This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Recently, Roxy Hervé has been taking photos of strangers being intimate. Not professionals or performers, but regular civilian strangers who are happy to invite the 27-year-old Parisian photographer and artist into their bedrooms for her project Lovers, which she describes as an "accurate" exploration of "the human form and its environment."
I had some questions, so I met up with Hervé in north London, where she’s currently based.
[Some slightly NSFW images follow.]
VICE: How did this come about?
Roxy Hervé: So, a couple in Paris contacted me and said, "I like your photos, and I want to do a shoot with my boyfriend. Do you think you’d be up for it?" I said yes and just thought I’d figure it out along the way.
What happened then?
We met at their apartment, and they started talking to me, quite straightforward, about their relationship. We spent the whole evening drinking, and they were telling me super intimate stuff that I had no right knowing; they had never met me before. We got close, and I ended up taking pictures of them in their bedroom. I loved the experience of it, so I was like, "I’m going to do this now."
From a technical perspective, is it difficult to photograph people writhing around on a bed?
It is, especially if I’m standing over them. If I think it’s really worth it, I sometimes tell them: "This pose is really nice—don’t move." But usually, I have to try to guess what position they’re about to go in so I have time to take the right photos. But, yeah, we talk to each other—it’s a collaboration.
Do you think that the participants act differently because there is someone in the room with a camera?
I think at first, yeah—I always sense a bit of discomfort in the beginning, but I ease it up with a joke or something. But then I get the trust going. By the end of the shoots, everyone has been really enthusiastic about it and said they love it.
How do you build the trust?
That takes up most of the time, actually. As part of the process, I [audio] record them. I ask every lover the same question individually: "Can you remember the moment that you realized you liked the other person? Not the moment that you were attracted to them, but when you realized that you really liked them, and it wasn’t just sex." That helps to build the trust. I also think it helps that I’m a girl. The girls don't get shy at all; it’s mostly the boys that get a bit shy.
Has it ever been people that you know personally?
I knew them two of the times. [I've seen] them at parties, but it was fine. I have one coming up that I think is going to be the most awkward, though. I’m trying to find older people, rather than people in their 20s and 30s, so I asked my parents if they knew anyone who could help me out. My mother’s best friend, who I’ve known since I was a child, got back in touch with me. But they’re polite and nice, so I think it’s going to be a good experience.
How do you distinguish between artistic photos of sex and pornographic photos?
When I look at mine, I don’t think that there’s anything pornographic about them. You don’t see an erect penis or any vaginas, or anything like that. You do see boobs, but for me, boobs are not something erotic—they are just boobs. So, it’s more about the positions and merging of whole bodies rather than specific parts.
What have you learned about human sexuality from this?
I’m not sure because the project isn’t completely about that. My photos are not very erotic in many ways. They are on the verge of it, but it’s not about that. It’s more about the moment when bodies mix, and the shapes of the bodies collectively. I’m taking pictures of bodies, but the fact that I’m cropping it that way makes the body a bit less like the human body and more like a totally different shape.
Have you learned anything about yourself?
Yeah, I’m someone who can be quite awkward; I don’t make friends super easily. But meeting people I’ve never met before and making them feel comfortable enough to get naked and let me take pictures of them made me realize that I am a bit more confident. I always feel that because the lovers got so close, by the end. When I leave, I leave them in a good way. Maybe in a better way than when I arrived.
Where do you want to go with this project?
I had a couple of galleries contact me, which was cool. I would love to do a sound and image exhibition, and recordings of the couples telling their stories, which would accompany huge pictures. Different rooms would have people telling different stories with both their words and bodies.
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