The latest project by New York portrait and fashion photographer Nikola Tamindzic, who first established his reputation as Gawker’s house photographer in 2004, finds sexual pleasure in unexpected places. Aptly titled Fucking New York, this photographic series captures wild images of exactly that: bold and unconstrained sex with the city.

Playing on the idea that when you live in NYC, you’’re in a relationship with it, Fucking New York focuses on, and revels in, unrestrained female sexuality. Every woman featured in the series—from models, actors and writers to political activists, businesswomen and more—is fucking New York on her own terms, in her own way, and this interplay of pleasure and sexual agency has gained widespread feminist acclaim.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign for the project, Nikola has created a book-length exposé of unlimited physical expression that Paper Magazine has described as “ecstatic, orgasmic communion with the city.”

As he prepares for the December launch of the publication, I had the opportunity to speak with Nikola via Skype. We had a conversation of over two hours that wound through topics as diverse as religious mysticism, feminism and masculinity, voyeurism, and, naturally, the wild joys of uninhibited sex.

Lola Who: So please set the scene for us, Nikola. What’’s your background, and what was your first encounter with a camera that got everything going?
Nikola:
I’m originally from Yugoslavia. About 25 years ago, that country went up in flames and was burning like a trash fire for the next 10 years, and at the tail end of that, I decided to get the fuck out. Once my city got bombed by NATO, which was the first and only NATO military intervention in Europe ever, I was like, ‘you know what, this was all interesting but I think it’’s time to fuck the fuck off’. I was about 26 years old, so I was there for the majority of my life.

That experience of having grown up in a fantastic country that ate itself is influential in some of the things that I do now. When you live through actual shit, you don’t fetishize the roughness in a way that people who grew up in a comfortable environment are like ‘oh no, it’’s authentic, it’’s real.’ It’’s not—it’s just horrible. So you could say that’s an influence.nikola-tamindzic-interview-fucking-new-york-lola-who-fashion-music-photography-blog-1

Lola Who: And when did you first set foot in NYC? How did you fall in love with the city?
Nikola: I arrived in the States in the early 2000s and spent a few years in Chicago. I think it was 2002 or 2003 that I first set foot in New York, and my first experience of the city was Port Authority bus terminal. I was visiting a friend in New Jersey and I thought, ‘I gotta go to New York and see this mythic place.’ What I remember most was getting to Fifth Avenue and seeing that there was not a single car that was not orange. It was a river of yellow cabs. I’’d never seen a street in which there was just cabs—like nothing else, just cabs.

[In New York,] everything strikes you as cinematic. From so many movies, so much global pop culture is New York-centric, and you can’’t help but think, ‘oh my god, I’m in a movie!’ But at the same time, New York felt like home. When you leave home, you don’t expect to ever find a different one. But I feel that here.

And now in two weeks, it’’s gonna be my 12th anniversary with New York. We’’re celebrating the 12th year of our relationship.

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Lola Who: Tell us about the early stages of your creative career. How did photography become your full-time gig?
Nikola:: I arrived in New York on the 20th of October, and a friend of mine invited me to a Halloween party. [At that point], I’m sleeping on friends’ couches and I have one suitcase and a laptop and that’s all I have. And a camera. I wasn’t really a photographer before that, I just started to fall in love and explore.

So my friend was trying to drag me out to this Halloween party, and I don’t even have a costume because I’m living out of a suitcase. So I go, well I’ll just bring the camera and when people ask ‘”Are you so-and-so?” ’—and name a famous photographer, I say ‘yes! That’s exactly the costume.’

And then I used the camera, [taking] a bunch of pictures at that party. It was a very interesting crowd: old people, young people, broke people, rich people. It was a massive loft on the corner of Crosby and Spring in New York, and that’s important, because then I sent the photos to my friend, and he sent the photos to his friend, and that friend sent the photos to the owner of the loft, who turned out to be Nick Denton, owner of Gawker.

So from 2004-2008, I was Gawker’s in-house photographer because Nick loved these party photos. And that was it. He plucked me literally off the streets. I had no place to call my own, I had nothing, I had no money, and I got a gig with Gawker.

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Lola Who: And you had no photographic training at this point, either?
Nikola: I’’ve never had any photographic training. [My] style was very, very different from what anyone was doing at the time. It was this very blurry, wild, colourful style that [conveys] what a party feels like when you’’re off your tits drunk.

And honestly, the years 2004 to 2008 in New York were incredibly exciting. I got a big write-up in the New York Times at the end of it, in 2008, and got a bunch of rewards from Village Voice and Paper and all that. But then it was time to leave [nightlife photography] because there’s no future in it. I was 35, and I mean, you can’’t do that for so much longer.

And so I quit. Wouldn’t take any more jobs, wouldn’t take anything, because I knew what I wanted to pursue: art projects [that I could then channel] into fashion portraits as well, treating fashion portraiture as an art form.

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Lola Who: So you felt confident enough to kind of break out on your own, despite the fact that 2008 was the economic crisis year, too.
Nikola:
Well, the economic crisis hit a few months later and the next couple of years were a little rough, to be honest. But one of the reasons I stopped doing it is that being pigeon-holed is only great if that’s what you want to keep doing. Everyone loved these photos so much that I couldn’t get other work. So by the time Fucking New York rolled around, even the initial photos showed a different kind of vision that, again, no one else was pursuing.

Lola Who: And so, at this point, how did Fucking New York come to life?
Nikola: In those years after I quit nightlife photography there was a certain kind of photograph that I kept taking, and I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. It’’s a great feeling when you’’re compelled to do a certain kind of thing, but you don’t quite understand what’’s going on. It’’s intriguing to wonder, ‘why does this attract me so much?’

In this case, an art reference would be Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa. In the look on the woman’s face in that sculpture, she’s definitely going through something strong, something intense. The title implies that its religious ecstasy, but that sculpture is way to sexual for that. And this was in very prudish times, so I think the sculpture was getting away with a lot there. She looks sexual, but if you look a little closer, she could be in agony as well.

So that place where agony, ecstasy, and sexual pleasure meet is a wonderful place for me, a place I’m very interested in, and the face pretty much looks the same in all three. You know, an orgasm looks as intense and sometimes as grimacing as having your toe stubbed.

Lola Who: Right, and even the language of those religious mystics back then tends to sound very orgasmic.
Nikola:
Yeah, there’s also that. And in this case, they’re trying to channel sexual energy into something more productive because unchannelled sexual energy is fairly destructive. These days were fairly liberal and liberated, but still, if our sexual energy is not checked we turn into assholes, we’’re not good to other people.

Lola Who: Right, aggression comes out in wildly different ways.
Nikola: Right, and even though we’’re better off than we were 400 years ago we still make a big pig’s breakfast out of this fantastic thing that we could enjoy. So that was the original interest. There were a bunch of [of my] photos in those days that kind of pointed in that direction, but they didn’t quite have a unifying [theme].

And then it was a shower moment. You know, when all the things are percolating in the back of your head, and one day your head just goes, ‘here, this is it.’ And it was going to be people fucking the city, and I called it Fucking New York because it was that simple.

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Lola Who: Your Kickstarter campaign for the production of the book was a smashing success, achieving 250% funding. Can you give us some insight into that process? And what’’s made you turn to European printers?
Nikola:
We live in times when there’s a lot of transitions in a lot of areas. The music industry, publishing industry, a lot of the photography industry, have been completely destroyed. We have new models that haven’t been built up yet. And now it’’s a fucking Wild West free-for-all!

Fucking New York is my first book, and it’’s self-produced because I simply didn’t want to deal with the collapsing publishing industry. There were preliminary conversations with distributors, and they balked at the title. And this book without this title is not this book—so fuck it. We definitely live in a good time for that. Everything is collapsing around us, but we can do these random things. And without Kickstarter, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I got $40,000 to do this. I don’t have $40,000!

In terms of public reception, I think I just had a good project that was obviously fun and kind of easy to write about. So I got a surprising number of write-ups in major publications… And Bustle also wrote about a very nice feminist examination of what’’s going on here and why this is important, which I enjoyed very much. I don’t think it’’s quite my place to talk about feminist interpretations of the work, on account of being a dude, but I was delighted the certain thoughtfulness that I tried to put into this was registering clearly with women who were considering themselves sex positive.

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Lola Who: Getting into the content of Fucking New York… All of the photographs feature female subjects. Can you describe some of the dynamics behind this?
Nikola: There are some choices that could sink a project similar to this one as another exploitive, ‘let’s ogle naked women’ kind of thing, you know. And so you make damn sure that doesn’t happen, and you do that by being thoughtful beforehand and knowing why you’’re doing this.

So after the shower moment, I checked to see if fuckingnewyork.com was available, and in 2012 or whenever I committed to the name, I was amazed that it was available! That never happens. So then I started working on this thing, mostly with friends. I do a lot of work in fashion, so my initial subjects or participants, collaborators, were models.

But it quickly became very obvious that that was not what this wants to be. It became obvious that Fucking New York, if it has the name New York in the title, needs to be about New Yorkers. It can’’t be tall, skinny 20-something or you know, 19-something girls. This should be men & women of all sizes, races, shapes—it should be as diverse as New York City is. Or at least try to be. And especially age is a big deal for me, because while I understand the general obsession with youth, people are not used to seeing people over 40 photographed in this context, and I can tell you that at this point I think about half of the book are women around or over 40.

It was a very, very conscious move, because there’s a lot of projects that depict naked women around the city. But it’’s always fashion girls: long, lean, classically gorgeous… nothing against that. I work in fashion. But I really wanted this to be something else.

But because we did a Kickstarter campaign, the marketing was important so I held back certain images and fronted with more conventionally appealing ones.

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Lola Who: I was going to ask about that, because the images that I have seen online aren’’t necessarily depicting older or diverse women.
Nikola:
Right, and it’’s because I was trying to be smart about it. Once you have the book, you see the pregnant women, you see a woman breastfeeding a child, you see the 65-year-old woman and women in their 50s—now you see the depth and breadth of this thing.

And, you know, I’m not too happy about [the marketing], but if you wanna be smart about this, you gotta know your market.

Lola Who: Right, you need to be strategic about it.
Nikola:
Being strategic is a good way to put it. Also, the selection on the site is fairly fun, you know, it’’s kind of fun-centric. And there’s a lot of intense-slash-kind of grotesque things happening in the book, but again you don’t front with that. You hold the poison pill for later.

Lola Who: So when it’’s officially released, will those images be more readily available?
Nikola:
Yes they will. Although especially in the case of some of the 40+ people, they were asking me to keep the photos to the book. Because the internet is sort of an unethical slut, and people who care about things should be rewarded that they get a glimpse into these women’s lives only if they commit to buying a work of art in the form of the book, right?

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Lola Who: You mentioned how a project like this could initially be misconstrued as exploitive… can you give us some insight into how you framed Fucking New York differently?
Nikola:
It comes from certain choices. For example, sometimes you look out the window in New York and you see something strange happening, you know, because it’’s New York.

And what if this strange thing was something like people fucking the city? It means that it’’s happening with or without you, it’’s happening on its own. The person doing it, to whom this is happening outside, they’re not doing it for me, they’re doing it for themselves. And that returns agency to the participant.

It was a huge deal for me. Whenever I felt that the model was giving me angles or posing for me or giving me body language [in order to] satisfy my gaze, we had to stop and re-work the surroundings so that it became an internal experience. And the people who did the best while doing this were people who managed, and oh my god so bad, to lose themselves in this.

So, being photographed in this way, you can get sucked into it, and to me, it’’s incredibly gratifying to see, to feel while this is happening, that it’’s real in some way. Because it’’s such a preposterous, fun idea, people fucking New York.

Then next thing you know, the person is moaning and you’’re buying every moan that comes out of it. You’’re like, this is real, this is real.

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Lola Who: And so there’s the aspect of the voyeur, or the observer.
Nikola:
Yeah, and that’s also turned upside down. Normally the voyeur has the power, because the voyeur is the hidden one seeing something they shouldn’t—something very private, very intimate. But Fucking New York takes very intimate moments and puts them on the street in full display. So the voyeur, having seen this from their window, is devoid of their power, and actually probably feels a little sad.

And now the wonderful thing about all this is that the women who worked on this series really picked it up as a liberating thing. New York is a city of a lot of street harassment, like people grabbing your arms and shit like that, and they were like, ‘I felt free, and I felt like this is my sexuality, this is an expression of my sexuality, and I don’t have to pretend that I am someone else, I can be this. And no matter how surreal or bizarre it is, it is a form of my sexuality that I am not just painting the town with.’

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Lola Who: I can see that, especially for women, finally saying ‘now this is my choice for you to see this.’
Nikola:
That’s it. And let’s call it agency, and that is crucial to me. The moment I feel a loss of agency, the moment I feel that the person is trying to do something that I want without really wanting to, I stop and go, ‘no we’’re not going to do this, we’’re going to do something that fits you.’

So even the preparatory process, before we even set foot on the street, is very much a workshopping of this environment I created, and I know what this city is, this city of fucking New York, but now you choose—it’s through your sexuality as a person, you’’re driving what’’s going to happen in that setting. I set the environment, you set the action. So it’’s much more of a collaboration.

And it comes down to the simplest choices. If you like sex on top, sure you can do it on your back but you prefer to be on top. It’’s the same with this. If I ask them to do one thing and they prefer to do another because it’’s more natural for them, then let’s do that, for god’s sake. I want to go with you, and not against you. I want to get what’’s in you out, rather than shoving my idea of what you should be on you. And that was very gratifying to a lot of people.

And actually, it was difficult to people who are professionals, especially a lot of alt-models who do a lot of nude modeling. They were extremely difficult to work with because it’’s part of their skillset to please the photographer, to take direction and to do what they’re asked, and they’re fantastic at it. But they were giving me stuff that was specifically satisfying of the male gaze. And part of Fucking New York was to disarm the male gaze. The voyeur is disarmed, and he doesn’t have any power anymore because the thing is happening and no one cares whether they’re being seen or not. So that whole thing, you can watch but it doesn’t matter, this is not about you, pal, it’’s about her.

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Lola Who: And in a way, she can show you what fucking New York looks like, rather than you telling her.
Nikola:
Exactly. It comes from her. But the best way to know what I’m talking about it to do it yourself, so…

Lola Who: And in terms of what the women wore or didn’t wear, was that a choice, or was that some direction on your part?
Nikola:
There was a little bit of direction. New York is a city of greys and muted colours, and New Yorkers tend to wear black, so that ends up being a pretty monochromatic look, which is not terribly interesting.

So I [encouraged] strong colours, or strong accents to break it up. Sometimes just lipstick is enough to give you that little pop of colour to make it work. But often clothing choices were driven by practicality: a wrap dress is your friend because you can take it on and off in two seconds, for example. There was a lot of flexibility. You don’t want to get fully naked, we don’t go fully naked.

And in that case, rather than someone posing in their underwear, which to me then reads as ‘well, I wanted to get almost naked but…’ Someone in their panties, that’s sort of flirty in a way that implies to me a desire to please the camera again, to be sexy.

So I was like, either wear clothes, or go naked. Let’s not go for this lingerie thing. And you’ll see very little lingerie in the series, because that was another conscious choice. It was for this whole believability thing, the idea that you were walking down the street when you were taken over by a power or desire or lust of your own, you dropped down and you did what you did, but that probably means that you were wearing civilian clothes. You were wearing something everyday. Or you stripped off altogether, but you were not wearing, like, an Agent Provocateur getup, most likely. This is not supposed to be sexy. I don’t think Fucking New York is very sexy. It’’s supposed to be intense, or fun, or grotesque.

And when you’’re actually in bed with your partner, or even alone, you don’t care about looking sexy. Probably the worst sex I had was with people who were too concerned what they looked like while having sex. That’s the worst. Sex is all about abandon, not giving a shit what you look like, because it’’s happening, this is your full body experience, your consciousness is leaving your body if this is good.

So those were the choices made when it comes to styling. You choose what’’s most powerful, not what’’s most naked.

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Lola Who: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that initially, you intended to have both women & men featured in the collection. What changed? How does having a single gender as both subject and object play out in a collection exploring the concept of “sex with the city”?
Nikola: Yes, some of the things that this series was inspired by very much involved men as well. I’m thinking of pagan rituals from my home country, for example, where men fucked the soil. This is from thousands of years ago. Men dug little holes in the ground and they fucked the soil and would come into it, that’s the ritual before sowing the wheat or whatever. And earth fertility rituals are actually underlying Fucking New York. It’’s still the same shit from 3000 years ago, trying to plant our seed in a place. So, men are a part of that.

I tried for the first two years to include men, and I did some shoots, and it was an absolute fucking disaster. Not to go into sexual theory about how straight men are intimidated by anything that is remotely homoerotic, but there’s something about this—try to picture a man trying to do something like fucking New York. Like, when I tried to think of something that I would do, it was always like me blowing something. There’s something homoerotic about it, isn’t there? And I think they picked up on it. And the American straight male is a very scared thing.

On the other hand, you’d think that gay dudes would be amazing, because they tend to be very open with their sexuality. But, to put it simply, they couldn’t turn off the performative aspect and were doing the same thing that the professional female models were doing—working it for the camera. And that was deeply uninteresting to me. It didn’t work for something like this.

But on more practical terms, the nail in the coffin of male participation was the fact that we had been observed by police many times while photographing women for Fucking New York, and never had any problems. I got thumbs up, I got giggles from the cops, and we never got into any trouble. But now picture me photographing a man naked, or even having an erection. We’’re done. We’’re fucked. That guy’s getting a sex offender tag for life, and it’’s bad. Most of them didn’t turn up, they flaked, and for those who did turn up, their performance was completely hampered by fear of getting in real trouble. I had to move on.

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Lola Who: So did you attempt to incorporate the masculine narrative through the photos in other ways?
Nikola:
Interestingly, incorporating the masculine was ultimately up to the women, because a lot of the girls—you know New Yorkers are a fairly sex-positive bunch—took on a very masculine role. Like working their hips in the way that a man would. They were fucking the city by thrusting forward instead of pushing back. Say you and your partner are having sex standing up, right, so women would push back and a guy would push forward, and the women in the book are pushing forward, often taking on a more masculine role.

Lola Who: And in that way, it’’s kind of an empowerment too, even in just taking over that physical expression of sex.
Nikola:
Exactly, and once we eliminated men… the book shifted in its meanings to this idea of sex positivity and safe spaces and free expression of what you actually are instead of putting on a show or putting on a pretense in front of people that you are this kind of person when you’’re not.

However bizarre the fact that now you’’re rolling on the street, sucking off a fire hydrant is, it’’s a beautiful thing because it also displays all the magic of female sexuality as this amorphous, almost amoeba-like thing that can wrap itself around almost any concept. Male sexuality is more straightforward, it is more direct, like ‘vagina! Tits!’ Meanwhile, female sexuality can go stranger places. And in a lot of ways I think women recognized Fucking New York as an opportunity to give voice to that part of themselves, you know?

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Lola Who: I can imagine that especially for women who are older it could be the first time where they just said, ‘fuck it, fuck the stereotypes, fuck the virgin/whore thing, this is what I am.’
Nikola:
Yeah, and because younger women, women your age and younger, the internet brought this… what wave is this, third or fourth wave feminism. So it is part of the conversation and people are a lot more aware. And certain generations of women sort of fell between the gaps of different ways of feminism, and were kind of just playing along and were ready to just go, fuck it, fuck this shit.

Lola Who: What does having a relationship with a city (compared to an actual human) say about the state of our current relationships in the 21st century?
Nikola:
I wouldn’t go very wide, but I will say that people have a very specific relationship with New York. I mean, that’s the old idea that was pushed through in Sex and the City. When you live in New York, and you can hear Carrie Bradshaw speak here, you’’re in a relationship with the city. That’s your primary relationship here. And it’’s true! People break up when one person wants to leave the city. What does that say? That says that your relationship with the city is more important than your relationship with a human. Or, even worse, people stay together, past the expiration date of their relationship, because they can’’t leave their apartment, they can’’t find a different one, because it’’s so hard. So they stay in a horrible relationship because the city tells them to do it.

But New Yorkers have this enormous pride in being New Yorkers, which comes from the fact that it’’s hard being a New Yorker. It’’s work. Every city I lived in before this was not work. It was, ‘I live here, this is a good place.’ Being in New York is hard. So people develop this almost Stockholm syndrome-like thing, a little abusive. An unfortunate part of human nature is that often your best sex is with people you shouldn’t be having sex with. And that translates to the city level. It’’s a bad idea, and my god it’’s so good!

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Lola Who: Ultimately, what do you want your viewers to take away from this book?

Nikola: I am focused on joy and pleasure, which are not the same. Joy can be dark. But joy to me is like feeling life as it’’s inside of you, expressing itself, whether you like sadism or masochism or you just like straight vanilla wall-to-wall fucking, anywhere on the kink spectrum, no judgment. Enjoy your body, enjoy your life, enjoy your friends who you are or are not fucking, and enjoy your partner. Be good to each other, and ultimately I would be happy if that’s what people got out of this book—a certain sense of life-affirming joy.

And I’ll say this—it’s to my incredible joy that some of the safe-space and female agency aspects that we’ve covered people picked up on without me having to tell them that. And I didn’t know that it was that transparent. I thought that at first glance this book would be judged very easily and very firmly as ‘oh, okay here’s another bunch of naked titties around New York.’

So I was surprised and delighted by how many people, especially women, figured out the conscious choices that went into making those photographs, and that women came across as powerful and as exercising their own agency in the photos, rather than performing. That they were there for themselves rather than performing for a male photographer’s idea of what this should look like.

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Lola Who: What’s coming up next for you? Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting, that you can tell us about?
Nikola:
Fucking New York is still taking up 100% of my time, and the book will be out in December. As far as what comes next… I think I came across an interesting idea that I’m going to start pursuing as soon as this book is out of the way, which is to explore age-gap relationships. At least 20 years would be sort of the limit, primarily bringing in as many non-older male/younger female relationships as possible. I’m not interested in the dynamics of older men and younger women. I think that was a consequence of economic status of women first and foremost. And as that’s changing, I have an opportunity to capture all of the other ones. Male couples, female couples, and older female, younger male couples. I think that’s going to be the next project.

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To order Fucking New York, visit: www.fuckingnewyork.com

By Emily Paskevics