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Helen Flanagan

Posted by Liv Siddall,

After a good decade of being on the internet every day we’re pretty used to pop-ups telling us where the nearest single/semi-naked person is and exactly how to meet them. Helen Flanagan took this one step further than most of us and went to photograph the people she came across on sex sites and adult pop-ups. We caught up with her to ask her a few questions about this secret and incredibly fascinating project.

How did this project begin?

I wanted to meet new people to photograph and thought the internet was the best resource. I was fascinated by these advertisements that would pop up on the side of my browser and researched more into it.

What exactly were you looking for?

I was looking for anyone willing to be photographed. A lot of the people I encountered wanted more and I had to make clear that it was strictly only photographs I wanted for my university project. It did lead to potential risky situations, but that is necessary and part of the thrill.

How difficult was it to find willing subjects?

Most people weren’t interested and didn’t understand why I was on there if I didn’t want to, ahem, ‘get it on.’ Others were intrigued, wanted photos for their profile or generally just wanted to meet up and chat with someone.

What was the protocol upon meeting the subjects in person? How much time did you spend with each one?

We would arrange a meeting time and I would always go to them, either shooting in their home or chosen location. Sometimes the encounters were brief but there were others who wanted to chat longer, so it would vary from anywhere between 20 minutes to a couple of hours.

What do you think portrait photography can bring to such an anonymous topic?

I find it interesting how the onlooker may view and assume so much about these individuals. Despite these people being strangers there is an obvious openness and willingness to be photographed which is fascinating in its own right. I wanted to deal with them sensitively by photographing them in their homes. By offering the sitter a space they felt comfortable in, it allowed for barriers to be slowly drawn and for the images to be revealing of their own character.

Many of these strangers had their own deep stories to share so I decided to write about them. Beneath the sexual facade lies the simple human desire to be wanted and heard.

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Posted by Liv Siddall

Liv joined It’s Nice That as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our editors. She oversees itsnicethat.com and has a particular interest in illustration, photography and music videos. She also runs our London listings site This At There, and is a regular on our Studio Audience podcast.