What is Alt again? Visiting the “Alt to the ALT” art exhibit

Do you remember Altporn? How about steveporn? For a mercifully brief but intriguing time a few years ago, Porn Valley had itself a bona fide artistic debate about what constituted an alternative to mainstream porn. Joanna Angel, Eon McKai, Benny Profane, Dana DeArmond, Zak Sabbath, Mandy Morbid, and Vena Virago were the darlings of that movement, such as it was. Then “Altporn” and its practitioners either faded away or waited patiently for the aesthetic to be assimilated into commercial porn.

But now Alt is back, as part of a Month of Photography LA (MOPLA) event.

“ALT to the ALT,” an exhibit opening April 9 and featuring work by Kimberly Kane, Eon McKai, Carlos Batts, Bob Coulter, and Courtney Trouble, sidesteps some lingering, murky issues.

“This show isn’t about porn politics,” says curator Rae Threat. “My vision is simply showcasing the artistic aesthetics I see through these pornographers’ line of work. Alt has so many definitions in the industry and I’m not one to define it as an outsider.”

And there were a lot of politics and emotions wrapped up in Porn Valley’s version of Altporn, a movement that generated a great deal more hype than revenue, and which I thought had less of an idea of what it was than of what it wasn’t. At its worst—in my opinion—video-based Altporners were sometimes guilty of cutting corners on the production quality any consumer would expect, and would then try to justify their mistakes or laziness as “art.”

This was primarily the problem the porn establishment had with Altporn (which I just started calling “steveporn,” because no one knew how to define it), too, except there was an added element of sour grapes, to wit: “Why are those mopey shoegazers getting all the attention when I have another ‘Dirtpipe Milkshakes’ coming out?”

But there was a lot to recommend Altporn, too; if anything to give pornographers a little extra freedom to work outside Porn Valley’s rigid formula—at least as it existed a few years ago.

“[ALT practitioners’] works and corresponding aesthetics are often overlooked as being nothing but perverted fluff,” says Threat. “My definition of ALT in this realm of ‘alt’ is actually seeing and pronouncing an actual artform within that work, keeping in mind that the general public’s perspective of thinking that ‘alt’ is simply “tattoo’d chick porn” — which I think in the case of Eon, Kim, or Carlos’ work are far from being simply that.”

“As far as the name ‘ALT to the ALT’ is concerned,” continues Threat, “it was actually a term coined by Courtney [Trouble] while we were hanging out, defining her queerporn movement as being the ALT to the ‘alt.’ Her definition came from seeing her work take on an alt quality, but wasn’t fully, as it was more rendered towards queer identities, thus making it… another alt.”

To each his own Alt, I guess. And, just as what may seem vanilla to me may seem kinky to you (or vice versa), you may disagree that some of these images are alternative, but they are each arresting just the same.

So if Alt is an alternative to mainstream porn, but if the tattoos and piercings that loosely characterized the alt look are now more or less accepted on the sets of mainstream porn movies, how do we define Alt today?

“I can only speak for myself,” says Carlos Batts. “The industry has rapidly changed in a short amount of time. My goal was always to make interesting art and films that wouldn’t be disposable. I have always included a diverse range of ethnicities, sexual orientations, and identities, body types, and music in my work that reflect the people in my real life surroundings.”

Batts’ “real life surroundings” include his wife and primary model, April Flores.

Irrespective of what is or isn’t Alt, still photography is able to capture things film often can’t, especially with porn’s limited budgets. I’m excited to see this work (particularly that of Batts and Coulter, whose photographic ouevre is unjustly overshadowed by their films). That’s why I’m going to this show.

And I won’t be taking my car. I’ll be riding a camel. Because I’m Alt.

  • ALT to the ALT opens at Eagle Rock’s Show Cave on Saturday, April 9, with special performances starting at 7 p.m.

3501 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles 90065

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Trouble with a capital T (and that stands for transfolk); When you wishlist upon a porn star; L.A. art world stunned by whimsy, porn, lack of stabbings; Being there: “We Did Porn”; “You’re not one of us”: A Steveporn Odyssey
See also: ALT to the ALT

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Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist


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