US photographer Natacha Merritt‘s newest book, Sexual Selection, pits scenes of unsimulated sex and sexual masochism against super high-res plantlife imagery. She spoke to Wonderland about the racy volume, released earlier this month.
What is your background in photography? You have a degree in biology. Did this light the touch paper for your interest in this subject in artistic terms?
Shortly after I started shooting and posting my low resolution images online in 1998, I was contacted by Eric Kroll and offered to do a book with Taschen. I had literally started shooting months before then. The success of it was like nothing I could have imagined. I later worked as a creator for Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity, where I did all the multimedia and projections that I created from animating the stills I had captured of the performers. I then had slight financial flexibility, so I decided to go back to university. I viewed it as the ultimate luxury, to invest in myself. I was seeking new inspiration and quickly became obsessed with the sciences and evolutionary biology in particular. Capturing images of insect genitals (and flowers) by day, and taking photos of erotic scenarios by night is an endless source of creative inspiration.
When did you first stumble upon the concept of “sexual selection”. Explain it in simple terms.
While studying biology I kept coming across the theory, and it’s always when the material got juicy and interesting. To me sexual selection is the sensual, sometimes kinky side of evolution. The theory of sexual selection was first coined by Darwin in 1851. I was immediately attracted to anything in biology that had to do with sexual selection. Although it is not a science text, I do highlight some of my favourite contemporary scientists’ work while freely intertwining this with my own erotic fantasies.
What artists did you grow up following? Are you inspired by bravery in art?
I admit it, when growing up I loved Madonna, the way she constantly reinvented herself and was strong while being sexual. I love the sexual imagery she created to surround her music. But mostly it was her entrepreneurial energy that I loved. She never looked like a pop puppet. Bravery and shocking people go hand in hand. Today, Otto Dix’s work deeply inspires me. He sought out – and found – beauty in the mutilated survivors after the first world war. Ann Rice, writing as Ann Roquelaure really inspired me to create art that is sexually arousing. I read that when I was 13 and had just started exploring my sexuality. I think those books – The Beauty Trilogy – revolutionized my idea of sex, love, pleasure. They changed everything. These books dealt with BDSM, something I knew very little about, but by reading them and being turned on by it I realized there is much more complexity in ways to love each other.
Your pictures depict sexual acts. Did you perform them or are they models?
Both. I love working with self portraiture. Sexual self portraiture is extremely empowering and revealing although technically and logistically it is very challenging. There are many layers of taboo and cliché to surmount before I birth a truly artistic image. I work a lot with models as well, but they are never paid. The sex is always real. In the end the line between self portraiture and shooting another often gets blurred. Of all moments I think that the orgasm or sexual pleasure is the most fleeting, while at the same time one of the most intense of human experiences. Only art can do it justice.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a show to accompany the book release, that will feature larger than life insect genitals juxtaposed with human erotic imagery. It will be an immersive experience. I’m currently looking for venues worldwide.
Words: Jack Mills