Ever since it was produced legally, and gave life to a market of its own, pornography has gone through two epochal turns, caused by the introduction of technological tools that changed the way it is used, its formal canons and distribution strategies.

The first important event dates back to the 1980′s, with the advent of the videotape. The pornography industry was indelibly marked by its arrival, especially from a quality standpoint. Porn movies, which up until that moment had cultivated the hope to earn cultural, other than commercial, appreciation, or, in other terms, had hoped of being considered real cinema, definitely lost all hopes. In the videotape pornography saw a less professional, or less refined means to reach people. But the industry changed due to market requirements, and qualitatively worsened its products, in favor of a broader diffusion.

Pornography was thus out of cinema halls and into people’s homes, in a form other than printed paper. A revolution: firstly for the porn industry, and secondarily for society in general. The second huge turn took place in the mid 1990′s, when digital technologies further revolutionized the world of pornography, through the use of Internet as a platform of distribution.

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That’s when pornography moved one more step ahead, when, side by side with mainstream products, a completely different kind of production started to come about, realized by amateurs, with non-professional tools, and a much broader range of hues compared to traditional porn. What was happening was a new revolution, one which connected private and public, projecting local over global, thanks to broadly available technology. It was the birth of the genre that Sergio Messina calls Realcore : a sign of our times.

Sergio Messina, musician, journalist, producer. His latest research brought him to explore, from an anthropologic and aesthetic standpoint, the web’s pornographic imagery, a genre that started to come around at the end of the 1990′s. The term Realcore comes from the fusion of the terms Softcore (completely simulated sex) and Hardcore (real sex performed for the camera), used to describe pornography. But the term realcore goes a step beyond, describes the production that comes from real people with real desires, doing real sex, and not just for the camera.

In his showing, recently opened, on October 27, at Amsterdam Transito Festival, Messina reveals his impressions and considerations on this phenomenon. A practice where new technologies combine with the sexual desires of common people, regardless of who they are. Chatting with Sergio I tried to outline a few traits of realcore.

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Tiziana Gemin: How did this research of yours come about?

Sergio Messina: I started because when I went online one of the first things I looked for was porn: if there’s somebody out there who hasn’t done the same, they should see a doctor. I did it out of curiosity, to see how it was, and I started to find these images. I am attracted by the concept of underground, I like underground music and culture, and when I realized there was underground porn I had do investigate. So what happened was that these pictures started to tell me a story, and so I told myself: maybe these images tell a story to others as well.

Tiziana Gemin: The images from the realcore world are characterized by a low resolution due to the use of non-professional technologies, the recurring presence of subjects that don’t necessarily fit in with shared aesthetic canons, and unlikely locations. Can you tell us where this imaginary comes from, and describe some of its characteristics?

Sergio Messina: Two fundamental events allowed the current situation to develop. First, the digital camera, which arrived on the market around 1995, and has become, ever since, increasingly widespread. Second, the availability of spaces where this material could circulate freely, and that would be the internet. With these two things people were able to produce and distribute their own personal pornography.

In the realcore imaginary we see the celebration of physical diversity. And this is even clearer as we compare mainstream porn subjects and realcore subjects. But there’s much to say about location, too: realcore subjects usually perform in their own home, communicating the idea of people in their own environment. Personally I love this almost-documentary aspect of realcore – the fact that in a picture like this one can retrace a story of the place. And even though sometimes the environment is very identifiable, the owner doesn’t really care that much, as if the concept of private in public weren’t about naked bodies only, but also concerned a home left naked and exhibited. Sometimes this feeling is very tangible.

Some photographs look like Duch paintings, where a lady is portrayed surrounded by the status symbols of her wealth. In other images you can see unexpected details, like grandchildren photographs in the background, baby bottles, Christmas gifts – because the person who took the picture didn’t really know what he or she was doing. Technically at the root of the realcore photograph there are a few recurring rules, such as the presence of a photo camera in the scene, or, for videos, long, uncut sequences, to show the realness of what is going on.

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Tiziana Gemin: Could we safely say that the purpose of creating a realcore image is to document reality?

Sergio Messina: In amateur photographs it’s never beauty that counts, but rather the intention, and documenting the intention requires a special technique, meaning that you have to film or photograph in such a way that it’s clear that it’s all real. It’s the old difference between “Independence Day”-style movies, the ones you watch knowing it’s fake, not expecting it to be real, and just enjoy the special effects, and “Fahrenheit 9/11″ movies, which I wouldn’t appreciate as much had it been done with an actor playing Bush. The beauty of it is seeing Bush in person, his actual faces.

It’s somewhat the same thing here: you barter the unreachable perfection of porn stars, with the real intention of the housewife, and this intention seems to be a plus. Especially as the word “amateur” is French for “lover”, and to be an “enthusiast” you’ve got enjoy what you do. As we look at amateur images we see that enjoyment, and that’s what the camera tries to capture. And this is exactly what we look for in these images: enjoyment.

The first to use this technique to film porn were German and Dutch BDSM, in the 1980′s. They are the involuntary inventors of the genre, as they felt the need to show that what they did was indeed real. While in mainstream porn the degree of reality is known – that is, actors don’t love each other – for BDSM being certain that it was real, and filming for the sake of authenticity, or rather, to testify that a fact actually happened, became, in a world filled with simulation, fundamental.

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Tiziana Gemin: Realcore owes its birth and spread to the use of the new technologies, which have clearly influenced the public in terms of social and behavioral practices. Are those who publish these images aware of this digital culture aspect that lays behind it?

Sergio Messina: Those that produce realcore material use the “tools of the trade”, but they do it entirely involuntarily. They are not aware of the digital culture aspect and the socio-political value of this. And I know this because I have corresponded with many of these people. According to the thesis I sustained in a presentation at Ars Electronica, amateur sexuality and the free exchange of images on the net perfectly incarnates the ideals of those who invented the Internet. It’s special interest groups, gift economy, file sharing, digital lifestyle, online life, online interfering with off-line, and vice-versa. The individuals that produce realcore are what Derrick de Kerckhove would want the world to be like: they’re the first to have “planted their flag” in the digital world. I fully agree with this way to look at it. We expected Nietzsche’s super-man, and instead what we get is a fat man naked. It’s very interesting.

Just to give you an example, a typically digital thing is the “tribute”. This is how it works: I take a picture of myself, then publish my picture in a newsgroup with the subject “tribute please”, and then I find a tribute by some viewer. So what happens is that somebody printed that photograph, “used” it, physically interacting with it, then took a digital picture of the object in question or himself as he interacts with it, and re-posted it within the same newsgroup. An interchange between digital and real, back to digital again. A very modern thing to do. Digital people!.

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Tiziana Gemin: The viewer, then, can go from being passive to playing the protagonist, and can turn its private actions into public. Do you believe that interactivity is one of the factors that make this phenomenon all the more appealing?

Sergio Messina: This is the key: people have had an actual and realistic chance to make home-made porn. In the 1960′s you could buy acoustic guitars, in the 1970′s you could buy electric guitars, and people were finally able to make music on their own. With porn the same thing happened with digital cameras: as soon as people had them in their hands one of the first things they would try and do was take pictures of themselves, take pictures of their partner, and watch themselves.

Also, only Internet could allow certain things, as the net has this factor that we have come to know of instantaneity and anonymity: you can meet others through this powerful medium, and then what you have in your head becomes a bit more legitimate because there’s other people with the same thing in mind. If your sexual fantasies are complex, it gets hard to deal with them without the net: if for example you fantasize about being somebody’s pony, and you live in a small town, it’s not like you can go to a pub and tell the first person you meet “I’d like to be your pony”. With internet, on the other hand…

Also, for many this game started looking at other people’s photographs, so clearly there are self-feeding dynamics taking place. Yet the core is that at a certain point people had the chance to produce and show their own pornography. And the object of this research I am conducting is to demonstrate how the type of porn that these people have produced has a radically different nature from the porn that we’d seen up until then, that is mainstream porn.

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Tiziana Gemin: I heard you say about realcore: “Pornography lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Can you tell us what you meant by that?

Sergio Messina: Porn is in the eyes of the beholder, and in many situations one of the key points of realcore images is the low resolution: where you can’t see much you imagine much. Therefore ‘low resolution’ leads to’ very hot’, as the image integrates with the viewer’s imagination. The low-resolution/hot temperature is one of the signs of our time, when successful programs on television are shows like Real TV.

But beside this, porn is in the eyes of the beholder also when we look at images that objectively don’t look like porn at all. For example, with people fully dressed, as in the case of velvet lovers, who post photographs where they appear completely clothed in this material: this isn’t real porn, no child would be disturbed watching these images, and maybe all they would do would be to ask if that’s a Ninja or some sort of exotic warrior. But for some that image is sexually arousing. Many images work the same way, in some you reach a complete absence of any trace of anthropomorphism. All you will see is a pair of shoes, maybe – but it’s the viewer who decides on the value they attribute to the picture. This is porn to the eye of the beholder.

Tiziana Gemin: Do you believe that this type of free-circulation has had any sort of effects on commercial pornography? Are professionals somehow finding themselves having to “imitate” amateurs?

Sergio Messina: The great majority of porn that you see around still exalts perfection, and that’s still the porn that sells. You can estimate online realcore to represent about 20% of global traffic, but that’s still a lot. Yet some technical standard have been adopted by commercial sites too, understanding that that was what the market required. Standards such as talking to the camera, something that had never been done before in mainstream porn. Amateurs were the first to do that. And often commercial sites steal amateur photographs and write their copyright on them, while the image really belongs to the amateur, who doesn’t own any copyright on the images anyway, and will hardly sue the website, especially if they posted an embarrassing shot.

Commercial sites milk these people to generate traffic. To avoid this, sometimes those who create the image adds sentences, either on their body or on the photograph, to protect its property. Still, there are exhibitionists who will still release their copyright, glad to have a chance for self-humiliation exposing themselves to the world.

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Tiziana Gemin: You present your research on realcore in a sort of lecture/show, but there’s also a blog, and there is a book about to come out. Can you tell us something about that?

Sergio Messina: In the blog I post the images I find around, or talk about the funny trends I see. It’s a way to keep in touch with those who see my show, because I am fascinated by this sort of connection that starts as you take your body to a certain place and talk to a group of people for an hour. That connection can be kept alive by creating a blog on realcore.

To me the end-product of my research is the show, something in between a guided tour of a museum and a Beppe Grillo show. It’s a chance for me to tell people the way I see things, and ask people if they see the same things I do. The book is going to be a reduction of this, with many images, but we’ll see…


http://realcore.radiogladio.it/

www.radiogladio.it/fosforo/

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