Salvation Artist

by Jodie Janella Horn


Celebrating after two shows in Los Angeles, Jason Bitner mingles amicably through a packed club, chatting with old friends, his brother, and people he’s just met with equal ease. He signs autographs, converses about touring in a van, and his upcoming projects, all while calmly sipping his Maker’s Mark. He is easily the nicest pornographer I’ve ever met.

Bitner is well spoken and funny, always spinning things in a bright light, whether he is discussing public radio or sex toys. He has culled together experience in sound editing, photo archiving, music, web design, and coupled it with a network of friends with complimentary skills, becoming a successful full-time freelancer with multiple book projects and responsibilities at two magazines. Still, he is not complacent to rest on his laurels. During the course of our discussions, via email, phone, and in-person, he tells me, “There’s so many things that I haven’t figured out. The things I haven’t learned yet, those are the things I want to spend time on. I would never claim to say that I’ve done a lot by the time I was 31.”

Dirty Found is on tour. Co-created by Jason Bitner, the magazine celebrates the smuttiest photos, notes, and other paraphernalia left laying about the world. Jodie Janella Horn caught up with Bitner in Los Angeles. “I’m not an artist,” Bitner tells her. She begs to differ.
Referenced book:
Dirty Found #1
by Jason Bitner

Found Magazine
80 pages, $10.00 [Available by mail order from website] Referenced online magazines:
Dirty Found
Found Magazine

His magazine, Dirty Found collects misplaced notes and pictures of a naughty nature sent in by readers from around the world and reprints them in full-color with a caption from the finder of these misplaced gems. The first issue was released late last year, with another set to come out in early November, and it’s so sordid that I want to wash my hands between each turn of the page. A special section entitled “Meet the Professionals” which includes misplaced photos of strippers and prostitutes, both male and female, as well as a calling card for a “personal care entourage.” Diaries and notes in which individuals recount sex acts or describe their fantasies are especially intimate reproduced in the authors’ handwriting. There are the detailed chronicles of a man, his friends, several enemas, and a hearty helping of bondage entitled, “A Fairy’s Tale of the King’s Ball or Shed a Happy Tear at What a Queer Rear You Have Here My Dear Peer.” Aside from my disbelief that the author missed the opportunity for puns on “tail” and “balls,” I’m shocked that, given what is printed in the magazine, some photos were too disgusting for even Dirty Found. Bitner says, “Among the group was a close up post-enema Polaroid. The image is forever burned into my mind. No amount of drinking or pot will make it go away.”

Bitner describes himself as an “accidental pornographer,” having originally worked on the website and the layout for parent publication, Found Magazine, a quarterly collection of less-lurid finds, created by Davy Rothbart in 2001. Rothbart’s calls for reader submissions produced some X-rated material. “We’d been receiving all these awesome smutty finds, but we never really had a great place to put them. We like to keep Found good for all ages, so we set these aside in a big folder with “DIRTY FINDS” written on it in big letters.” While Rothbart was on tour last year to promote the book version of Found, Bitner and his friend, a designer, Arthur Jones, snuck off with the folder and had the first issue to present Rothbart when he returned. “We met up in New York and shared this sweet moment at a beautiful old school bar, peering through our new dirty magazine.”

In the introduction to the first

Bitner jokes that, “Every page has satisfied me at least once,” but he tells me that it “was never intended as jack-off material. I always thought of it as a sort of Kinsey Report, and not Juggs.” In a culture that loses its collective shit over nudity and swearing on television, there is an abundance of amateur porn. Dirty Found gives this innately American contradiction a place in the sun, and by extension, the reader’s. “As time goes on, though, what we’re learning is that there might be a phrase, or one short sentence, or an illustration that seems to work it’s magic on a some readers. It’s always a different thing for different people, and they usually divulge it in hushed tones”

In many regards both Found and Dirty Found are forms of folk anthropology, a chronicling of the fears and desires of humans, but without the burden of academic interpretation or context. Bitner thinks of the magazines “as a big show-and-tell project. All we do is open up the letters you guys have sent our way, sit down with some cheap beer, put some pages together, and send it off to the printer. There’s “not much in the way of critical thinking over here; we’d rather be drinking Maker’s.” Archaeologists scrub out meaning from old trash. Dirty Found presents new trash and leaves us to make our own conclusions.

Bitner toured the west coast in a van this summer, driving all the way from San Diego to Seattle, during which I caught up with him and saw the show in Los Angeles. Along with him were Arthur Jones, and his booking agent/friend, David Wilcox. Each one takes a turn operating a PowerPoint slideshow and narrating the finds in a respectful, but satirical fashion. A series of sketches on used car sale slips are shown one by one while Jason points out details, such as the design plans for the “Lady’s Man’s Choice in condoms: The Bro-Ham Mark II,” that include a sound system, bumper, headlight, reverse light, and most impressively, the scrotobelt attachment system. Bitner ponders aloud the meaning of a drawing of a penis with an organ grinder’s monkey inexplicably hugging it. It is never forgotten that these relics came from an individual and Bitner and the other narrators make every attempt to get into the mind of the creators.

“The Dirty Found tour was just like a band tour, only we had boxes of magazines and surveys rather than a drum kit and Marshall stacks.” Before the show Bitner had the audience fill out a questionnaire asking about people’s dirtiest finds, stories of being “caught in the act,” and a quiz to name a depicted sexual position. Once all the slides have been shown, the results of the questionnaire are shared and, like the show as a whole, are alternatively hilarious and gross. He includes the audience participation because, “here we are sharing other people’s lives, and we felt it would be right to share some of our own at the same time.” Among the most shocking results of the questionnaire are the abundance of individuals confessing to having slept with a teacher or professor and that nearly a third of respondents have been caught having sex by the police.

In between his work on Found and Dirty Found, Bitner has found time to work on a few books. After setting aside found Polaroid’s for the last several years, he has collected 600 images for a book that will be released this November in a limited run of 2,000 copies. “There’s something especially awesome about Polaroids because you know that there’s only one shot like it in the world.” It is to be the “fanciest, artiest project we ever put out, special for people who like fancy, arty books.”

Also in the arty vein, is Bitner’s upcoming collection of photographs from Princeton Architectural Press coming out next spring called LaPorte. While lingering over his pie at a diner in LaPorte, Indiana a few years ago, he noticed classic 5x7 portraits hanging on the pie case. He inquired about the photos and was introduced to a collection of proofs left over from a portrait photographer active in the 1950s and 1960s. “[The photographer] basically documented this whole town. Any announcement or celebration, they would go to this photographer, and go into the dressing room and make themselves look as perfect as possible.” What emerges is a collection of regular people presenting themselves in their own ideal at different life stages: Christenings, high school graduation, marriage, and anniversaries, all hand-colored by the photographer’s wife. Bitner’s ethos behind the book mirrors that of Found. “I’m not an artist or a photographer or anything, but I’ve seen so many photos over the course of my life. I’m never going to make anything as good as these, but maybe I can share these.”

Bitner is too hard on himself. He already has produced work as good as the pictures he found in LaPorte by virtue of having produced the work at all. It’s not in store for all of us to be artists, but many among us are without even knowing it. It’s the art of Jason Bitner and Davy Rothbart, as well as all the folks at Found to cull out creations from society’s detritus. He is a salvation artist; a noble line of work if you ask me.

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