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The photographs of Brighton artist Antone Pavlov are immediately recognizable. Sepia toned and starkly set, his only muse, Molly, stands or sits clad in a corset, stockings or nothing at all. Her skeletal frame draws our line of vision up the jutting figure to meet her huge haunting eyes... eyes that are impossible to read. They are at once dead and pleading, empty and curious. She's a model, a doll, a corpse, a sex object, a hunger, a figurine, a need and a fantasy. We spoke with Pavlov about his obsession with creating surreal art with a living puppet.
Sez G: How did you and Molly meet? What are you drawn to about her?
Antone Pavlov: I met Molly while she was studying art at college. I was a photography tutor. She had an intense presence, which I immediately liked.
Sez G: When did you start making art together and was it always focused on "sexual perversion and vice?"
Antone Pavlov: We started shooting soon after we met in 2004. I didn't have a clear idea of what to shoot at that time, but I wanted to do a test and develop ideas with her. We are now very interested exploring the fine line between indecency and art.
Sez G: You've said you are inspired by 19th and early 20th century erotic photographers. What about that era of art are you moved by?
Antone Pavlov: When I see vintage "pornographic" images from the 19th century, there is something quite shocking about them, and I can't quite pin down why that is. It could be that at the time, those images were very subversive, and photography was still new. They offer a glimpse of the birth of modern pornography, and in our current internet era, it still holds a fascination for me. There is also a vulgarity in those images that seems to be absent in art history until the invention of photography in the 1860s.
Sez G: You're influenced by Hans Bellmer, who is known for his surreal, sexualized, life-sized dolls. You've often referred to Molly as your "living sex doll," which she exceptionally becomes! What about dolls are you drawn to?
Antone Pavlov: I don't really know why, but dolls and mannequins
have always fascinated me. There isn't any particular moment in my past
that I can explain it with. I admire Hans Bellmer and Pierre
Molinier for the work they left, and many have spoken with more authority
about the merits of what they produced. I identify with them as obsessive
Obsession is key to my personality too. That obsession and search for perfection drives my work with Molly. So many thoughts and impulses come together with Molly as a sex doll. I adore her, and as a photographer I idealize her. As an obsessive perfectionist, it makes sense for me to invent and reinvent my idealized image of Molly. I think Bellmer did that with his Doll, and I believe Molinier was doing that with images of his autoerotic persona with an underlying interest in vulgar and obscene perversity.
Sez G: You've been working on a new series featuring Molly with Eros Zine favorite Kumi. What have the shoots been like? How has it been adding a third person to the mix?
Antone Pavlov: Working with Kumi was great. She is such an icon in the fetish world, and a gorgeous, intelligent and funny lady. Shooting with Molly and another female was a big conceptual mind-bend for us.
One obvious consideration within the shots was the power distribution. Would one be sub, and so on? I just couldn't figure that out. In the end, I felt that I didn't want an inequality of power within the images. Molly and Kumi are both extraordinary personas.
I settled this by adding a male gimp who was dommed on instead. So we have in this series Molly and Kumi performing a testicle stretch on a sex slave and other nasty things. The new work will be ready for release around June 2007 and will also include other people appearing with Molly featuring extreme sexual fetishes and exploring 'grotesque' as well as 'vulgar' themes.
Sez G: You're based in Brighton. Are you involved in the fetish scene there?
Antone Pavlov: The Brighton fetish scene is great. We have fetish club nights like Vice Party, Vinylla and Innerspirit, which cater well for the 'out' fetishists. There are two great fetish shops in Brighton: Taboo run by Tim Richardson, and Fetique.
But the really interesting aspect of the fetish scene in Brighton is what happens behind closed doors for individuals, couple and small groups. Brighton is full of fetishists and perverts. Molly and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else!
Sez G: What photo techniques do you use?
Antone Pavlov: I use an old 10x8 camera and shoot with 5x4 Polaroid negative film. In an odd way I feel a little closer to those early pioneers of erotic pornography with this way of shooting. It's a love/hate thing though. I love the process of slowing the shoot down with a big uber camera, and I have time to play out my obsessive attention to detail; however, it's practically cumbersome. I view the finished images upside down and backwards on the ground on a glass screen. The Polaroid film has the actual negative within it so as soon as I've taken a shot the negative is developed there and then! Its real silver gelatine which gives the prints that vintage feel.
Sez G: Most of the images on your site are from 2005. How often do
you shoot, and is Molly always in the shot?
Antone Pavlov: We have not released any work in '06 as we have been busy with exhibitions and magazines. We live and work together full time promoting and building the collection. We are not in any particular hurry to release work prematurely, and this has created an expectation and anticipation surrounding the release of the new series next summer. Molly is my muse collaborator, and I adore her. She is 20; I've just turned 40. I see the work as a whole and have a time frame in the back of my mind for it. For me she will always be the personification of love, sex and obsession, and every picture I make, whether Molly is actually in the shot or not, will be an adoring wink to Molly and all she represents.
To learn more about Antone Pavlov and Molly, visit Molly-Web.com.
Antone Pavlov - by Sez G.