One of our favorite New York photographers, Jai Lennard,¬†talks to us about his intriguing, thought provoking work, the intersection between art and pornography, and his “Childlike Wonder” series that challenges us to think about the way sex and childhood interact in a commercial landscape.

Portable: Do you consider yourself a photographer or a pornographer?
Jai Lennard: I’m definitely a photographer, but that could change. Not that I see myself going into “the biz”, but I’m open to do anything creative in any field, which truly makes me feel more like an artist than anything else. I shot stills on a porno once. It was a gay porno and I got the gig while still attending the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I was really nervous about the shoot and not just because it was a porno, but because it was truly one of my first real jobs as a photographer. I was shooting front and back box cover portraits of the male leads and took one of my closest and gayest friends to assist me, thinking he’d enjoy the hell out of it. Sparing “sopping wet” details, at one point he looked at me while I was shooting, with a nauseous stare, and said, “I got to step away for a minute.” It was quite the scene, but I held my own.

P: Is there really even a difference, regardless of subject matter?
Jai Lennard: My work is not pornographic in the least. Definitely perverse and thought provoking though. I think the big difference between art and pornography is that art stimulates the intellect and porno stimulates the loins. Though art can cross lines and all sorts of boundaries after the fact. If you’re spending late nights alone with your pants down in front of my images, I’d probably encourage you to stay as you are, but know that it was not my intent to get you there… into whatever position that may be.

P: How much of the sexuality in your images is derivative of your own fetishes? Are you showing us what is sexy, or are you asking us to react/take what we want from the images?
Jai Lennard: The last thing I’m thinking about is if my work is sexy. I obviously love sex, and not just the act, but psychology and depth to what sexuality means for all sorts of different people including me. Sexy is great! Though I’m more interested in getting my viewers to think about topics they’ve never heard of, or rethink the one’s that they already did. The internet has always been a huge proprietor of pornography and with the web growing faster and faster, pornography has grow with it. I think a good question to think about is: which is greater, the supply or the demand? Have people always been sucking toes, purchasing used underwear, or taking number twos on their partners, or did the internet prompt them to do so? I don’t provide answers but love raising questions to topics like these because for me, the most important part of my work is the conversation. And yeah, I guess you could replace me with the people in some of my images, but I’d rather leave your imagination to work.

P: Are people ever offended by your work?
Jai Lennard: I’ve never had anyone say they were offended by my work. I’ve definitely had a few people, all women, say that they’ve seen my work and do it in a way to let me know they consider me a typical boy or childish. There’s a lot of male photographers and artists out there who make sexy work, or work on sex, and so I understand those initial reactions to my work. Fortunately, I always get them to change their mind after we talk about the work for a few minutes. There’s a lot of depth that goes into it, and I believe that various viewers get caught up in the often perverse candor of the imagery; whether it be a penis or dripping wet lips (the pair on your face). I generally get really positive responses, but either way, look forward to the truly opinionated minds that want to talk to me. They’re the one’s who inspire me.

P: What’s the concept behind “Childlike Wonder”?
Jai Lennard: Childlike Wonder is a project about seeing the effects of sexually explicit advertising on children. Minors are flooded with sex through all sorts of media on every level each day of their lives. They often don’t understand or realize to what extent, and therefore don’t see it as we often do; affected as we are in a similar capacity. Projecting well known ad campaigns, and taking out the logo, onto children seemed like the perfect idea of how to illustrate this notion without hitting my viewers over the head too hard. The young boy is 11-years-old and he never got to see the images we were projecting, as his father stood behind me during the shoot. Though there is a series of reactions that I get from him from placing him in the dark, under the projectors spot light that imitate a sort of lost feeling that I imagine most children have under the abundance of sexual media that surrounds them. It’s hard to tell to what extent the imagery is affecting the boy in my images just like we’re not sure how it’s affecting the state of our [North America] children as a whole. There’s simply a lack of conversation.

P: Who’s the kid? How did he come to be part of the shoot and what did his parents think?
Jai Lennard: I can’t tell you who the kid is, but I will say I had help in getting him on board through an artist friend of mine named Grace (wawa) Yang. Grace works with children a lot and I was fortunate enough to have her by my side for this one and also in the creative process. Recently I’ve been really wanting to dig deeper in the topic of children and their relationship to North American culture as it deals with sex. I hope to work with more kids in the future in hopes that it raises some truly concerning and thought provoking issues.

JaiLennard.com