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Erotic Eye Workshop article on Xatakafoto
donna ferrato
May 2, 2016
Adrian Morillo of Spanish photo blog Xatakafoto asked many insightful and thought-provoking questions in his recent interview with us about The Erotic Eye workshops. Many thanks for all his work, and the work of our translator and Erotic Eye participant Javier Carbajal.

Spanish speakers can read the interview on Xatakafoto, and for everyone else please read the English version below. Even if you don't speak Spanish check out the Xatakafoto post for the accompanying photographs. 

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Xatakafoto: It is not a coincidence that you are developing the Erotic Eye Workshops. A main theme of your long career as a photographer is sexuality. You developed a strong body of photographs working around sexuality in your work Love & Lust after getting separated from your husband and trying to find yourself around love and sexual experiences that you recorded with your camera. In I AM UNBEATABLE and Living with the Enemy, you work around sexuality as a way of possession and as a powerful weapon that is used usually against women.

When did sex and eroticism start to be a theme that has such an influence on you?

Donna Ferrato: It began in Paris in 1977. I was an impressionable young divorcee, traveling alone, sleeping on park benches to save money and hungry all the time. No possessions except for a taped-up red and green Leica M4 around my neck and the gift of an insatiable imagination. When I saw the romance happening with Parisians and their daily bread, I felt I had to make photographs of the fresh, hot, unwrapped baguettes being carried away as far as my eyes could see. All that my erotic eye could see were people marching off to make either war or love with the staff of life. The baguette became my muse. 

X: The Erotic Eye workshops are based on the idea to create a team of photographers and also some models that work together around eroticism. The team lives together in a specific area during one week and it could be considered more than a photography workshop. It is an ethical and reflexive travel around eroticism.

What is a day like during one of your Erotic Workshops? What is the relation between the photographers, models and the place? What things are trying to be done or experimented and what things are not allowed?

DF: We don’t use models. We meet people. We find each other. Everything springs from an encounter. 

The erotic does not have to be sexual. It is an energy. Eroticism explores desire but not necessarily the satisfaction of that desire. We want to delve past the surface and deeper into the subconscious.  

By the way, students are not allowed to have sex with the subjects. Everyone is treated with the utmost respect. 

When we set up camp in Mallorca, people were curious about us. ‘Who are these Erotic Eye photographers?’ Tomeu Coll, my co-leader, was born there and he has been photographing the people of Mallorca, mainly in the Badlands. Tomeu shoots like Hunter S. Thompson writes, with a razor sharp eye and a love for women and his island. He was able to give us access to private intimate worlds tucked away within his homeland. 

X: The past year the first Erotic Eye Workshop was developed in Mallorca. This year it is in Berlin and next year (tell me if I’m wrong) it is going to be done in Tokyo. Why is it important for you to do this workshop in different societies and how do you think that these different places affect the creative process of the workshops?

DF: We are still undecided about the final destination for the Erotic Eye Workshop trilogy. We are anthropologically studying and trying to witness how different cultures express love and desire.

X: You are not alone developing these workshops. The photographers Jane Evelyn Atwood and Tomeu Coll work with you, so we can say that you are a team. How is the experience of directing a workshop? What experiences and feelings bring these two photographers to the workshops?

DF: The Erotic Eye Workshop was in the back of my mind since 2005 when I started a new workshop concept with "Risky Pictures.” It was in Barcelona that I met Tomeu Coll, who was a student in this workshop. At the time, eroticism was seen as too controversial. People wouldn't even sign up for such a thing. Whenever I tried advertising it on Facebook or social media, it would immediately get shut down. When I decided to give it a real push forward, the place I wanted to work was in Mallorca, because of its strong hedonist community. Tomeu was born in Mallorca. From day one he was on board to collaborate. He is extremely helpful with the logistics and social connections for the Erotic Eye workshop because he knows everyone and makes friends quickly. He is also deeply aware of the difference between sex & eroticism.  I respect Tomeu because he would never abuse or take advantage of a woman or man with his camera. 

Jane Evelyn Atwood is a champion in the world of photography. She is an ardent humanist, but she also has a wicked eye for symbolic details. I adore her as a sister, a friend, and one of the best photographers I know. I trust her commitment to her subjects and especially to women. Her book Too Much Time is an unflinching look at how many young women have been robbed of their lives often just for defending themselves or their children.

Every Erotic Eye workshop will have a new co-leader on board with Tomeu and me. In Mallorca we invited Karen Kuehn because of her portraits from Burning Man. She is a portrait photographer with an innovative approach to lighting. She was patient and generous with the students, sharing her stories and advice with fluid ease. The students grew enormously under Karen's wing. This time I suspect Jane is going to challenge the photographers to use their minds, hearts and eyes to keep it real. Nothing contrived. 

X: The Erotic Eye Workshop is not the Sexual Eye Workshop, there’s a difference that probably for you and the participants of the workshop is clear, but me and some readers don't know. Can you explain to us the differences?

DF: "Sex Eyes" would be boring. This would limit us to exploring only the act of sex, and reduce our photos to pornography. Too much pornography can be corrosive to the imagination and can give people a shallow perception of sexuality. Eroticism resides in the mind and comes from freeing yourself from social constraints, and embracing what we feel deeply but cannot articulate. It is not simply a body rush or a wave of physical pleasure. In Mallorca we found that we were photographing people's minds, and, I believe that's what gave their images so much power. It was more about the meaning of what was being done, not the actual act. It looked physical, but it was psychological and about trust.

X: Sexuality is the origin of our lives, and like it or not, one of the most powerful emotions that we experience as humans during our lives. Why do you think that in practically all societies there are taboos and strong legislation and control around sexuality and in some cases is used as a weapon that gives power?

DF: Many societies constructed taboos as a fearful response to the immense power women wield with their bodies and their sexualities. Out of resentment, men invented religions based upon male deities, creating patriarchal systems to weaken women, teaching them to feel ashamed of their sexuality. In the workshop we are attempting to metaphorically go back in time and change these negative societal biases. Staying in centuries-old houses, and with each photographer adopting the approach and eye of an assigned “dead photographer,” such as Gerda Taro or Philip Jones Griffiths, we aim to connect with rebels of the past who also sought to change their culture’s close-minded or old-fashioned views through the power of images. 

X: What goals do you have after these workshops are finished and the book is published?  Do you want to open some discussions around sexuality in society with this work?

DF: I aim to advance a broader discussion about women's rights and censorship, emphasizing women as fully realized and liberated human beings. It's important for women to be able to own their sexuality. Sexuality is fluid and amorphous, bleeding rich color into all facets of life. The Erotic Eye collection may become a window through which people can boldly share with one another what they find uniquely sensual, constantly expanding their understanding of the erotic, with eyes wide open, subconscious unbound, seeing the unseen.