Celebrity Photog Michael Grecco Ventures Into the Porn World

Dubbed “An R-rated look at an X-rated industry,” celebrity photographer Michael Grecco has released Naked Ambition, an, um, ambitious snapshot of the porn industry. Grecco’s project is part coffee table book, part making-of documentary of said coffee table book, and both are available right here. Grecco, who’s shot some heavyweights in his time, ventured to the AVN awards (or the Oscars of porn, as they’re referred to in the film) in the mid-aughts, and shot some of the industry’s biggest names: Jenna Jameson, Tera Patrick, Jesse Jane, they’re all there. The film focuses on then-newcomers Joanna Angel and Sunny Lane as they vie for the Best New Starlet award, and introduces us to all sorts of freaks, exhibitionists, and, well, pornstars. Here he is, on, among other things, the difference between shooting Sunny Lane and Steven Spielberg.

A lot has happened in the personal lives of Janine Lindemulder, Jenna Jameson, and Tera Patrick since you shot the film. Were you worried the film would feel outdated? When you make a documentary, a film has a life of its own, so you can’t go into a documentary film project with the expectation that it’s going to be timely. For me, it’s a snapshot of that culture and it’s a snapshot of that event in 2007, when it was at it’s height.

The film portrays it as a big challenge to get Jenna Jameson for a shoot, but you’re somebody who has shot some pretty famous and important people. Why was it so tough? That wasn’t the issue. That event for them is so busy, to try to get scheduled into that event is impossible. Because, literally, even the girls that were part of the film were difficult because their studios keep them going. If I was trying to set that up in L.A., piece of cake.

You were noticeably thrilled to shoot Larry Flynt too. How did that compare to some of these other icons you shot? The project has more significance if you have the key players. So for him, he was there for a few hours. He showed up at the Hustler booth with crowds of people around him, you couldn’t get anywhere near him. Our writer worked for him and had arranged all this stuff, but that goes to hell because he can’t even move, he’s in a wheelchair with bodyguards. So again, it was just another one of those situations where we were just thrilled to get them. And for me, the guy is a legend. The story of his life, the Woody Harrelson film, I mean, it’s brilliant.

The pornstar Evan Stone, another key player, was a real dick and refused to get shot. What happened there? There was nothing logical about it to me. I was interested in that culture, not to make a judgment on it, but just to capture the color, admittedly in a way that was funny and entertaining. To me, the culture is surreal and freaky. I wasn’t asking about his personal life or his marriages. There was nothing that created that reaction. The reaction stunned me too. The reaction was, I don’t do still work. Everyone was into the book and the movie because it’s sort of a crossover piece. It’s meant to be fun and entertaining, and there should have been nothing that elicited that response. I saw him a year later and said, “You really wouldn’t reconsider?” and he said, “Nope.” He was part of the inspiration for me to say, Okay, this is a cool subculture that I want to document. It was definitely a disappointment.

Is there a part of you that wants to send him the book to show him how missed out? You know, I don’t engage with people when they tell me no. After the third time, anyway. What’s he going to say, “Oh yeah, this is cool.” He’s never going to say that. But it made good footage though.

What’s the difference between shooting Sunny Lane and Steven Spielberg? Most of Hollywood is very guarded. Steven, I’ve shot four times and I adore him, and he’s a nice guy, very professional, very earnest. Everyone is still guarded. If you look at the metaphor that this is an industry that drops their pants and sort of spreads their legs to do their job, working with them is the same. Shooting them, I had to explain to them that I was doing a portrait and I didn’t need their clothes off, licking their lips, fingers in their mouth. That wasn’t what I was looking for. From an interview standpoint, they bare all. Janine was crying on camera. People were just right there, open and honest, baring their soul, and that’s impressive.

What do you mean by Hollywood being guarded? I think that it’s a whole different business. In porn, they don’t come in worried about what they should and should not say. In Hollywood, it’s not that way. When there’s a 200 million dollar movie behind some actress, she’s going to watch what she says and how she’s perceived. She’s been coached, they’ve done media training, they stay on message, and there’s usually is a publicist there. For Entertainment Weekly I was shooting Carmen Electra and I suggested she take off her clothes, we were shooting in a shower. I said, “Great, I’ll wrap you in this sheer shower curtain,” and we had this amazing, sexy shot set up and the first thing that happened when we were just polaroiding it was the publicist walks in and all we hear is, “No you don’t! No you don’t!” There’s an agenda in Hollywood and there’s very little agenda in the porn world.

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