Things That Make You Say Oh!: Faces of Ecstasy

By Jonathan McNamara

Giulio Sciorio has invited complete strangers to his photography studio 13 times now to have their portraits immortalized on film mid-orgasm.

After bringing them in, Giulio positions them and sets up his lighting gear. He chooses a backdrop and takes a few shots to determine that everything is just right. He makes sure that his subjects have blankets and towels if they need them. He plugs in any toys they may have brought and establishes whether they will give him a verbal cue or rely on a discreet hand signal to let him know that the magic is happening.

“When they’re ready they just yell out whatever they yell out,” he says. “I know…it’s pretty obvious.”

Sciorio’s portraits comprise a work in progress he calls Faces of Ecstasy, which is currently on exhibit at Perihelion Arts. These 13 faces are only the initial stage of a larger project which Sciorio hopes will one day turn into a book. For now, his immediate plans revolve around expanding the number of portraits and taking the show to other cities, where proceeds raised will benefit a local AIDS charity. This month’s showing at Perhelion Arts benefits Body Positive.

Viewing the pieces for the first time, it is instantly apparent that the people captured are average Joes, not glitzy fashion models or pin-ups. This is because AIDS and HIV awareness are at the core of Faces of Ecstasy's ideology.

“It has to be a sampling of society to let people know that it could be the teacher, it could be the electrician, it could be the banker, it could be the student. Anyone could have HIV and everyone is sexual,” the artist says.

Initially, Faces of Ecstasy grew out of a bit of frustration Sciorio was experiencing working as a commercial photographer. He had developed a reputation for producing “edgy” material. Yet when he was asked to produce pieces with a bit of a darker side, his clients would inevitably reign him back in to prevent pissing people off.

“Well fuck, man! if you want edgy, you’re gonna piss someone off, because it’s not granola…it’s not oatmeal art,” Sciorio says.

With Faces, he decided to show the public at large what edgy truly is.

Interestingly enough, Sciorio says the edginess in these photos comes from the fact that the subjects are fully clothed while having an orgasm. If they were naked they’d be chalked up to nothing more than porn, but clothes make the man it would seem, or in this case, the various occupations that the portraits are named after: “electrician,” “teacher” and “friend.”

Also, the lack of blatant nudity means these pieces can be shown just about anywhere. Sciorio says he’s seen children at the Faces of Ecstasy show and couldn’t be happier about it.

"I’ve heard kids say ‘Wow! Mommy and Daddy! Those are really funny faces!’ and the parents are like yes, these are very funny faces.”

Sciorio agrees with the sentiment. They are funny faces, and he wants to capture more of them. He hopes to get celebrities involved with the project and with an eager smile on his face says he really needs to get some older people involved.

So how then does a photographer (even an edgy one) go about finding subjects willing to get their jollies for art?

“I ask everybody,” he says, asking me. “Do you wanna do it?”

I know that full disclosure is an important aspect of journalism, but I find myself reluctant to share that particular facial expression with the world at large.

“See, it’s as easy as that. People know right away if you want to do it or you don't.”

Faces of Ecstasy is open 1:30-7:30 p.m. Fridays, through May 31, and 6-10 p.m. May 16. For more information see the event article by Robrt Pela.

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Jonathan McNamara