“Sun In My Mouth”: Talking with Jessica Yatrofsky About Her Film, Photographing Male Nudes, Phone Sex, and Past Lives

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Jessica Yatrofsky is a photographer (you’ve seen her work many times before in Brooklyn Magazine!), film maker and painter. In conjunction with the release of Yatrofsky’s short film, SUN IN MY MOUTH, becoming available to the public on Vimeo, we spoke with her about the film, what it’s like to be an artist in Brooklyn, past lives, and—most importantly—phone sex.

Tell me a little bit about the genesis of this film and what it’s about.

The film is an experimental coming-of-age story about a young man who confesses his sexual past to a phone sex operator. Oddly enough I think that the genesis of the film came out of my own experiences as a chatty teenager. I loved to talk on the phone and I still love to talk on the phone…seriously, it’s one of my favorite pastimes! And at some point that pastime turned into a job when I discovered a gig as a “telephone actress” while in college.

Part of the reason I love talking on the phone is that it’s very intimate. Unfortunately, it has become a dying pastime among many of my friends. So in the film I wanted to recreate this level of intimacy between two characters on a phone call, drawing a lot from my “phone work.”  As the audience is invited to listen in on their conversation they are treated to some very personal and private moments with the main character.

It’s been my experience that people share more about themselves over the phone than they do in person. And in general I think people seem more conformable when in their own environments, and as a result, feel free to reveal things about themselves they wouldn’t otherwise in a face-to-face conversation. And in the end, the SUN IN MY MOUTH story is really inspired by people who long to share deeply personal things about themselves anonymously.

The point of view in the film is that of a male, and you have become very well-known for your photographs of men. What is it that attracts you to that perspective?

I was once told I was a prince in a past life, a prince that was murdered. Perhaps a prince who liked other princes?! Who knows why I ever gravitated towards male subjects specifically, and yet men are a subject matter that have become a theme in much of my work for one reason or another. I spent a lot of time in school and in life, looking at women, looking at myself, and at some point it all became really uninteresting. I looked at men as kind of unknown and mysterious and I wanted to examine and expose the form because I never understood why male nudity was so protected and censored. So turning my attention to men was done out of curiosity and I didn’t realize that I could ever tap into male intimacy in the process. But once I started to, I never really had to force it. I would provide the framework, a concept or an idea, then I allowed subjects to participate in films and other works on their own terms. The film is shot in the same spirit. I refer to SUN IN MY MOUTH as “experimental” because of the way I wrote the film. The beginning was scripted and then the second half was improvised. I didn’t know what direction the dialogue would take while shooting those scenes, but it ended up unfolding in this very honest way that I couldn’t have written or predicted. It feels like you are listening in on a private phone call or a confession of sorts and that is what I really love about the film. However, there are parts of the film that are too graphic for my taste but I think those parts are important to share with an audience and I take pride in not shying away because of a discomfort factor.

Your films and your photographs are incredibly revealing, in both an obvious, physical way, but they also reveal an inner level of emotion in the subject that is incredibly compelling. How do you get your models/actors to open up?

I think I have been incredibly lucky to meet and work with people who have been very generous. I tend to share a lot about myself in general so I think I attract a lot of overshare-ers into my life! Lol. I find that the people I end up working with are often times seeking something too and we are revealing it together along the way.

The nude form has been documented in infinite ways over the centuries, what do you think you bring to the art form?

I think as an artist I have a continued interest in making films and images that include the form in variety of ways. The work I make doesn’t often conform to how we like to see the body, gender, sexuality or age even. I mean, am uncomfortable seeing it, which is why I think it’s so important to make work that includes the body. I remember this one experience I had while in graduate school, I was working on a series with my parents at the time that included images and a few films. I presented two video loops I was working on, one was a video where I was nude on a swing set while my mother watered the garden in the background, and in the other video I stood nude in a birdbath like a statue while my father filled the bath with water. And while sharing these pieces with my classmates and professors during a critique, I had a surprising reaction from the class. Everyone was speechless! This suprised me only because everyone always had thoughts, comments, and criticism to mostly everything I made. My point is that I thought that the silence was really powerful, and, you know, I often forget how powerful our bodies our and how there are infinite ways to express ideas with the form. It’s always nice to be reminded of this and I continue to be humbled by the gravity of it all.

What do you like about working in each medium that you work in (film, photography, painting)?

For me, all of these mediums build on one another and this applied foundation enhances whatever I do, how I look at a new project, and how I view the world! Studying all of these disciplines is not for everyone but sitting with a still-life for countless hours as a young artist still has an impact on me today. (I’ll never look at an onion the same, that’s for sure!)

What were some of the more practical difficulties of putting out your film?

Probably just the costs of getting the film to places where it can be viewed by large diverse audiences.

What would you say are some of the best and worst things about working and living as an artist in Brooklyn now?

Living in Brooklyn is awesome and I really love it here, because I feel that I have carved out a place for myself personally as well as artistically. I have access to many things I feel facilitate my practice, are unique to Brooklyn, and I wouldn’t otherwise have in another place. But while there are many great opportunities as an artist working in Brooklyn, there is also an equal amount of struggle when you don’t have access to certain things. That can be interpreted in so many different ways and, along with many other artists, I face those challenges all the time. This can be something a simple as getting access to a studio space, special equipment, talent, etc. These things might seem trivial to some but these are factors that can sometimes inhibit the execution of something grand and it’s a shame. But I won’t go on about that, I’d be bitching to the choir here! At the end of the day I am very grateful to be here with what I have and very proud to be part of this artistic community.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

I am currently in post-production for my second film—A Naked Heart—which will be out later this year. And I am also working on my second photography monograph, I Heart Girl. Yes! A photo series about women…you heard it here first!

The following film is NSFW:

For more information on SUN IN MY MOUTHI, visit suninmymouth.com and for more on Yatrofsky, visit jessicayatrofsky.com

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen