Reflections on Marco Vassi, Erotic Photography and the Erotic Life

(Interview with author David Steinberg)

Low-res book cover, existential smut

David Steinberg has published 8 books on human sexuality, including the much celebrated Erotic by Nature (1988), a beautiful coffee table book anthology consisting of tastefully erotic photographs, poems and short fiction (for sale on his personal website and ). Throughout his life Steinberg has been actively involved in politics as well as the visual arts. But he also wrote 100+ columns and essays about sexuality; some of his most notable appeared in the 2015 essay collection, This Thing We Call Sex: A Radically Sensible Look at Sex in America (available at his website and His erotic photography has appeared in numerous exhibits and shows. In 2010 the Leydig Trust (which sponsors the Sexual Freedom Awards) declared Sternberg Erotic Photographer of the Year. In 2011 the Seattle Erotic Arts festival designated Steinberg as a "Master of Erotic Art" for "impactful photography (which) focuses on capturing the diversity of our human sexuality by showcasing a broad range of people."

This interview consists of three parts. Part 1: Memories of Marco Vassi (1937-1987) covers Steinberg's encounters with this radical erotica author and how he came to start the Marco Vassi Memorial Archive. Part 2: My Life as a Fine Art Erotic Photographer covers how Steinberg fell into the role of taking erotic photos of various couples. In Part 3: Eros During Times of Social Change, Steinberg talks about the challenges of writing about the erotic life and weighs in on the recent conservative backlash. This interview was conducted by erotica author Hapax Legomenon in 2023-2024. (Copyright)

Memories of Marco Vassi

I first learned about David Steinberg while writing a long essay Erotic Worlds of Author Marco Vassi which is mainly about Vassi's fiction. Marco Vassi (1937-1989) was an erotica author hailed by Norman Mailer (W) as the "foremost erotic writer in America … a sexual explorer … his own experiment, and, ipso factor, a rare mortal." (See my suggestions about which Vassi books to start with). Steinberg was an invaluable resource who had even met Marco Vassi in the 1980s. Over the decades Steinberg got to know several of Vassi's lovers and talked to dozens of people who knew him. In his essay "Marco Vassi: Avatar of Eros," Steinberg described the tensions and contradictions of Vassi's personality:

As a person, Marco was no less contradictory than his writing. He was at times able to give another person complete and absolutely focused love and attention, while at other times being so self-absorbed and inaccessible as to be totally infuriating. He would at one moment be open to all the complexities of multipartner relationships, free of possessiveness, ego, and the like, and then descend in a matter of hours into simpleminded jealous tantrums hardly worthy of a TV soap opera. He was able to look the most complex, difficult truths — about sex, about relationships, about life — directly in the eye, but he was often unable to sustain even the most elementary forms of honesty and compassion with partners and friends. He was at once brilliant and idiotic, profound and trite, loving and abusive. He was the ultimate lover of irony and contradiction, the ultimate coyote trickster, and thus an accurate embodiment of the complex life force we conveniently reduce to the word "sex." He was, to me, the finest sort of complex hero: the wise man who is also a goat, the monkey who is also a monk. (This Thing We Call Sex, 2015, pp. p97-101.)

Steinberg has collected photos, letters and writings of Marco Vassi for the Marco Vassi Memorial Archive. In 2020 David Steinberg edited The Shepherd and the Nymph: The Erotic Letters of Marco Vassi and Eve Diana (Book Page) which details Vassi's relationship with Diana in 1987. Steinberg has been working on a screenplay based on Vassi's life.

How did you get to be the custodian of the Marco Vassi memorial archive?

After Marco died, Marcy Sheiner, one of Marco's ongoing lovers who stayed close with him to the end, went through Marco's address book and called everybody in it to let them know. When I heard the news, one of the first things I wanted to do was to collect as much of Marco's writings as I could. I had several of his books, but I wanted to get the books I didn’t have, and I knew there were hundreds of articles he had written. I considered stopping everything I was doing to write a biography, but decided against it in the end. It would have taken at least a year or two just to talk to everybody, and that was more than I could do at that stage in my life. But I started collecting everything Marco had ever written. Marcy put me in touch with Andrea Ossip, who had been Marco’s primary relationship in 1978 (a relationship he wrote about in a regular series of articles he published in Penthouse Forum under the title “The Erotic Diaries of Marco Vassi”). Marco had many relationships during that year, but the one with Andrea was the most important at the time and probably one of the most important in his life.

Do you think these 1978 diaries in Penthouse Forum were nonfiction? Do you think he jazzed it up for the sake of publication?

No, it was a diary, and I feel confident he had no need to exaggerate his sexual adventures. He changed names, but from all the cross-referencing I have done, I’m convinced that everything there happened as he described. Marco loved to document everything he did in writing. In The Shepherd and the Nymph: The Erotic Letters of Marco Vassi and Eve Diana, you would see the long letters both would write to one another whenever they were apart. The letters would say, we did this, and then this, and I felt this, and you felt this, and we had a fight about this and we made love in this way, etc. Marco especially loved to document himself.

Marcy Sheiner was a journalist herself, and I'd known her for many years before Marco’s death in 1989. She connected me with Andrea in New York, and over time I got to know Andrea well. Andrea and I remained close friends until her death a decade ago. Whenever I went to New York, she and I would get together, and she would fill me in with stories and perspectives on Marco. She gave me copies of hundreds of pages of Marco's unpublished writings which she had saved. When Marco died, Vassi's son received all the rights to Vassi's literary works, but Andrea received custody of all his personal material. Not only did Andrea possess Marco's unpublished manuscripts, she had his diaries from the time of his HIV diagnosis to the time he died. She had copies of his books, hundreds of photographs and stuff like that.

Obviously I didn't have the kind of connection with Marco that a former sexual partner might have. Both Andrea and I saw Marco as an amazing person (both intellectually and sexually) who could be a total jerk sometimes. We agreed that it was important for people to know that even wonderful brilliant people can have dark, horrible sides to their personality. So Andrea passed me a huge wealth of Vassi material, which I have augmented over the years. I established the Marco Vassi Archive so future generations could have a more complete understanding of what he was like.

How did you meet Marco Vassi? What first impressions did you have?

In the late 1970s, a close friend of mine, Michael Hill, turned me on to several of Vassi’s stories appearing in Puritan Magazine. I was immediately taken with them. About ten years later, a group of close friends decided to initiate what we hoped would be an intelligent erotic journal—kind of a pro-feminist forum for discussing sexual issues and publishing pro-feminist erotica. We were going to call the journal the Panerotic Review. Ultimately that project fell through, but we had collected some really great material. I still wanted to put together a book of erotic photography and fiction that would be a kind of feminist alternative to pornography. That book, titled Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies came out in 1988. As I was pulling EBN together, I wrote to Marco and told him what I was doing. I explained that I didn't have money to pay contributors (I could barely pay printing costs), but I could split profits 50-50 with contributors. Marco replied, saying “Oh, that sounds like a great thing — yes, I want to be part of it." He submitted a short story that turned out to be much more heavy-duty than I could wrap my mind around back then. Fortunately, he showed me several other stories, and we ended up choosing the story "Thy Kingdom of Come" (from the Erotic Comedies).

Erotic by Nature came out in the summer of 1988—six months before Marco died. While in New York, I personally delivered copies of the books to contributors who lived there. That's when I met Marco in person for the first time. He was staying with Annie Sprinkle (W) at her place on Lexington Avenue.

Did he have full-blown AIDS by that time?

Oh, yes. He had been diagnosed a year earlier in May 1987. But he didn’t have what you would consider serious symptoms. He had a cough that wouldn't go away, and an itch on his foot that wouldn't go away. When I met him, he was not seriously ill. In fact he was never seriously ill, until he intentionally contracted pneumonia as a way of committing suicide. The idea that AIDS would cut him off from what mattered most to him in life made him horribly depressed. He attempted suicide twice before he eventually succeeded.

When you actually met and talked to him in New York, how was his mood?

Even before I met him, I knew that Marco was miserable. So I wasn't exactly surprised by his condition. After that summer, Marco came to California a few times. He lived with Marcy Sheiner for a while, and he also came to visit Lee Lozowick (W), one of his spiritual gurus, who had communities of devotees both in Arizona and near Santa Cruz. One time when Marco was in Santa Cruz, he and I got together for coffee. I knew a lot of people who would have loved to meet him, so I offered to throw a small dinner party where we could sit and talk in a small group. Marco rejected the whole idea, saying he was in no condition to be sociable. He was just down. It was good to see him again, but sad to see how he was so emotionally closed down.

Annie Sprinkle was the person most supportive of him during the time between his diagnosis and death. For a long while he lived with her in New York, but eventually he became so depressed that even Annie pushed him to return to his own place. That was around the time Marco first tried to commit suicide. First, he tried to take pills, but he didn’t take enough and ended up in a New York psych ward. Then he tried to hang himself with an electrical cord. The cord pulled out of the ceiling, slinging him across the room and cracking his head into a radiator which knocked him out cold — But he still didn't die. In his diary he wrote that despite wanting to end it all, he really didn’t know how to kill his body. Eventually, he went out in a snowstorm wearing almost nothing at all, caught pneumonia, and locked himself in his room – not answering the door or his phone for a month. It was Andrea Ossip who finally managed to get through to him, letting the phone ring (she told me) for half an hour until he finally picked up. But by that point he was pretty far gone. Annie arranged for a friend to take him to the hospital, but he was on a ventilator, in and out of consciousness, until he died two weeks later.

Other People's Impressions about Marco Vassi

What did his friends tell you about his personality that surprised you?

The most significant common thread I have heard from dozens of people who knew him that I have talked with was his ability to be 100% totally present. When he was with you, he was right there, he was perceptive, you had his full attention. The level of attention and presence he gave to people—certainly when he was with them sexually, but also more generally—was intense. On the other hand, if he was distracted or self-absorbed, he could be totally absent and insensitive. He definitely had two sides.

photo of Marco Vassi

Did people say that he had a certain charisma?

Marco said, "If I could be as good as the characters in my novels, I would be really something." I think one of Marco’s very special gifts is that he was intensely aware of who he was and was not. In his letters to Eve Diana, he admits over and over that he knows he's being unreasonable. I never saw Marco in a social situation, so I just have other people’s accounts to go by. People tell me he was well liked because he had a good sense of humor, was smart, interesting, sexy — and of course gorgeous! At the risk of sounding reductive, I’ll say that many heterosexual women hunger simply to be seen by men as they really are. This is an issue for everybody, but especially for women. For a man to see you and respond with total acceptance is an incredibly powerful draw. So Marco didn’t have to be charming; he was compelling because he offered what people were searching for. One person after another told me how amazing Marco was in this way—both sexually and personally.

But here's the tricky part. Let's say you're a woman and you're in that sexual envelope with Marco. You feel that you are the most important person in the world to him. And you ARE the most important person to him... at that moment. Many of Marco's lovers had a hard time understanding that next week another person may well be the most important person in the world to him. So a lot of people ended up thinking that "I must be the ultimate woman for Marco Vassi for ever and ever," only to be disappointed when that turned out not to be the case. Some of Marco’s more perceptive partners (like Andrea) understood and accepted that about Marco. But many people who got involved with Marco had trouble dealing with the fact that other people were also special to Marco.

You also have to put everything about Marco in context. This was the 1960s and 1970s during the sexual revolution. In Marco’s world in New York City, being social did not mean sitting around and having a cocktail after dinner. It meant going to the Hellfire Club where over a hundred people were busy doing the most outrageous sexual things simultaneously. Or going to Plato's Retreat or the St. Mark's baths where gay guys went to have anonymous sex. Or going to Eulenspiegel Society (which was the main BDSM organization in New York). Week after week after week. All the socializing took place in a context of this larger sexual revolution.

I never saw Marco in that social context. Richard Curtis, Marco's agent, has described to me what Marco was like at parties and events — that he liked to giggle a lot and was often just silly and goofy. So he was charming in that way. On the other hand, he could get really thick and deep and intense in a way that people would get tired of, saying, "Oh, Marco, lighten up, this is a party." But was he a “charmer”? I would say that Marco was well aware of what was charming about him, and quite prepared to turn on the charm at times. A “smooth talker”? In his way, I suppose he was.

I knew Marco was involved in the theatre. Do you think he had an actor's personality — adjusting his persona to whoever he happened to be around?

No one has ever said to me that they thought Marco was inauthentic. People have said that he could be hypocritical — that he could write a piece condemning nonmonogamy and jealousy and then go into a jealous rage the next day because the woman he was with danced in a sexy way with someone else. There were contradictions about Marco, but I wouldn’t say he was an actor. He wrote two plays that were produced by Alec Rubin in New York’s off-off-Broadway theatre world in the 60s. He certainly was close friends with performance artists like Annie Sprinkle, but I don’t think Marco was ever onstage in that way. In one sense, Marco was always watching himself, being aware of himself, so you might say he was always "performing." Part of him was engaging in an interaction while another part was watching himself engage in that interaction. That's why he could write about his experiences afterwards and fictionalize them so brilliantly: He was always watching himself from above even when he was 100% engaged in what he was doing.

The characters in Vassi's books seem intellectual. Did he try to hide his intellectualism around other people?

I think of Marco as a sexual philosopher. He was certainly well read. Marco's distillation of Gurdjieff’s teachings came down to the importance of living life as fully as you can and realizing that a full life came from lived experience instead of keeping everything inside your head. It was about doing it and being it. And Marco was always out there doing stuff. He was not an introvert —instead of evaluating every possible thing, he just jumped ahead with both feet.

He studied Gurdjieff (W), Wilhelm Reich (W), Lee Lozowick, and many others — trying to understand psychology and sexuality. He was very well-read, but I wouldn’t call him an intellectual. If you look at the people who were around him — performance artists like Annie Sprinkle or Veronica Vera(W), photographer Charles Gatewood (W), tattoo artist Spider Webb (W), feminist pornographer Candida Royale (W), etc. — none of these were "head people;" they were "sex people."

What did people admire about Vassi?

People recognized that Marco thought about sexuality very deeply, and many people admired him for that. His original publisher, Maurice Girodias (W) of Olympia Press, saw that about Marco immediately and offered him a three book contract. Annie Sprinkle writes in her autobiography that Marco was one of the two or three best lovers she'd ever had. She was talking about his ability to be present and experience sexuality at a very deep level — beyond just having an orgasm. That that was one of the things that drew me to Marco, and what makes his erotic novels so different from what was being written at the time.

Do you get the impression that he broke a lot of hearts?

Cover Eve Diana's letters with Marco Vassi

I have had extended conversations with five different women who had deep ongoing relationships with Marco. None of them would say that, even those that ended up having real difficulties about Marco. A big issue Eve Diana had with Marco was jealousy and monogamy. Marco wanted them to be monogamous but was unable to fulfill that pledge himself. Meanwhile, he would get crazy jealous when Eve was slightly sexy or flirtatious with someone else. Marco would claim to be above those issues, but then the jealousy thing would take him over. Sometimes, often, he would not able to be his highest self, or anything close to that. But if you read the book of his letters with Eve, it's not like he's being dishonest. All the time he's saying, I know I'm being hypocritical and unfair, but I can't help it. Even when he was being a jerk, at least he had the self-awareness to know he was being a jerk.

The Wikipedia entry on Vassi currently states that "despite his erotic explorations and adventuring, Vassi was tragically unable to sustain a love relationship and died alone." Do you think that characterization is overly harsh or fair?

I think that's accurate, and I think Marco would agree with that. In his diaries, Marco called it Mortido, the yearning for annihilation, death, darkness:

I saw mortido in my grandmother, my father's mother, who threw my grandfather and his clothes into the street, humiliating him so badly that he died six months later, broken-hearted and alone in a hotel room. I saw it in my father, who has attempted suicide, in his brothers (my uncle hung himself), and his sisters. I saw it in my cousins. And of course I saw it — I see it — in myself. I know that I carry this dark stirring in the blood, this suffocation of spirit, this ultimate feeling of despair, deep inside of me. In the Church they say that despair is the only sin that cannot be forgiven, because it denies the existence of that which can do the forgiving. That's not my language anymore, but the point is valid. When I’m in despair there's a sense of forever about it. I struggle to rise above it and much of my spiritual quest has been related to this. But, despite all I've learned from Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti (W), from Rajneesh (W), from Lee Lozowick — despite all the undeniably real ecstatic moments and periods I've worked so hard to bring into my life — in the end the mortido always returns. (From Marco Vassi's unpublished diary)

I haven't asked people why their relationships with Marco ended. I know what happened with Eve, but Andrea, Annie, Marcy, and a couple of other women he was close to — I think the relationships just came and went. Marco was so conflicted. On one hand, he was a radical pioneer, unconventional thinker, and all that. Yet another part of him was a very traditional Italian man who had very traditional notions of what a man is, what a woman is. When he was in the baths and sticking his ass in the air, leaving the door open so one guy after another could come and fuck him in the ass, he would write about this, saying "I am being the woman." When he was with Eve Diana, Marco often wrote about wanting to settle down and be monogamous. But he knew Eve was not ready to do that, and in fact I believe that Marco wasn't ready to do that either.

Eve was not ready?

Eve was 28 and just emerging into her full sexuality, full of energy and ready to explore the world. She agreed to become monogamous during her time with Marco because Marco insisted on it. Marco was monogamous for almost all their time together. But there was one incident where Marco was sexual with an old partner and that played a part in bringing their relationship to an end. Mostly though they were monogamous during their eight-month relationship. Marco wrote to her often, saying, I could fall in love with you, I AM in love with you — but I've already done that so many times; why do I want to do it again (except to get married and have children)? Knowing this wasn’t right for Eve at that time in her life made the whole situation untenable for him, I think.

Thinker and Guru

Aside from getting AIDS and dying early, what do you think was Vassi's biggest disappointment in life?

It certainly wasn't his writing career. Early in his life, he picked up a Village Voice and found an ad from some porn guy looking for writers, which led him to think that maybe he should try writing. The next thing you know, Richard Curtis was hooking him up with Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press, who was at the apex of erotic literature at that time. Girodias loved Marco’s first novel (Mind Blower) and contracted with him immediately to write two more for 2000-3000 dollars (which at that time was a lot of money for Marco). He wrote for Penthouse and a slew of other publications. Marco never had a lot of money, but for the kind of writing he was doing he was doing relatively well. The Stoned Apocalypse was published by Simon & Schuster; even though it wasn't the bestseller that both he and his publisher had hoped for, it did well. So, as a writer, he was relatively successful. When he needed money, he would throw together a trashy porn novel for a few hundred bucks to pay the rent.

My sense — maybe I'm just projecting here—is that Marco missed having peers, the kind of people who were asking the same kinds of questions he found important—about sex, politics, being alive, everything. At one point — maybe it was after his AIDS diagnosis—he wrote in his diary, "I don't like any of my friends." I don't think he meant that literally, but he was frustrated that so many people in the sexual heyday were just wanting to be wild and outrageous, without asking deeper questions.

At the end of the 1960s, we were trying to make the revolution; I was involved in the Civil Rights movement and other political issues. We began to see sex as another way that government maintains control over people; we realized that to make any fundamental change, you had to have sexual liberation. If you were afraid of your sexual self and didn't feel entitled to be who you were, you would feel disempowered. We wanted the gay community, the bisexual community, the swingers' community and the BDSM community to see that they were all marginalized and should form a united political front based on common interests. But these groups tended to stress their differences and, (beyond sexual specifics) not very interested in political change. That frustrated me, and it must have also frustrated Marco as well.

What about the feminist thinkers? Didn't they get into the political issues fairly quickly? In the 1980s the AIDS crises focused people's minds on gay lifestyles, and that got them very political.

Many people got political about gender, but not necessarily about sex and lifestyle issues. Annie Sprinkle has become very political, putting sex and politics together in her ecosexual movement (vid). Back then, for example, the feminist movement was busy trashing the BDSM aspects of the lesbian community.

But I do feel that Marco was lonely in that way. There weren't many people around him who could relate to him on an intellectual plane. I confess that when I met him, I thought, “I will be the one person that Marco can talk to because I share his passion for connecting all these issues.” So I guess I was just as deluded into thinking that I could be Marco’s “special person” as the women having sex with him.

If Marco Vassi were Alive Today …

Do you ever wonder how Vassi's life would have proceeded if he had avoided getting AIDS?

That's tricky to answer because the times have changed so radically. Marco lived in the midst of a sexual revolution. If he had lived another ten years, all that was the center of his life would be gone. Nobody in New York today is doing what people in New York were doing in the 1970s, sexually speaking. Young people now face different issues. They don’t have to burst free from the repressed 1950s. They’ve grown up in a more permissive sex-positive world. Broad swaths of society don't share that sex-positivity, but many people now have opportunities which people in my age group never had.

Cover, Other Hand Clapping

I think Vassi could have easily transitioned to other kinds of writing. Even though some of Vassi's works from the 1970s can be hard to read, the artistry and mastery of language he achieved with The Other Hand Clapping makes it clear that he could have tackled other kinds of fiction subjects. Or nonfiction. Or psychology. For me, Vassi could have spent the rest of his life writing children's fairy tales for all I cared.

His nonfiction book Lying Down talks about how the act of lying down is really important. He notes that the only living things that don't live horizontally are human beings and trees. If you want to explore a whole different side of yourself, he says, just get horizontal. He was evolving a whole philosophy about simply being horizontal. He really liked pursuing those kinds of issues, as he did in his “Metasexual Manifesto.”

One Touch is about a female psychologist, and I think Vassi could have been a relationship coach. Although sexology is a big thing these days, I don't know if Vassi would have wanted to pursue the rigors of an academic career.

As he describes in The Stoned Apocalypse, Marco went to San Francisco where he became involved with the Experimental College at San Francisco State University. At the start, he just wandered onto the San Francisco State campus. He quickly became a guru for hundreds of people who attended his classes on sexuality after word spread that his classes were tackling the subject in innovative ways. But Vassi would get frustrated because many who signed up for his classes were just wanting to get laid. At one point he threw out all of his students and told them not to return unless they could get serious about the subject. Decades later, there’s a lot of organizations devoted to the serious study of sexuality and sexual health, so Vassi would have had an easier time attracting more committed students. Vassi probably would have thrived in that environment.

So that's his career—giving TED talks?! Maybe that's too virtual for someone like Marco Vassi. But lots of these guru-types have YouTube channels.

Some of the people Marco knew did evolve in their public work. Annie Sprinkle, for example, has gone on to do far-reaching work with her ecosexual movement. It's hard to imagine where Vassi could have ended up because he was so much a product of his era. Who knows what would Marco be like when he was 80 years old and couldn't have an erection anymore? Almost everything he wrote about had something to do with eroticism and sex.

How did you become interested in writing a screenplay based on Vassi's life?

I mentioned how, after Marco died, I thought about writing some kind of biography, but put that idea on the shelf. Then, about five years ago, I was driving in the car and a light bulb went on in my head. "Oh my god,” I said to myself, “the biography of Marco Vassi is not supposed to be a book; it's supposed to be a movie!" I got excited and started contacting various people who had known Marco to ask for stories and personal details to use for the film.

Would a movie about Marco Vassi's life need to be sexually explicit? Could you make an R-rated version with only simulated sex and brief moments of nudity?

I want this movie to tell storied details from Vassi's life, to give people a sense of what Marco's road to self-discovery was like and to convey the power and magic of the sexual revolution, when the sky was the limit for people who were transgressing all the pre-arranged boundaries and limits. I also want the movie to be a statement about the ironic nature of who Marco was—the good and the bad, the ironic twists, how things were never as simple as they appeared. In Marco's life things are constantly going topsy-turvy. The most wonderful people turn out to do horrible things, and vice versa. Which is exactly what is true about sex as well — never being what you expect—so the two threads intertwine.

There are ways that a movie can explore controversial sexual themes at arm's length—in a PG or R-rated way. But some aspects of Vassi's life would simply be unfilmable in that way. Vassi's life was extreme — in both wonderful and horrible, and even dangerous ways. Things go wrong. People take drugs, and even what I consider "good drugs" (the psychedelic ones) can cause people to flip out in unpredictable ways. Every adventure has risks. During the sexual revolution, people discovered how many wonderful things could be made to happen if you just took the brakes off and followed wherever your sexual energy took you. A movie about Vassi's life would have to show that. If it didn't do that, what would be the point?

Although my screenplay talks about growing up and Marco's final days, a few scenes take place at the Hellfire Club (in New York City's Meatpacking District), a center for sex radicals that Marco used to frequent. Hellfire Club had an amazing, almost circus-like, atmosphere. It started out as a gay club, and evolved into a pansexual playspace where pretty much anything could happen, and generally did. It was populated with all kinds of interesting people on various sexual edges. Danny the Wonder Pony was a favored attraction, who would give women rides on his back around the club. There was a bathroom where people went to get peed on, all kinds of S&M equipment. Spider Webb would sometimes give people tattoos. (One project of Spider Webb's, not at Hellfire, involved tattooing a small X on 999 different people, concluding the series with 1,000 X’s on one person, that together formed a huge X). People like Annie Sprinkle and Veronica Vera would be there doing performance art. There's a famous photograph by Charles Gatewood of a woman masturbating on a waterbed at Hellfire while a couple dozen people watched. Hellfire was kind of a psychosexual laboratory and a great backdrop for telling Vassi's life story.

Next: 2. My Life as a Fine Art Erotic Photographer


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