Back in October Sara Phillips, co-creator of the Astronaut Suicide photos, contacted me with her latest dose of awesome: a Kama Sutra of sorts using two Mormon fellows. I loved it and wanted to tell you all about it immediately, but then I got bent over by Hurricane Sandy, and it totally slipped my mind.
As I racked my brain this week for what to get my wife for Valentine's Day, I remembered Sara's Mormon Missionary Positions and thought, A print of two well-dressed dudes faux fucking on a bicycle is exactly what she's always wanted. So I hit up Sara up for a print, but instead ended up interviewing her and her two co-creators, Shelby Menzel and Neil Dacosta.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
VICE: How did the concept for Mormon Missionary Positions come about?
Sara: The work was produced as an effort to create a visual and playful discourse into the separation of church and state. We wanted to make a statement on the progress of a country built on the idea of religious freedom.
From the LDS: "Sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, are sinful and undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly affirms defining marriage as the legal and lawful union between a man and a woman."
What is your opinion of Mormons and their beliefs and their magic pajamas?
Shelby: I was raised in Salt Lake City in the church so I understand it inside and out. I was immersed in the nitty-gritty of the culture as a kid, I have been baptized for dead people, the whole nine yards. Around 13 I veered away from the religion after being exposed to the world of skateboarding and different ideas. Now I see it as a giant organization with a lot of money, a member base that is becoming one of the fastest growing on the planet, and a group with underlying deep-rooted sexist, racist, and bigoted beliefs. It has a seedy past filled with scandals, conspiracies, female repression, and a history of racism toward African Americans and Native Americans, and open condemnation of homosexuality.
Why do you think Mormons are such easy targets for ridicule? Do you think they're descendants of the Polacks?
I think it's because if anyone looked at the history of that church objectively, it reads like an absurd piece of fiction. A young man, who was a con artist, was told by an angel to dig up golden plates with the word of God on them and start a religion. That's the short version. Also, it started so recently compared to other religions. Then there are the odd behaviors like no coffee, tea, modest clothes, etc. that people tend to laugh at. When you tell someone this is the stuff you believe in they usually laugh.
What kind of research went into this project? Studying of the Kama Sutra? A lot of sex?
Sara: A lot of both, and we had a giant Kama Sutra book on set too to call out the names and positions—there were a lot of pulled muscles, we're not as flexible as those guys.
Did you use real Mormons for this shoot?
Neil: The guys weren't Mormon, but we got the name tags and the Book of Mormon from our friend who went on his mission before coming out of the closet.
Were any Mormons hurt in the shooting of these photos?
Sara: We might have rubbed some feelings the wrong way, but hopefully in a provocative way that gets you to ask questions and draw your own conclusions—and at least start the conversation over the issue of homosexuality and the church. The timing also gave it a political undertone as the LDS handbook quote parallels the Republican position—and the site launched 13 days before the election.
Do you have any Mormon friends who you did research for these photos with?
Neil: Mainly just talking everything through with Shelby, and then drawing on our experience of living in SLC for a few years and being exposed to the Mormon culture.
Have you ever banged a Mormon?
Sara: No, never. But I imagine it to be incredibly passive. I've heard rumors of "soaking," where the guy inserts into a girl but nobody moves an inch, they both lie there perfectly still, like they are soaking. I guess it doesn't count if nobody moves.
Do you think Mitt Romney and his wife do any positions other than missionary?
Neil: I imagine he mixes it up and keeps his socks on.
What has the reaction been like?
Sara: It's been hugely positive—the work was published in a number of newspapers, various sites online, and we received some gallery offers. The most rewarding responses though were all the emails we received directly from ex-Mormons appreciating the humor in dealing with the issue.
You used two males as your subjects. Do you think there are many gay Mormons?
Shelby: That is a huge issue within Mormon culture. There is such bigotry and condemnation of homosexuality that it leads to a culture of repression. I personally have known kids who didn't come out till they were in their late 20s due to the ingrained fear they had. I actually knew another kid who committed suicide because he was gay in a Mormon community and couldn't handle it. I think there are a lot more homosexuals than anyone in that religion wants to talk about.
Wouldn't gay Mormons wear outfits with a bit more flair than you've portrayed?
If they had more creative freedom, most likely.
And do you think it would be especially awesome if eight gay Mormons all got married to each other in true polygamist style?
That would make for some incredible family dinners.
What's your favorite position?
Put some music on and I'm down for whatever.
Today is Valentine's Day. Do you have any romantic plans or positions lined up?
Sara: I'm on a shoot in LA so my best hope of romance will be digital.
Describe your perfect Valentine's date with a Mormon.
One where I don't show up.
Sara, when we last spoke in 2011 you were about to graduate from the W+K 12 program. What have you been up to since, aside from fantasizing about Mormons?
They have a saying at Wieden + Kennedy: "Hire Wrong." They did just that and hired me as an art director in the Portland office where I've been faking it ever since.
See the rest of the shoot here.