Wearing only a black t-shirt and pink underwear, Nicole McInnis poses on her knees, straddling her bed. She looks over her shoulder, lips pouting.
Some might say it’s vulgar porn. Some might say it’s quaint erotica. The man behind the camera calls it art.
“That’s the funny thing: when does erotica become pornography? That’s something we will never be able to define,” says Thomas Larson. “And I’m going to play with that a bit.”
Larson, owner/designer of Zeroboutique t-shirts and apparel in Halifax, will use the photos for his new website, www.zerotique.com. Starting at around $10, users can buy prints or posters of the erotic art, or look at them for free on the site.
There isn’t any nudity on zerotique. Most of the photos are a higher-brow version of American Apparel advertisements. Still, Larson says, “it’s not going to be a site for grandma to peruse.
“I don’t want to discourage people looking for pornography. They can find what they’re looking for without nudity.”
With sex and skin used to sell everything from cough syrup to lawn fertilizer, Larson believes we’ve become desensitized to the erotic. Sex is no longer visually exciting and mental stimulating.
“I’m looking to push all the mental buttons pornography used to push. I want to bring back the wonder of sex and I think the best way to bring back that mystery is by covering up.”
McInnis is one of Zeroboutique’s zerokidz. Originally from Hubbards, She is at Ryerson taking fashion studies. She knew the guys at Zeroboutique, and they knew she had done some modeling before. Her photos aren’t overtly erotic, says McInnis because she didn’t want them to be.
“In the fashion world we are bombarded by sexuality, and in this situation the photos that are sent to Thom are by women that are posing and expressing themselves however they feel comfortable…. It’s the woman that is in total control of the photos.”
Zerotique was a natural progression for Larson’s interest in fashion photography and erotica. “I always had an interest in pin-ups and pornography from the ’50s and ’60s,” says Larson. “Not so much the airbrushed ’70s and ’80s pornography. That kind of lost me.”
The idea for the site evolved out of the zerokidz section of Zeroboutique’s online store. Zerokidz started seven years ago when Larson posted photos on the internet of his friends and family wearing his t-shirts.
Zerokidz took off after Larson was contacted by Suicide Girls, the original alt-porn website featuring girls with tattoos, piercings and wild hair. In exchange for the t-shirts they sent him photos of the girls posing provocatively wearing only his t-shirts and their underwear.
“It was a paradigm shift in how I saw eroticism and the female gender. Instead of the traditional pornographic view, where woman are less than equal, Suicide Girls made the whole woman the focus.”
The new zerotique is only a beta version of what Larson is aiming to do. Although erotica is a big part of his focus, Larson is aiming for to be more artistic than sexual. He hopes the restriction of clothing pushes the photographers’ and models’ creativity.
“They’ll come up with the content. I’ll just be the person at the gate saying yea or nay. I’m sure some of the photos will surprise me just as much as other people.”
Along with adding video and written content, Larson is envisioning an online community of erotica enthusiasts, especially in Halifax. He’s trying to use as many local photographers and models as he can.
“In terms of sex Nova Scotia in general can be a little puritan. We live not too far from the Bible belt. There’s some opposition because of that.”
The move from t-shirts to non-nude erotic art isn’t without moral dilemmas. Larson does sometimes find himself wondering why he’s doing this.
“This isn’t the sort of thing I’m going to brag to my parents and extended family about, but at the same time I have to feel good about it. I think my intentions are good, so the end product is good. I’m not out to exploit anyone.”