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Acclaimed fine-art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten: 'The Act'

21 February 2017

We caught up with fine-art photographer and AOP member Julia Fullerton-Batten to hear about her latest project and book 'The Act' 

Veronica Aerial Performer 1 copy

© Julia Fullerton-Batten

How did this project come about?

Most of my recent projects have been based on my curiosity about matters going on in the world around me. For some time, I have been intrigued to know that a significant number of women choose voluntarily to participate in the sex industry. Many of them are well educated with university degrees. My curiosity is aroused by questions, such as: Why? What are their lives like? How much do they earn? How does their future appear to them compared with mine as a fine-art photographer eyeing them critically from the other end of the lens?  They risk social stigma and the disapproval of their family.  Why? To me, it seems an extreme choice to make, to exploit your body sexually to earn money, especially voluntarily. The result of my curiosity is ‘The Act’, an in-depth insight into the lives and careers of fifteen women who work willingly in the UK sex industry. I have recently self-published ‘The Act’ as a high quality, large-sized, limited edition book.


Cathy Keen Lapdancer 2 copy

© Julia Fullerton-Batten


How and where did you meet your subjects?

I didn’t know many women engaged in the sex business so I had two casting agents source the girls. During the casting stage, I must have viewed nearly one hundred women. We met and chatted about their careers, experiences, and private lives before I took nude photos of them for making my selection later in the process. I finally selected fifteen women as subjects. It was important for me in planning the project that that the girls were engaged voluntarily in the sex industry, so I excluded street-walkers and prostitutes from consideration as I didn’t feel confident that these girls could be involved voluntarily in what they were doing. Among those who I chose were nude aerial artistes, a ping-pong girl, a dominatrix, an escort, and webcam and porn stars. One girl even performs striptease when hanging by her hair quite a few metres above ground.

During our early conversations, I found the girls’ stories so fascinating that I decided to video Q&A sessions with them during the photo shoot. These also form part of the book both in transposed text ‘stories’ of their lives and as an accompanying DVD.


Maisy Taylor Aerial F9BA0 4 copy

© Julia Fullerton-Batten

How much do you direct, in terms of the staging and facial expressions?

When chatting with the girls during the casting procedure, I realised how much they lived their lives, both privately and at work, in the limelight, as if exposed on a stage. Obviously, the jobs of some of the fifteen entails performing on a stage, but the way they described their private lives revealed that they were all unable to behave completely freely as most ‘vanilla’ women can, that they performed on the stage of life, as it were. This insight gave me the idea to create stage sets for each model relevant to the girl’s act. I worked with the girls on the idea and subsequently closely with a set designer. Each stage setting exposes the girls performing their individual ‘acts’. Hence the project  title ‘The Act’.

In addition to setting the scene I felt that photographing the girls in this way would reduce the risk of being accused of merely shooting mundane erotic, even pornographic images. At the same time, it gave a purposeful, almost sociological-philosophical meaning to the project.

My girls are used to performing - that is their livelihood. There was very little need for me to provide any direction regarding facial expression. Yes, I did occasionally suggest poses, but my subjects were fully in command of that aspect of the shoot as well, frequently volunteering poses of their own that I might have hesitated to suggest to them myself.


Shadait Escort 5 copy 

© Julia Fullerton-Batten

Where did the shoots take place?

The shoots took place in a huge Sound Stage, a whole 875 m2. It took me some time to find a suitable one, as I needed not only plenty of space for the sets but also good headroom as two of my artistes needed at least 5 metres height above floor level to perform their acts. They were hung from state of the art chain hoists.  I was finally successful with a studio in Essex, which had the added benefit of having black painted walls, which provided a superb background for the customised stage sets.

They were long shoot days, from 8am till about 2am for 5 consecutive days. Many of the crew ended up staying in the local IBIS hotel.


How do you hope the audience will respond to these images?

As with all my other fine-art images I hope that a viewer will respond not only favourably to the images, but analyse them for their content; that they will look beyond the nudity and provocative poses and see the reality of my models’ lives. The images may be erotic to one degree or another, but I hope they provoke more reaction than that occasioned by other erotic images.

I personally hope that the audience would appreciate the images as works of art.


Ella and Chloe Slaves 3 copy

© Julia Fullerton-Batten


You have a very distinctive style of photography; how does this project sit with your other work?

My involvement with the design and manufacture of the sets, combined with the engagement in interviewing a surprisingly high number of applicants wishing to be involved in the project, then videoing the interviews with the fifteen selected models, means that The Act is the most extensive project that I have done to-date, even more so than ‘Feral Children’.

Although the preparative work and execution of the staged settings was considerable, they created a new space within an existing studio space and was the perfect idea for this project. The idea resulted partially as a by-product from a couple of commercial assignments that I’d completed just as I was about to start ‘The Act’. An instance of cross-fertilisation of ideas from one genre to another. The final act of my own doing, adding to the significance of the project, is the self-publication of the book that has just been printed.


Sasha Flexy Pole Dancer 4 copy

© Julia Fullerton-Batten

Tell us how you got into photography

My father was, and still is, a keen amateur photographer. He started his hobby when my elder sister and I were born, so I grew up accustomed to seeing my father carrying a camera wherever he went and seeing the results of his shoots, both family and street photos. When he finally decided to buy a semi-automatic Minolta SLR camera, he didn’t take to very well to losing total control and passed it on to me as I’d begun to express an interest in photography. After finishing school I decided to study photography at college. After graduating from college, I assisted professional photographers for five years, covering a wide range of advertising and editorial work. At the same time, I constantly developed my portfolio and submitted my best work to competitions. One year I was particularly successful in the AOP Assistants Awards competition. This was noticed by a German agent and they took me on board. Within a few weeks I had my first professional job – a large one, shot in Australia. A couple of years later I shot ‘Teenage Stories’, my first fine-art project.  This was quite a hit and established my reputation, and also resulted in my first book.


What’s next for you?

I am already working on my next project, ‘The River Thames’. Although a relatively insignificant river in any measurements of length, breadth, etc – the importance of the River Thames in national and international history is possibly greater than any other river in the world. From Roman to recent times, it has been the leading port in the UK with deep water, tidal docks in the heart of London. Throughout the centuries, the river has been the fulcrum for an unlimited number of episodes of great importance on the world stage, and is full of traditions, pastimes and other matters of interest and interest. These are the motives for my new project.


Julia's book The Act is available here now

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