Can Porn and Feminism Ever be Bedfellows?

Jessie Andrews is dissolving the negative connotations of working in the adult industry – here she talks with photographer Francesca Allen on getting comfortable on both sides of the camera lens

To call Jessie Andrews simply a porn star would be reductive. Yes, she may have entered the adult film industry a week after her 18th birthday and at 23 has won five awards and various nominations for her acting skills. But Andrews refuses to be defined by one career path. Instead she opts to work on multiple projects at once, running her own jewelry label ‘Bagatiba’, modeling for brands like ‘American Apparel’, and DJing across the world alongside the semi-regularity of shooting porn. It’s possibly because of this multiplicity in her work ethic that Andrews is altering people's perceptions of what it means to be involved in the adult industry. Documenting her day-to-day life for over 250,000 Instagram followers, Andrews is sober, spiritual, and generally fighting against the seedy stereotype associated with porn actresses.

After hearing about Andrews through her boyfriend, London Based photographer Francesca Allen decided to reach out while she was visiting LA on the off chance that she would want to shoot. Known for her portraits exploring youth culture and friendship, at 23 years old Allen’s work has become synonymous with themes of strong femininity and exhibited across high profile London galleries such as The Photographer’s Gallery and The Serpentine. While the pair may be from vastly different backgrounds, they found themselves quickly striking up a friendship. With both their bodies of work – intentional or otherwise – dealing with issues of female representation, the two sit down to chat body positivity, social media, and what’s to come in 2016.

View gallery by Francesca Allen here

“Porn is liberating if you're involved with it as you learn so much about your body and what you like”– Jessie Andrews

Francesca Allen: It’s so pointless. I had a huge influx of followers on Instagram and I don’t think people realise there’s a person behind an account on social media. People were commenting on images of my sister saying: ‘Ew, ugly.’ I was so upset at the thought of her seeing that. I’ve got a private instagram now for normal things like photos of my boyfriend. Do you feel pressure with the positive response too though? That it’s kind of been put upon you? That it’s so feminist and so on. I’ve never presented myself in that way. I definitely am but–

Jessie Andrews: You don’t have to say it to know it.

Francesca Allen: I don’t think it’s an inherently bad thing either, but I do feel that if you’re a women and in control of your life you are automatically referred to you as a feminist, then you’ve got all of these expectations like ‘shit, that wasn’t very feminist of me’. It is definitely a label that gets pushed onto women.

Jessie Andrews: It’s the same stigma with photographers and porn actresses – that they must love sex and want to do it all the time. With photographers it’s like ‘Oh, you shoot naked girls? You must fuck them’. There’s so many stigmas within all these careers that don’t need to be there.

Francesca Allen: I guess that’s what attracted me to you, the way you’re in control of yourself. I think it’s amazing. That’s something I want to capture in a photo. It’s so positive. How do you divide your time?

Jessie Andrews: I’ll do a porn project once or twice a year if the project’s right. Other than that, I have jewellery & DJing to occupy my time. I always tell people you’ve got to have the right calendar to keep organised.

Francesca Allen: It’s amazing to be a woman in 2016, I feel like there’s no obligation for me to have one career. I don’t know whether that comes from being creative but because there are so many more opportunities out there for women, at 27 you’re not thinking about a baby but what your next career step should be.

Jessie Andrews: We’ve been presented with all these opportunities and everyone’s such a go-getter. You don't have to stick with one job. Modelling is not a job for me. The real work I do is DJing and my jewellery label. But I love them. So does that make it a hobby or a job?

Francesca Allen: Do you prefer shooting with female photographers? Do you find there’s a difference between the way male and female photographers work? What they ask of you and what they expect?

Jessie Andrews: Well, with women it’s easier because we know what looks good. We are more comfortable together because we are familiar.

Francesca Allen: Also, you understand how women would want to present themselves. I notice in people the way they present themselves, or what they choose to present.

Jessie Andrews: I’ve never had a sleazy male photographer experience, everyone I’ve worked with has been respectful, but I’ve heard stories of guys being very sleazy. It’s hard for me to shoot with new photographers. That’s my biggest struggle, just because it’s fun for me and my free time is important. Somebody I know has to have shot with them or know somebody who has shot with them. Even when I shoot girls, I ask around first or see who they've shot with.

Francesca Allen: Are you social? Do you have loads of girlfriends?

Jessie Andrews: I follow twenty people on Instagram. They're the people I find most inspiring and love besides family. I’m interested in what they're doing, not how beautiful they are or what fit tea they're drinking.

Francesca Allen: Do you find it hard to switch off too? I read somewhere that you check your email every two minutes.

Jessie Andrews: Yeah, I’m always on my phone.

Francesca Allen: Me too, I want to throw it away. It drives me crazy.

Jessie Andrews: I’ve been getting better. Two years ago, I stopped being on social media quite as much. Before I was always on twitter – now I can forget about my phone for hours.  You take a break too though, right?

Francesca Allen: Yeah, if I’m not making work I love, for sure. What are you going to be doing in 2016?

Jessie Andrews: Well, I’ve been writing a lot, so hopefully more music. But I want to write hundreds and hundreds of songs till I put one out that I’m really keen on. No dance music.

Writing is therapeutic for me because I don’t really talk to people about deep emotions. It’s hard to find those people, even with friends and family, I don’t tell them everything that’s in my head. I feel like everyone should write music, it’s like a melodic diary for your ears.

“It’s fun to see women photographers express themselves in their own work, saying: ‘this is who I am,’ because a lot of photographers just hide behind the images. I think women should be a more vocal.”– Jessie Andrews

Francesca Allen: I used to have a diary and be obsessed about writing in it everyday. If I missed a day, I’d go back and pretend I’d written it. If nothing happened that day I’d write about what happened when I was fifteen and this party I went to, just an obsessive need to fill it in the diary. And also as a way of leaving something behind, like then putting it in my shoebox and burying it under the ground. You have these ideas. Who would be your dream person to write a song for?

Jessie Andrews: Who knows… anyone! Anyone who would want it. Also, I want to expand my jewellery brand ‘Bagatiba’ and bring some more people on, I’ve kept it so small for so long because I’ve had the luxury to so and not depend on it to support me. I’ve been doing a lot of jewellery collaborations for big brands, I think that’s another thing – collaborate with bigger brands. I really want to shoot for a big brand myself. It’s really hard, obviously. It would be awesome to do something for Diesel who has an edgier brand; I’ve done American Apparel, that’s probably the biggest. 

Francesca Allen: Do you feel that people portray you as baby-faced?

Jessie Andrews: Yeah, that’s my brand though.

Francesca Allen: Would you want to do anything else though?

Jessie Andrews: Maybe just something different. Your work too, you’re going down this route where you really only shoot film. But you really love it so it’s fine. I love shooting raw stuff too, film is irreplaceable.

Francesca Allen: Once you’ve build a brand around what you do, I feel it is hard to break away from. If I go on shoot like: ‘okay, we’re going to shoot digital, high flash, I want heels, glam hair!’ they’ll be like ‘oh my god’. But I guess it’s the same when you want to do a shoot, like today, and they say no makeup but then you're like ‘I want blue hair’.

Jessie Andrews: My brand is very vanilla, very girl next door – I know how it is. If I started dying my hair blue people would be like: ‘what?! This girl’s going through a mid-life crisis right now.’ And If I showed up to a shoot with blue hair, people wouldn’t be okay with it – but at the end of the day, who cares. As long as I like it then no one else's opinion matters. That's how I live my life.

Francesca Allen: What do you think is next for feminism?

Jessie Andrews: I think if we keep doing what we’re doing we will inspire women. It’s fun to see women photographers express themselves in their own work, saying: ‘this is who I am.’ Because a lot of photographers just hide behind the images. I think women should be a more vocal.

Francesca Allen: I don’t think feminism is necessarily progressing by the trends that it creates. It’s coming from women doing things, by doing what they want to do. It’s not about shaving or not shaving, it’s about doing what you need and what you want.

Jessie Andrews: Yeah, it’s about doing and creating a positive environment for women.

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