Friday, February 24, 2012

Shooting Pretty Boys

A few years back, I was contacted by a local fashion designer's rep to shoot a new line of men's underwear the designer had created. The rep got hold of me via the recommendation of a makeup artist I had worked with a number of times. The MUA, it turned out, was a good friend of the designer's.

I'll admit I was rather amused at the prospect of shooting some pretty boys instead of my usual pretty girls... and in their skivvies!

Although I had shot many women in their undergarments (and less) this gig would be decidedly different. I asked the rep chick why they chose me, beyond the fact that the MUA had recommended me. She explained that, after looking at some of my work, she and the designer thought I'd be the perfect shooter for the job since, as the rep said, "You totally know what you're doing photographing skin."

I agreed with her even though this time it wouldn't be female skin. That I had a studio accustomed to hosting partially clothed and/or unclothed people and that I was completely comfortable shooting people in little or no clothing -- which generally helps make the comfort level of the naked and semi-naked people I'm shooting more, uhhh, comfortable -- probably didn't hurt my qualifications for the job either.

I did some research in preparation for the shoot. After all, I had never shot these sorts of pretty boy images before. Sure, I'd shot quite a few men. Usually they had been actors needing head shots or commercial portfolio pics or portraits of various other guys for a variety of reasons. But this was different. This was a fashion shoot. I'd never done that before, leastwise not shooting guys for fashion pics.

I didn't intend to mimic what's already been shot in the genre of men's undie fashion. Still, I wanted to look at what a few other photographers had shot before.

The first images I came across were a bunch of Calvin Klein ads, notably those featuring Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) and snapped by the legendary Herb Ritts. Like I said, mimicking what had come before was not my intention but I'll admit I couldn't help but be somewhat influenced by Ritt's famous shots of Wahlberg in Calvin Klein briefs.

The day of the shoot arrived. My client and his PR person showed up right on time and soon thereafter so did our three male models for the day: two white guys and one black dude. Rightfully, I had hired the MUA who suggested me to these new clients and she was already in my studio in the makeup/dressing room getting prepared to perform her magic on the models. Favors should always be paid back as best they can be. To that end, I had hired her for somewhat more than her customary day rate.

We, that is the designer and his publicity lady, had already decided to shoot the photo sets against a neutral background instead of giving them some sort of editorial flavor. I chose a slate gray seamless for the job. Other than using my Mola Euro beauty dish for a main light, I still hadn't completely decided on the lighting, that is, the accent lighting I was going to use... if any. I knew I was either going to go with one light or possibly two. I didn't want to glam up the shots by using 3 or 4 lights, edging the models with specular highlights and a sexy glow. In the end, I decided on two lights: A main light and one accent light to rake across the models' bodies. I could always bring in a reflector if I needed something on the fill side.

The designer, his rep, and I chatted while the first model was in makeup. I mentioned the Calvin Klein ads and the designer, who was familiar with Ritts' photos, asked if I could shoot some with the models doing the Marky Mark crotch grab. "Sure," I said. "But do we really want to copy those shots?" He thought it about it for a moment and decided we'd stay away from crotch grabs.

The first model, the black dude, was ready. Both the designer and his rep were off to the side on their phones. The model grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the shooting area. "Don't make me look gay," he said, putting some serious overtones in his voice. I laughed and told him not to worry. I wouldn't be making him look gay and I wouldn't be shooting him the way I normally shoot chicks. He smiled and high-fived me.

Funny thing, the other two models also both approached me privately and said the same thing to me before I shot them. That had me wondering if they'd all worked with other photographers who, in their minds, did make them look gay or feminine or whatever. Funnier still, one of the models, I'm pretty sure, was gay.

By the end of the shoot, everyone seemed happy. The designer and his rep loved the photos, telling me they were exactly what they were looking for. Each of the models privately thanked me for not making them look gay. Why they thought I might do that still makes me wonder. Maybe they thought I was gay? Oh yeah, the check cleared. That always makes me happy, whatever I'm shooting.

The non-gay looking black dude at the top sporting a pair of designer briefs and flexing his considerable muscles is one of the models I shot that day. I've since shot other pretty boys for various projects and, to my knowledge, none of them has ever complained they looked gay in the pictures... whether they were gay or not. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with looking gay. Hey! Whatever floats your boat. And I'm still not sure what those guys meant by "looking gay." But whatever it was, I guess I didn't do it.

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