CRUISE CENTENNIAL: Matt Lambert x Ludovic de Saint Sernin for Pornhub

CRUISE CENTENNIAL: Matt Lambert x Ludovic de Saint Sernin for Pornhub

"Hundreds of guys were out and about in the Tiergarten on hot summer nights" artist Rinaldo Hopf recently recalled in a conversation with Matt Lambert – part of the photographer and filmmaker's ongoing investigation into the history of cruising culture in Berlin. "Much of the sex with my partner and now husband took place outdoors – the danger of being discovered has an additional attraction for us." Tiergarten has come and gone as a hot hookup spot over the years –Hopf "stopped going when lots of hustlers took over," and now prefers "cruising around the beaches of Torre del Lago" – but the city's first golden age of modern outdoor sex, according to Lambert, goes back to the decadent years of the Weimar Republic, emerging in tandem with Germany's special brand of nudism: FKK, or "Freies Körper Kultur" ("free body culture"). Roughly a century later, Lambert returned to these sites of erotic pursuit and pilgrimage to shoot an explicit film that combines cruising tradition with its digital dating equivalents, imagining a romp à deux that starts solo, at home eon the phone, and ends in the wilds of Tiergarten and nearby lake Teufelsee. The short – tagline: "What's Your Channel?" – was realized in collaboration with designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin, whose PornLdSS capsule collection for Pornhub provides the barely-there wardrobe for video stars Father Scorpio and Steven Fast.


"Outdoor cruising has always been a tradition in Berlin," Hopf says of what he describes as "liberating," "the most exciting form of sex." Lambert and de Saint Sernin haven't taken a position on the nature versus darkroom conversation, but they do hope to have created something that makes viewers want to come outside. The duo spoke to 032c's Victoria Camblin ahead of the launch.

Victoria Camblin: So, my understanding from the brief is that this project is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of cruising culture. What happened in 1922 that catalyzed this outdoor institution?

Matt Lambert: Around 100 years ago we had this catalyzing cultural moment, with the beginnings of FKK culture and outside cruising culture as we know it. It's not really an anniversary per se – it’s more about looking back at the last century and the existence and roots of this culture. I've been working on a movie looking at queer culture in Berlin from 1926 to 1933. So I've really been living in this historical universe of the 1920s and 30s for the past year. It's exciting to find ways to bring a bit of historical context to the work I do surrounding sexuality. When I talk to young queer people, in Berlin or anywhere in the world, they're often just not aware of where all these forms of freedoms and expressions come from. What we’re talking about wasn’t born in exactly 1922, but it provides a window onto the evolution of contemporary ideas of outdoor nudity and cruising in a city like Berlin.


VC: We’re also talking about a cultural legacy, about a practice that led to creative production, to visual and textual creation – you had nudist publications in the 1920s, and in a way your video is a continuation of that output.

ML: Exactly, it’s about a cultural production formed by this space. We shot in the Rhododendrons in Tiergarten, which is connected to an intense erotic history. It’s a legendary cruising spot, which has obviously gone away and come back over the decades. People still talk about how it was in the 1980s, when literally hundreds of people were fucking around that area. Our second location was Teufelssee, and when you go there for the very first time it shakes you for a second, no matter how open minded you are. At the same time, nudity is so normalized in German culture that people sometimes forget how progressive some of these expressions of body were and are. You get used to the hedonism and sexuality in Berlin, with FKK being this normalized thing, but it is still quite radical in comparison with the rest of the world.

VC: So how did the two of you come to work on this topic together?

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: We were looking for a partner for the last show we did, which was for a collection called “Le Désir” – “desire,” in English. So of course, we wanted to make a really hot collection. PornHub came up as a cool idea for a partner. I was a bit reluctant at first, because I didn't really know the brand.

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VC: How did you answer?

LDSS: I can't remember what we said! I think we laughed it off and we were like, "Oh, twinkparis75” or some shit. But we thought it was such a cool pickup line. It was natural, actual, real-life cruising. So that led us very organically toward the idea behind the video, tying streaming platforms into cruising. In the world that my peers and I live in, people who work in the sex industry are “online,” often working on their own. Either they're actors in films or they use OnlyFans, or Twitter, or all the above. I thought it would be interesting to bring this online culture back into the real world. That's where we started the conversation with Matt. We wanted to pitch the kids a little bit about how we got here. Not in a way that's like, "Oh, we're going to teach you the culture," but as a way of providing a resource. I didn’t know where to turn to for knowledge on that either, but Matt did. He’s literally a historian of queer culture in Berlin, beyond the ideas of online sex and porn and everything like that. I'm lucky to enjoy my freedom and to be able to do what I want, but that comes from somewhere. We allude to that by shooting in places that have history, and we bring that legacy into our own world.


ML: Ludovic had the idea to shoot it on a phone, to make it feel self-shot. We wanted to take a historical reference to these typical cruising-by-the-lake scenes that we've seen in so many gay films from the 1970s and 80s, and package it in a way that feels contemporary. Scripting and shooting to make it look like the actors created the video themselves gives viewers the feeling that they’re discovering an artifact of a beautiful day spent outdoors. The lens of OnlyFans puts it into the language of what filmmaking is today for a lot of young people. The trope is classic, but the approach isn't classically cinematic. I mean, everybody loves amateur porn the most, anyhow, and OnlyFans is obviously the latest iteration of that.


LDSS: It was important for me to feature somebody working in the sex industry in the Désir show. We had Steven wearing the thong. I knew him through Matt from a previous video collab, and he stars in this one alongside Father Scorpio. Both of them have been active on OnlyFans. It was essential for me to have someone representing this space specifically on a fashion runway, in Paris.

"I hope there's at least a small part of the audience watching explicit content that wants a bit more."

ML: One of my main sources of income is working in fashion spaces – but I also work in the narrative, music, art AND adult space. I have a little xxx art production studio that I run with my husband and that produced this collaboration. I’ve been in situations where I have proposed talent for and campaigns and they’ve been rejected from casting because they had OnlyFans. I think it is fucking absurd – absurd to imagine that no one working in fashion is watching porn, and to imagine that fashion is not connected to sex and sexuality. But somehow no one really wants to talk about it. They want to kind of have this very sanitized way of dealing with it.

LDSS: The way we go about casting is very genuine: we work with friends; we work with people who are part of our community. It works well because it's authentic, and it's highlighting people at a time when it’s become harder and harder to stay visible on social media as a sex worker – not just on Instagram, but on other platforms too. You can get shadow banned on Twitter now, I think.

ML: I've been shadow banned for two years because of getting posts flagged. It's fucking exhausting.


LDSS: That’s why it's important to make sure that the messages that we are proud to share get out there, and that they are embodied by the right people and give them a voice. The actors were just doing their own thing. We were obviously directing them, but it was also very much like watching them getting to know each other and letting that energy between them blossom – as if it was a real day of them just being on their own and filming.


ML: One of the biggest creative elements is getting the right duo and then letting them live in the moments. The music is by the Berlin band Evvol (Julie Chance and Jane Arnison) – a queer female couple and two of my best friends. So again, it's not like Scorpio is “just” cast or Steven is “just” cast. It's all conversation and it’s coming from everybody, not just me and Ludovic. It’s everybody, vibing.

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VC: How does Pornhub come into that conversation?

ML: I've worked with them before via Mindgeek who own some of the big studios including Men.com and Sean Cody. It's always a challenge because you get this massive audience when you get to Pornhub, but you also get an infinite number of trolls too who don’t get the work at all. It's a double-edged sword.


VC: I think the idea of connecting how sex is consumed and produced and distributed online to historical practices is super interesting, because the history of pornography is the history of culture and media. Porn reflects how everything is mediated. With each new format or platform, be it niche or mainstream, we learn something about how all information circulates and what powers influence its accessibility. One thing your video shows is how “digital” and “real life” experience – in this case, of sex – are not distinct. That is why it is interesting that this homage to Berlin cruising actually starts, in 2022, with the actors on their phones in their bedrooms.


ML: I mean, you think about what a contemporary version of that first date dialogue looks like these days. Do you sit down and ask, like, “do you have any brothers and sisters?” No. A lot of times it starts with a voice memos or video. But it starts with sharing little Snapchat-ty moments, little flirty thirst traps – things that you would post to your close friends or that you would only send in a disappearing message. Everyone understands that that’s how sexual conversations happen now. In our narrative there is a couple who are having a conversation digitally and they meet for an anonymous hookup in a park. And only then do they fall for each other and spend the day together. It’s almost this inversion that is queer intimacy, which in this city and in many others starts with dick pics, then you fuck, and then you decide to be friends. We start the film with this flirty, lusty energy and end with this boyfriend energy. Things just happened a little bit in reverse than how you would expect in a heteronormative dating scene.

VC: Apparently the new hot app in New York is called Sniffers and is geolocated?

ML: Sniffies. That's the new thing, yeah. I was on it in San Francisco. It’s not an app, actually, because the App Store is so censored. You have to actually log in through your browser because it’s full of dick pics and full everything.

VC: Like Gay Romeo! Vintage!

ML: Do you know Sniffies, Ludovic? If you went to Tiergarten, for example, you would drop a pin and be like, "I'm here for the next hour and I'm down to fuck." It’s cruising meets Foursquare, where you check in at a location and say, "I'm at this bar now” or “I’m in the toilet here and I'm down for this."

VC: Which brings us to the question of whether things change because of these new media or whether these new media just technically optimize old classics – cruising, in this case. So, if you’re in Paris you don’t have to go to that awkward hedge right in front of the Pyramide du Louvre. Is that still a thing?

LDSS: It still happens, but it's not where the cute guys are.

ML: No matter what, there's always a difference between what you think it's going to be versus what it actually is. That's always how cruising goes. That's why dark rooms are dark, generally.

VC: I think that discrepancy is also part of the experience of searching for content. On Instagram, Twitter, Pornhub, even Google, the user consensus seems to be that the algorithm is more and more dominant, more and more about what the platform wants people to see, and less and less about an individual’s predicted interests – which was already creepy enough. Between shadow-bans and paid placements, sometimes you’re like, "is this thing broken?" It’s like they’re not even using the data they’re stealing from us properly! Or they’re using it to see if we can be manipulated into watching things we wouldn’t normally watch.

ML: You know that report Pornhub publishes of the top searched terms globally? They release it as like as a public thing that you can search regionally and for demographics, which is always fun. But that’s also the problem. Because if the people around you are all searching for something, then you're like, "I guess that's what I'm into as well." You don't have that feeling of searching sometimes. You're just being driven along.

VC: They also seem to change the presentation of the content to match whatever I suppose is driving the most traffic. Like a Czech orgy shot in 2005 will be renamed “Covid couples bored in lockdown.” As you say, it takes away the romance of the search for the things that are just right for you, the things that feel intimate. I guess that’s where OnlyFans comes in, with that feeling of intimacy and immediacy? Your film is very romantic.

ML: We have been talking about the evolution of OnlyFans and speculating about the next thing. Because eventually it gets to the point where "I'm 21 and ripped and I have a big cock and I am going to sit on the edge of the couch just being those things,” which is giving you absolutely nothing from an entertainment point of view. Fair enough, there will always be situations where you just want McDonald's – something "uncomplicated." But I hope there's at least a small part of the audience watching explicit content that wants a bit more. That doesn’t have to be a narrative like ours – maybe you want to watch people doing jump rope with boners. But surely, we have to evolve past the sort of basicness of what most of the content is. There’s so much space in which to create, and I think people need to accept that entertainment and pornography can exist simultaneously. When porn is “over there” and can never touch anything else, it creates a hurdle. Porn can be drama and porn can be fashion and porn can be music. Things get reductive so quickly, even on platforms that felt like they were changing the model at first. Why not offer a bit more – a bit more fantasy, more of an escape? You can still fast forward to the cum shots if you want to.

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VC: In an industry in which “sex sells” is a widespread maxim, where it’s all about excessive consumption and aspiration to hedonism, it’s still subversive to put a jock strap on the runway. Is this a call for more explicit fashion film?

ML: Obviously being independent and designer-driven gives a little bit more space for brands to be able to play, and the bigger the brand, the more ‘mainstream’ the audience. Whenever I do big campaigns and there's a bit of queerness to it, we do separate edit for more conservative regions.

VC: Speaking of fast forwarding, what are you guys excited about right now that’s coming up?

LDSS: Now that we’re selling the collection, I'm looking forward to seeing it in real life, on people doing their own thing. Maybe they’ll wear it in the street, maybe they’ll wear it to recreate the video or make their own content. That’s what’s exciting to me with these projects: creating a free cool experience, things to be lived in and interpreted.

ML: We're really hoping for some summer copycat videos – for the TikTok Tiergarten hand job dance challenge! Something funny people said about one of my first porn films was, "this isn't really so great to jerk off to, but it makes you want to go out and fuck." I love that idea of aspirational pornography that starts on people’s phones and then gets everyone off them and out to the lakes. We want to make something that makes people want to go out and experience themselves. And not get monkeypox.

VC: Porn that’s not to jerk off to, but to make you want to go out and fuck – that’s entertainment and engagement “goals.” It’s interesting to be releasing this at a time when the “dangers” of sex are in the spotlight again, with the gay community at the center of an inevitably ethical discourse.

ML: It’s wild. Maybe we can just masturbate a meter away from each other in the bushes. We’ve managed risk before.

VC: Did you deliberately not release this in June, to avoid being alongside all the global pride month product drops?

ML: I know there was a desire to do it in June from some folks, but you get pride burnout. I tend to not release much that's queer focused in June, which means I don't release much of anything. I like to give things space so that people can dig a bit deeper, and the work doesn’t get lost. We finished two porn films in the studio, and it was like, "amazing, we can do a pride drop." I'm like, let's not. People are fucking all the time.

Watch the full-length, hardcore version of Matt Lambert's Vitium for PornLdSS on Pornhub.com.

Credits

InterviewVictoria Camblin
Film and Photography
Production
Video Edit
Soundtrack

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