Text and photographs by Helen Flanagan.
Questionable seduction, loneliness and frank desire; such is some of the explicit traits of these valuable individuals. I enter the homes of my willing models with an engrossing curiosity, enveloped with an exhilarating sense of the unknown. Having found these men and women on adult dating websites I realize their open honesty and I make a mental note of each encounter. I have usually seen them naked prior to our meeting, already knowing of their body statistics and turn-on and offs. Our time together is filled with this sexual awareness, our judgments having been based on profiles and visual data and which suddenly switch now to speech, mannerisms and real-time 3D.
Blusher 69, 2010
Allison had pictures of herself from younger where she had tried to become a model. Sepia toned prints and ulterior notions of appreciation. She liked sculpture, had three children, the eldest twelve. Her lover was a doctor thirty miles away. She had a playful dog that was happy to greet me, a cat that was brilliantly white and that purred. She made me tea that was probably too sweet for my liking, but I drank enthusiastically nonetheless. Her mother looked like her sister and had only just moved in to the same house, she was watching TV in her dressing gown, her hair wet from the shower. The song Cher ‘Walking in Memphis’ played from the laptop in her room. She was doing an art foundation course, had been living in Cornwall for the past four years, escaping her violent ex from up North and coming down for family. She told me she enjoyed ceramics and would like to pursue it in the future. She drove a rover, loved shoes and was 5’6.
Dr Strangelove, 2010
Rich was studying a PHD in art history and messaged me to tell me he thought my project was interesting. He wanted to know more. He booked out a Travelodge hotel room in Perry Barr and was coming from Derby. His plans were to go to a swinging joint later that evening. This man didn’t give too much away; he wore glasses and took them off when photographed along with his brown jacket. He noted the decor of the room was rather bland, and I agreed. A mass-produced ‘modern’ looking painting was nailed to the white wall. He made me a complimentary coffee. When we had finished he told me he thought Travelodge’s were soulless. I took him to the expanse of land and rubble that lay behind. The space looked like it would potentially be filled with another hotel five times the size. Such weather for March was freezing. A bitter wind blew hair into my face; miserable clouds heaved overhead preparing to spit. Out of the shot I note the aggressive buzzing that comes from the high voltage pylons. They seethe to the left of me with their invisible electricity.
Shy doc, 2010
I get picked up in an expensive car and spend forty minutes driving with Pete. Pete is a married man and he mentions this almost immediately, insisting the need to be discrete whilst waving his wedding ring in front of me. His mannerisms suggest that he is anxious, he doesn’t want his face in the pictures or to be recognized. I am curious by his secrecy and I ask him why his wife doesn’t get involved in his swinging lifestyle. Abruptly he informs me that she is a prude. They are no longer in love, but he has two daughters who he cares for. He wears a suit and reaches for his sunglasses that are in an automated device near the roof of the car, he talks some about how he has never done anything like this before and that he doesn’t know how it is he will react. Then pursues on asking me how I feel, that I should tell him what I’m thinking when I take the photos of him naked. Before coming up to his road he gives me directions, making me get out of the car. He doesn’t want to look suspicious to the neighborhoods. I feel like I am having an affair, pacing quickly undercover, conscious as I knock on his door. When in his bedroom he places pillows over the bedside tables on the right and left of the bed so as to not be identified and closes the curtains slightly. He slowly takes off his clothes, folding them neatly in a corner of the room. We don’t have much time because he has to collect his daughter from a piano lesson in a little while. After the scenario, he ensures everything is back in its neat rightful place.
Dan31 UK, 2010
Dan was a virgin when we had chatted on-line but had lost it to an older lady he had met earlier that week. His ideal woman would be into swinging as he would want her to be satisfied by other men in case he couldn’t do so himself.
Cd49 Michelle, 2010
A graying mustache hid a scar from twenty years ago when he told me he had rode a bike drunkenly into the curb of a street. As a secretive bisexual turning fifty the statement ‘you only live once’ stirs repeatedly. I agree with him, we do only live once. I meet him at the new street station and take the train with him on the way to Walsall. He usually takes his own photographs on self-timer outdoors in quiet public locations. One picture of him in frilly knickers in the snow with an erect penis is the same area in which he takes me. He keeps this lifestyle from his wife, assuring me she wouldn’t be impressed. He hides his costumes in a carrier bag in his shed. We take the photographs outside near the M6 and canal. It is half term and there are more people about than usual, going for walks and fishing. He is rather anxious about this, noting that it isn’t usually as busy. We don’t want to get caught. We manage to find a quiet space hidden some way from the main walkway. He takes off his work clothes and steel cap boots and puts on a thong, some delicately patterned tights, a short skirt, fitted top and some black pumps with a flower detail on the front. He knows the area well as he usually walks his dog this way.
Randy blackman, 2010
Rowan is a black man of 42 and lives in a flat a convenient ten-minute walk from my parents’ house in Erdington. He only moved into the place six months ago and doesn’t know any of his neighbors as he stands by the window, posing for me. He only recently divorced his wife of 16 years and has a daughter of 19 years. I note how clean and minimal his place is, realizing that most people when having guests around pretend to live in a way that they probably don’t. He tells me he doesn’t drink or smoke and that this to him is his vice. We talk a lot about my project. Sexuality, reproduction, pornography, the Internet, swinging clubs, mentality and love. He tells me swinging couples have the best of relationships, the strongest he has come across. He also told me that he and his ex would go to swinging clubs but she would never get involved. She would just sit at the bar drinking.
Lucy UK, 2010
Lucy goes under the name of Kelly. She is a single mother from Northfield, lives at number 1 and is new to the website. She answers the door with her blond hair still wet and apologizes for running late. I roam around the house looking for potential spaces to shoot whilst I hear her hair-dryer come from the kitchen. She smiles and tells me that she has been on the site for two weeks and her close friend suggested it. Her friend regularly swings. She mentions her ex partner who left when their son was 6 months and how he hardly ever visits to see him. I’m the first person she has met off of the website. Before leaving to go she says she’d be too scared to meet anyone else.
I met an Asian man named Basil from Coventry. He was married with three children; his house was immaculate, white walls and beige carpets. He worked as a young offenders officer and would start work at 2 pm that day. I took my shoes off when entering the house, as did he. On the white marble fireplace were pictures of his family accompanied with Happy Mothers day cards. He made me a coffee and when we talked he ushered me into his office where he showed me the other people he had been chatting to. One lady with the title of ‘bored housewife’ fronted large fake breasts and wore a corset. He smiled broadly when browsing her photographs. He himself had told me he had done some modeling and showed me A4 paper prints consisting of a poorly lit studio and him on a chair. He told me he wanted to have classy photographs taken for his profile, as it would help get him noticed. It’s then that he told me that what he liked more than anything was to just talk to.
Aussie knight, 2010
On the fifth floor of a high rise tower block in Wolverhampton lives Ash. Ash is a 34-year-old man with an Australian accent who moved to England six years ago. He wears a long leather trench coat on meeting me that he takes off when we enter his darkened flat. All the red curtains are closed; his shirt is the same crimson color. Ash likes Gothic architecture, medieval history and BDSM. On the table there is many computer pieces, amongst whips and mugs. He informs me that he goes to b&q the DIY store to get his toys. Ash is a player of the Spanish guitar but tells me he would rather play the saxophone. He shows me a musician he is fond of on youtube. After having taken his photograph he escorts me to the bus stop asking when he will see me again.
My mate Ken, 2010
I wait outside of a boarded up pub called The Eagle for a man known as Ken. He comes with his two children, one girl and one boy on each hand. The girl has an energetic smile and a refreshing warmth, the type that only the young manage. She is four, soon to be five she tells me smiling widely, her birthday is on Wednesday. The boy aged three half runs ahead as we walk. The house has been tidied of toys on the floor and I see them arranged in clear plastic boxes in their living room. I take pictures of the children on a faux brown sofa by the window. My camera captivates the boy and the girl poses accordingly. Ken tells me he looks after the children on his own. His wife ran away and left him for the next-door neighbor two doors down a year ago. He has no idea where she has gone; she hasn’t been in touch with him or the children since.
I want to preserve these moments, as does any person who takes a photograph. Spontaneous uninhibited encounters soon to be lost by time and forgetfulness. These people are real and their stories so very varied that I really want to take them into account and offer an intimate view. I only ever bring myself to these shoots, if I were to bring someone else I believe the dynamics change and naturally the model acts differently. Elements of desire take hold as I perform as someone I am uncertain of and they perform also in front of the camera, exhibiting themselves as they would like to be seen, (un)dressed to impress, bruised and expectant. I am demure and in control, confident and dominant, engrossed in their tales. I am conscious of our silent relationship, us two being alone in said personal space, a stranger who I become accustomed to and will never see again.