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THE SEX FILES: Author Will Santillo on his new book La Patite Mort


I love when I can wrap a SEX FILES around sex and our great city. I was at Taschen the premier art book/gallery store at 107 Greene St. in the village to talk to photographer Will Santillo about his new book La Patite Mort. For those of you who don’t speak French or have never heard the term, La Petite Mort translates as “the little death” which is a metaphor for orgasm and Mr. Santillo’s beautifully photographed book features women between the ages of 21- and 57 masturbating for his camera.

Take me through your architecture career and how you got to taking photographs for a living.

I was in school taking architecture because my father was an architect; sort of going into the family business. But on the side line of architecture there were courses you could take and one of them was photography, taught by Minor White, one of the old masters and I got very interested in that. I graduated, took some time, learned how to build a house, learned how to build cabinets, worked for a while but I didn’t want to be an intern in an office and punch time-cards and stuff. A few things happened and a friend of mine offered me a converted garage as a studio-I couldn’t turn that down-so I had a studio before I had photography jobs.

And this was when you were in Toronto, right?

Yes, at the time I was raising a kid so the family was committed to Toronto even though I was born in New York. Toronto is a great city to live in but it’s not a great city for world business…fashion, commercial photography. All the photographers I was seeing who did really well would either get to a certain point and that’s it, hit the ceiling, or they came to New York.

I found this quote from the intro of the book very interesting, you say “The abstract approach possible with digital distances it from pornography and moves it towards art.” can you elaborate?

For me the digital is not just the type of camera. All my effects are done in camera, not done in post, but what I am able to do in post as an artist is how I want to manipulate the image.

Though the pictures look like it, they are not pure sepia, right?

No , not at all. I did some research and some reading; experimented, developed this formula, literally a formula. The dark areas are actually purple, the mid tones sepia and top end are sienna. If you do a straight sepia then the highlights get sepia-ed as well what you do is you counteract the sepia with the sienna and that cleans out the white and then the purple idea came for a family friend. He’s an artist who I respect a lot and he emailed me back about some stuff I sent him, saying I had used just the right amount of purple in the black, which of course I hadn’t, his monitor was just tweaked that way. But I thought ‘right purple in the black!’  It took me a long time to apply it, drives printers crazy, but it can be done.

So I guess my most direct question has got to be…how’d you find all these women to pose for you?

In the beginning it was very difficult, very embarrassing, you just don’t walk up to women and say ‘hey I’m doing a series on masturbation, would you like to pose?’ I had nothing to show them, they just look at you like you’re some creepy guy.  The first 3 years were slow going, I only had 4 or 5 women through word of mouth, my wife (Will’s wife is the first and last model in the book) talked to women friends, than friends talked. As I built the portfolio I could show it and that helped a lot and people could see where I was going with it.

Then I had a book come out and the women realized I did actually publish, then there was no problem getting volunteers; it actually got too much I had to cull out and pick for diversity. Then when it was done I popped it over to Taschen and the rest is history.

For more on Mr. Santillo and his book go here or visit Taschen Books on Greene Street.

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