Want to see some dirty pictures?

Photographing porn stars drew Ian Gittler into what he saw as the glamorous world of the sex industry. His new book graphically depicts a journey back from hell. By Laurel Ives
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Ian Gittler is lurking outside the restaurant. Stick thin, dressed in drainpipe jeans and a red Puffa jacket, he looks like a recovering drug addict or a rock star gone to seed. When he takes off his hat, shoulder- length bleached blond hair spills out.

In fact, Gittler is a photographer who decided nine years ago to take pictures of porn stars. Now 37, his years in the multi-billion dollar adult-entertainment industry have taken him from eager voyeur to participant and, eventually, psychiatric patient.

Gittler's account of his journey, Pornstar, has just been published in the States, and the combination of explicit photos and accompanying diary is generating intense interest. He writes about meeting and sleeping with porn stars, about watching sex videos being filmed, and attending strip shows and adult video fairs. He even records his own brief appearance as an extra in a sex movie - appropriately decked out in black leather.

Why write a book about porn stars, I ask Gittler, over Salade Nicoise. He responds with a well-versed answer. "My photographic career was beginning to take off. I was taking pictures of celebrities such as Bjork and Lenny Kravitz for magazines including Vogue and Vanity Fair, but 15 minutes at a record company with a public relations man on hand felt pretty shallow in terms of the aspirations I had for myself."

Gittler wanted to photograph people on the edge of society, but by the early Nineties, rock stars has come to seem pretty tame: "They weren't rebelling like rap stars, and they weren't defining the youth culture in a way that was even remotely threatening for adults." However, the porn stars Gittler encountered on his frequent trips to adult video booths in the US seemed to exist enticingly outside of society's norms. "At the time, I thought there was a sort of renegade hipness to their lives. They were living in LA, making a lot of money, having lots of sex, and doing something that brought them notoriety," he says.

Gittler was also savvy enough to spot a commercial edge: celebrities such as Madonna and Michael Jackson had been photographed many times, but sex actors were still rarely pictured outside porn. "A coffee-table book of pictures of porn stars would be my cheeky answer to the celebrity picture book so popular in the Eighties. Instead of beloved icons, I would glorify the reviled - or at least only secretly admired - ones," he explains.

Gittler travelled to Los Angeles and persuaded porn stars to pose for him and occasionally bestow extra favours for free. "I was fucking around with lots of girls," he boasts. But as Gittler got increasingly involved in porn, his notion of a glamorous, sexually adventurous world began to turn sour. Most of the actors and actresses he met were addicted to drink or drugs, and hinted at revulsion over selling their bodies. Every female star Gittler talked to immediately talked about getting out of porn and doing "real movies". Gittler was, he claims, also shocked to encounter the grotesque plastic surgery the actresses inflicted on themselves. "April's chest is a shock. Her tits jut out from the top of her torso... The scars under her nipples are red, fresh," he writes.

Gittler's accounts show how female actresses are drawn into filming increasingly abusive sex scenes with offers of more and more money. In one passage, he writes: "Porsche's screaming - total howling - cuts through the walls. For half an hour. Non-stop."

Almost all the sex actors, both male and female, told Gittler they were sexually abused as children, he says, and he takes the rather simplistic view that this is what propelled them into the sex industry.

After two years in the hard-core porn business, Gittler was forced to reassess his motives. He split up with his girlfriend and, depressed, returned to New York to see a therapist. "The therapist made me see how I had used pornography to validate my own lifestyle, and how my sexual posturing was about fear of intimacy. The pathologies at work in the porn stars' lives were also present in mine."

After a year in therapy, Gittler decided to return to Los Angeles and continue with his book, but he knew he could no longer glorify porn stars. "Literally the night before I left, I got a call telling me that Savannah, probably the most famous triple-X actress of her generation, had committed suicide." Gittler had photographed and spent the night with Savannah and her picture is on the front of Pornstar. "My picture of Savannah is of this young, sexy blonde girl on the beach. It was the best piece of evidence I had to fool the public into thinking this was a glamorous life - now it was the face of girl who had taken her own life."

Gittler decided he had to confront what the stars were doing, and shifted his focus from photographing them to documenting the sex.

His eye-witness accounts of sex videos being filmed are often disturbing. Take the description of a scene with Debi Diamond - known in the business as a "super hard-core actress" - which involves hot wax. You can imagine the rest. Gittler was fascinated by Debi: "She is intelligent and articulate and also very beautiful." Yet the scene he witnessed was one of "horrifying aggression". He says: "I could find nothing sexual about it. At the end, Debi was hanging off a bed and all these guys were walking around, and no one even gave her a hand to help her up. It broke my heart."

In recounting the graphic sexual violence - particularly against women - that occurs in the sex industry, Pornstar is reminiscent of, though not nearly as violent as, American Psycho. Its author, Bret Easton Ellis, is a close friend of Gittler's, and he helped him with the final draft. Like American Psycho, I feel uneasy about Pornstar. Isn't it really just designed to titillate - pornography disguised by a politically correct message? "Sex is the one thing every reader has in common with what is going on in this world", Gittler says. "It is important to address how these people are experiencing the actual act. They are going through incredibly tortuous experiences for our entertainment."

Gittler tells me porn stars find it hard to leave the business because rewards are high. Top stars earn up to half a million a year, and a middle ranking female actress can gross $10,000 a week for stripping. Of course, most earn less and the sums are paltry in comparison to the megabucks grossed by the producers and directors. Unlike mainstream actors, if a star leaves the industry for even a short period, the turnover is so high that it is hard for them to break back in. None of this information is in the book, which does provide a fascinating picture of the damaged characters inhabiting the world of porn, but lacks factual analysis of the industry.

Gittler claims that his nine years in the porn industry have left him a changed man. "I am not a slut anymore. In my twenties I'd be like, `Wow my girlfriend's friend is hot, let's get into a threesome'. Now I have one person in my life, I'm faithful, and I don't drink or do drugs."

But not all of his old habits are gone. Gittler can't resist probing me about my relationship, and even after what he has witnessed he still enjoys porn. Of course, he has an explanation for that too. "I like dirty pictures. It's not something I like about myself, but I am attracted to the knowledge that there is unhappiness there."

`Pornstar' is published by Simon & Schuster and is available through amazon.co.uk