Michael Grecco — 51, BU grad — first began making a name for himself as an award-winning photographer for the Boston Herald. Since then, his career as a magazine photographer — with a specialty in celebrity portraits — has included covers for, among others, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, and Wired.
But his 2007 book Naked Ambition: An R Rated Look at an X Rated Industry (Rock Out Books) added another twist to his career and led to the recently released DVD film of the same name. A kind of reverse peep show, Naked Ambition the film provides a wide-angle view of the sometimes seedy and often bizarre world of porn — not with voyeurism or lust, but with humor and even modesty. Filmed in Las Vegas during the Adult Video Expo and its corresponding Adult Video News (AVN) Awards (a/k/a the Academy Awards of the Triple X), Naked Ambition, like its coffee-table-book predecessor, does everything it can to keep its stars clothed. The film follows Sunny Lane and Joanna Angel — good girl, bad girl (respectively) of “adult” entertainment — as they cruise the Expo, attending meetings, photo shoots, and autograph sessions with fans. Other fellow X-raters in prominent roles are Jesse Jane, Ron Jeremy, and Jenna Jameson. Grecco’s there too, as narrator and photo-shoot visionary.
You’ve pointed your camera at people from all walks of life — what happens when you aim your camera at a porn star?
They want to take off their clothes. [Laughs] It’s really amazing, because in Hollywood or in the corporate world, there’s PR flacks, and there’s a certain amount of guardedness around the person you’re taking a picture of . . . but the talent in the porn world is naked in every sense of the word.
To keep the book and the film rated “R,” did you actually have to tell them to keep their clothes on?
Yeah, well, it was interesting. I wanted the book to be a pop-culture document. I wanted the sexual tension, but I didn’t want to shoot porn, and I didn’t want to have a lot of nudity. So I was telling the girls, “Sexy, look into the camera,” and they would start to take off their clothes. I was trying to figure out how to say it — “Look at me with intensity,” “Find me through the camera,” or “Show me your soul” — and my assistant came up to me and said, “Dude, just tell them to keep their clothes on and look ‘not sexy,’ ” and they got that right away.
You are known primarily as a portrait photographer — did you know when you arrived at the ANV Awards that an actual film was going to be made?
It started out as a documentary — actually, with an old professor of mine from Boston University [Ken Kobre, also a former Phoenix photo editor] who was doing a documentary on photographers. So we decided to jump on board. The footage and the interviews were so candid and off-the-wall that my writing partner [Charles Holland] and I were stunned. We knew that it was more than just a 20-minute “making-of-the-book,” that this could be a feature film. The original director saw it as more of a television doc, as he was a little bit afraid of the material — so my partner and I took over the film. We then wrote it and edited it in such a way that it became a feature film with an overriding story line. I’m sort of the bridge between the two worlds — you follow me going through this convention, and then you follow the two girls through the awards show.