pissed on and panicked and cut it partially from the edit because at the time it was illegal to distribute pissing in films in the UK - thankfully, that's been overturned so now it exists in it's original golden intended form.

>> watch atrophy portraits in full 

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Ways of Seeing, John Berger (1972)
Olympia, Manet (1832)
Carrying the Milk, Marina Abramovićh (2009)

D/s dynamics, degradation, piss, force, impact, melancholia

Here's me (well some of me) and moth on film after the shoot.


When we looked to make another film in this series, we had the opportunity to work with some of my favourite people and performers, Lina Bembe and Maria Riot.

I'd seen an incredible film at Le Fete du Slip called Birth that year made by and featuring a viscerally powerful voiceover from Lilith Luxe - see this film, it stands as potentially the most affecting I've seen at a festival - and I had been waiting to try something inspired by that.

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Lina is a powerhouse, I do q and a's with her at festivals and she talks everyone under the table with her insight and strength and ability to cut through the bullshit (and in her second language no less). She's an endless inspiration and from our conversations I knew she'd have an interesting perspective on submission.

We'd shot the visuals and I messaged Lina with some questions asking if she could take the time to record some thoughts that I thought we could use as some background, what she ended up sending was an absolutely beautiful essay on the intensity, power and context of what it means to submit. I was blown away and I knew I had to put it front and centre of the film.

Lina's writing from the film is transcribed here

Although I really hope that everyone we shoot with feels some ownership over what we create together, this truly is as much Lina's film as it is ours and I'm so grateful to have her thoughts and words on something we made.

>> watch atrophy portraits II in full


All I Want is to be a Happy Man - Dino Spillutini

D/s dynamics, slapping, spitting, degradation, force