April Flores, the Plus-Size Porn Star
Gia Jordan April Flores and Carlos Batts at the Coagula Curatorial for their gallery opening
Fat Girl is a new photography book with a single subject -- the flame-haired April Flores, who, through her work as a plus-size model and porn star, has managed to inject a thread of consciousness and a-normative body acceptance into an industry with 48-24-32 measurements. Turn the pages and you will see her naked, tangled in a pink telephone line, peeing in a martini glass, washing out red hair dye, standing next to transgender porn star Buck Angel, licking snatch.
But behind the mono-thematic still images is the dynamic relationship of Flores and husband and photographer Carlos Batts, who both insist that the book is more of a chronicle of their 13 years of love and life together than an erotic or political statement.
The photographic tome unwittingly presents a perfect mimetic cast of their collaboration as a married couple and partners-in-art: April a subject before the camera, Batts behind and their romantic relationship between -- creating an unseen tension that breathes what Flores calls "authenticity" into their work.
"It's not just a bunch of recent photos, it's photos from a broad range of our life -- intimate moments, party moments and gallery moments," Batts says. "It's like Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera. It's a super loose artist relationship that has spawned into something really wonderful."
At their book release event two Saturdays ago at MOCA, Flores and Batts stood, and then sat, side-by-side, answering questions about their book, their work, their vision. Flores told me she was nervous, and Batts did most of the talking, but even in their uneven activity, there seemed to be a fluidity between their identities.
It kind of makes sense. The couple married ten years ago and have been working on Fat Girl even longer. Their success since has been like a series of fortuitous falls, expedited by their openness to ventures into unknown and controversial artistic realms.
"I've always just kind of went with the flow with my life, so this is where it's led me," Flores says. "I didn't wake up and say, 'Oh, I want to be a porn star, I want to do porn'...I just kind of take every opportunity that comes my way."
|April Flores, Bunny De La Cruz and La Cholita|
"I saw April and I saw her skin. I was like 'Oh my God, her skin is so beautiful,'" Batts says. "I wanted to approach her and I came up to her with a very cheesy line. I said, 'Do you model?'"
She hadn't, but she said yes to the proposition anyway. When they met for coffee to discuss the shoot, Batts further pushed her limits by asking Flores, who was then self conscious about her weight, to model in a bikini.
"I didn't want my nerves get in the way of his vision so I just said 'OK.' I just went along with it," she says.
Her leap of faith paid off -- their first series they ever shot was published in Batts' first book, Wild Skin.
Then their relationship evolved to encompass often parallel roles, from model and photographer to boyfriend and girlfriend, and eventually husband and wife.
The two shot their first porno together, like so many of their collaborations, completely incidentally. Batts, who had been working in adult entertainment, shooting box covers and directing, wanted to photograph the porn star Belladonna for their fledgling notion of Fat Girl. When they met, Belladonna instead asked Flores to star in a scene with her; Flores again said, "Yes."
One scene begat two and two begat three. Flores birthed her identity as not just a "fat" girl in porn but a girl with a mission to make it more acceptable for fat women to be in porn.
"By my third scene I kind of had to take a step back and evaluate," she says. "Like, if I'm going to keep doing this, what is going to be my reason? So that's when I thought that if I'm going to keep doing this, I want to have my statement of showing the world that fat women can be sexual and challenge the ideas of what's considered desirable."
Flores and Batts now run their own production company and make independent movies and what they called "outsider porn." Their filmography includes the explicit and John Waters-y Voluptuous Biker Babes, Glamazons and April's favorite work to date, Dangerous Curves.
She never finds the girl, but her influence on porn is evident. There is the obvious: Flores was Adult Video News' first plus-size cover model and sole plus-sized star to have sex toys molded from her body. And then there is the subtle: The photos in Fat Girl don't depict a model trying to raise awareness about fat shaming by pointing out her weight, but a model simply doing things that any creative, self-confident model would do -- like flash the camera, blindfolded, while talking on a pay phone in a seedy-looking lobby or pose brazenly in nothing but a pink mask.
Batts, whose bikini-vision was the catalyst that began it all, is the other constant in the book besides the camera, documenting the fat-positive movement that he helped create alongside his wife and muse.
The couple's next project, a film called Vulgar, is already in the works.