Barbara Nitke is an internationally known photographer who specializes in the subject of human sexual relations, especially in the BDSM community. Her work has been exhibited and collected for over 20 years.
Nitke was born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1950 and grew up in both Virginia and Alaska. She later moved to New York City where she found work as a set photographer on pornographic films. She found the porn world interesting and took to documenting the porn industry and its people when she was not working on the set. Her art from this time captures much of the surrealism of people working in such an offbeat profession.
Nitke and the porn business
The hardcore porn business moved to the west coast in the early 1990s, and Nitke found work in the fetish and BDSM film industries which had remained in New York City. She found the SM scene fascinating and very unlike the mainstream porn industry. In large part, the people in SM porn were actual partners, not just actors, and had a special chemistry that attracted her.
In 1994, she attended her first meeting of The Eulenspiegel Society, one of the country's first BDSM organizations, to see a presentation by the famous photographer Charles Gatewood. There she met many real consensual SM couples and began photographing them in actual BDSM scenes rather than in staged or posed shots. The resulting photographs were collected in her first book, "Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism," published in 2003.
In addition to her artistic pursuits, she still works as a commercial photographer on movie and TV sets and has had photographic exhibitions in New York, New Orleans, Baltimore, Provincetown and Philadelphia. She is President of The Camera Club of New York (founded in 1884 by Alfred Stieglitz), a member of The Eulenspiegel Society and is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Nitke v. Gonzales
In 2001, Nitke filed a lawsuit, along with co-plaintiff the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, challenging the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, a federal statute prohibiting the publication of obscenity on the Internet. The case was called Nitke v. Ashcroft, then later changed to Nitke v. Gonzales.
Nitke and the NCSF argued that while the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. California  defines obscenity according to community standards, the Internet does not permit publishers to restrict the dissemination of their speech based on geography. Therefore, the plaintiffs claimed, a person posting sexually explicit material on the Internet could be found criminally liable according to the standards of the most restrictive community in the country. This, Nitke said, would chill her freedom of speech and therefore violate her First Amendment Constitutional rights.
A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York conducted a trial, and in 2005 found that Nitke and the NCSF had presented insufficient evidence that the variation in community standards is substantial enough to chill the plaintiffs' speech. On March 20, 2006, the Supreme Court affirmed that ruling without opinion.
References and further reading
- Barbara Nitke. Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism - Kehrer Verlag (June 15, 2003). ISBN 3-933257-94-8
- NCSF press release: Supreme Court Appeal for Communications Decency Act Lawsuit, August 22, 2005
- Gina Holland, Justices Pass on Internet Obscenity Case, Washington Post (AP), Mar. 20, 2006
- Cybertelecom :: The Communications Decency Act
- Nitke v. Ashcroft [overview]
- Home page
- Camera Club of New York Member Portfolio
- Comments on CDA lawsuit
- Charles Gatewood site
- Gay City News article
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