Naked man in Caravaggio Lighting style with basket of StawberriesIt’s been a couple of weeks since I have been able to write or post a new blog.  I have been super busy lately working on more commercial work that needed priority.  One of the projects I work on this time of year is the promotional images for The Montana Rep Theater Company’s national tour that goes out at the end of January.  So much of my work has a theatrical quality to it.  I worked in theater for so long that it still sticks with me.  I guess it is just a part of my nature.  I love the idea of tapping into the emotional resonance of an image.  One of the things that most people first learn when working with me on images is how quickly I connect to others.  I once read an interview with Robert Mapplethorpe where he talked about the importance of establishing a relationship with his subjects.  Meeting, talking, getting to know, and sharing with the person you are about to create images with.  He would never shoot anyone cold that he didn’t know.  This stuck me at the time and I have modeled my own approach to photography in this manner.  It shows in the image how strongly the subject connects to the photographer.  I mean in a sense we are all photogenic.  But I see so many young or beginning photographer’s images and it feels they are only revealing the surface of the subject, because the subject seems distant or aloof.  Yes the image may be pretty and technically good, but that is only a small fraction of creating an image.  Establishing the working relationship first breaks down some of those barriers and creates more of an intimacy in the final image.  Somehow people trust photographers in ways they don’t trust others.  At my first meeting with a subject that I will possibly photograph nude, often revealing insights that are intimate and personal.   Perhaps I know the right questions to ask, perhaps they know and trust my eye and body of work, perhaps I have a reputation that whatever they say or reveal will not leave the walls of my studio.  I am not sure, but it gets me closer to the core of identifying who they are.  The actual photographic process can often be distracting due to all the technical elements involved in creating the right exposure and adjusting the lighting as I begin to discover what works best with their skin and personality.  The subject somehow trusts this.  My focus always remains on them, discovering the nuance of who they are.  I shoot a lot of images during a shoot, but with each shot I try to discover more about who they are.  I never work on the surface.  Part of my theatrical training is the ability to constantly coax out their best, each image becoming a step further.  I guess this is what I really love about the process.  To me, my segue from working in theater to photography was just a natural progression.  In a sense it’s still staged, but I have just moved from the box of the proscenium arch of the theater to the box contained within the frame of camera.

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Young man with a warm inviting smile standing naked bathed in natural window light.Though we live in what many would classify as a small town, Missoula has a great sense of gay community.  It seems to have always been that way.  Of course Missoula being the gay mecca of the region if not the whole state.  I feel an overwhelming pride and joy to have been part of such a remarkable community in such an extraordinary place.  When I first moved to Missoula in 1980 to go to the University I was not quite sure of my actual sexual orientation. I knew what I desired, but was not sure how to get it.  Gay was taboo, something not talked about with no visible signs.  Though my desire at that age was strong my revulsion was stronger and kept me at bay in actually seeking it out.  After several years I finally began to venture out and meet a guy whom eventually become my first partner.  Much to my amazement he was connected to a community that was quite strong and prolific.  He manned an office on the third floor of the Wilma building overlooking the marquee of the theater, for an organization with a community center called “Out In Montana”.  Hanging with him in that office I began to meet many others that were alike and finally felt like I had found a place I belonged.  This group was quite active with meetings and all sorts of organized activities.  There were picnics in the parks, house parties, nights out with the boys, movie nights where we actually when to a theater, all sorts of things constantly organized.  I quickly gained a vast body of friends and become a part of a community where I felt completely supported.  There were annual events on Memorial Day that would become a weekend long party sort of event that would closely approximate a modern day pride celebration, with organized dances, theater events, and a talent show.  What a great time and place to come out and find my own sense of identity.

Though the world has changed and we now interact in different ways, mainly though social media, I still feel that feeling of community around me.  Perhaps it’s just that I have been here for so long that I just know so many people.  A week or so back I went to the Gay Men’s Chorus annual Christmas Event and it was like stepping back in time.  There were several hundred people in attendance and I knew most of them.  This is a place where people’s hearts and souls are open to each other.  We still have an active community center, we have FDH & Associates, a gay community based health organization, and every thing seems to be thriving.  I see what a strong healthy community we remain after all these years.  Missoula is like  a wonderful melting pot.  There seems to be very little fear and anxiety here, where we are not judged, but are encouraged to be tolerant of each other despite our differences.

I left Missoula for many years, working in many places, an exotic dance boy in Dallas, a very popular bartender in DC at one of the hippest bars, and many years working in theater, not staying very long anywhere in particular and never did I find of community as strong as Missoula.  I now laugh when I overhear the young kids say, “I can’t wait to get out of this place” and I typically whisper in their ears, “yes but don’t let what is here pass you up”.  This is the time of your life and savor every moment.

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Seth naked torso coyly covering his face with arm.It seems that I am still spending a lot of time working on the behind the scenes process of the site still when what I really need is to get some new material on the front end.  I need to begin writing some new reviews, create some new artist profiles and gather more of their work, and add more of my own galleries.  The site is currently fantastic to navigate and as I work my way through.  It has an amazing look and feel to it.  I need not be too concerned with my own gain by the project but work toward creation of exploration of my own identity and personal vision.  For the future to see a sort of legacy that says this is who and what I was, this is what I knew and this is the way I saw the world and it’s evolution during my existence here on this earth.  This is going to be the power of it.  I have so much stuff in my head that I just need to share for others to experience.  There is a new generation of gay culture that does not know the wonder and fascination of who and what we have become.  They are caught in a world that only involves them, in this moment, in a sort of self contained and self-centered sort of way.  They don’t know what films to watch, what books to read, how art can transform our lives and evoke our passion, feelings and desire.  I feel fortunate enough that I was able to live and grow up in the height of an era that went from a state of lost bewilderment to acceptance of a complete social consciousness filled with pride struggled through an epidemic that empowered us and somehow managed to survive it.  It is the story of a remarkable journey that will be lost if we as that generation that went through it does not share our experience.  Our world is not changing at lightening speed.  And that change is reflected through our social media.  I remember seeing a movie called Making Love in the theaters the first week I meet and fell in love with my first partner, which was not very optimistic for choosing that sort of lifestyle back then.  In fact I was so disturbed by it back then that I left my new boyfriend and walked home alone cursing myself and sobbing for having chosen a lifestyle that felt to incredibly alive but now know would end in complete and utter unhappiness.  But on the sexual end felt so completely right.  Jump to 30 years later and now there are hundreds of great films that tell our stories from so many different sides, many of them reflecting a healthy and honest perspective of what we have become.  I am lucky, I have felt love, I still follow my passions and am excited by something new everyday that shows me a new and captivating side of myself.  This is my exploration and what I have to share.  I have reached that stage of the project where I need to make that leap, technically the site is there, now I just need to realize and explore my vision.

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Classic lighting style of nude man sitting with fruit.I have caught up with all my commercial photo work for the year and this site is now tweaked and I’m ready to begin adding new material.  It has taken a couple weeks longer to clean up than I anticipated.  I spent this week working with the gallery component developer adjusting and figuring out all the issues with the galleries and how they would look and function across all platforms.  This was the last major issue to work out.  The site is now visually linkable and fully functional.

Recently I have been looking at all the people I have shot over the years and, considering this is Montana, it seems quite remarkable to have so many!  I had a new guy in the studio I was shooting this week.  Someone I had begun working with last year but we didn’t get too far with the process because he was so busy.  It was so fun to get back to shooting this sort of stuff.  When I began shooting naked men they became more of a study to help me develop lighting techniques for my regular photographic portraits.  I have a great studio and lots of variations on lighting filtration equipment.  I have collected just about every type of light filter size and shape available to focus light from a broad softness to a pinpoint direct spot.  The naked male is the easiest subject, because it is all skin tone and in portrait photography is it all about lighting the skin in beautiful ways.  It also allows me to focus on compositional elements.  The next step is the photographic process is to figure out the personality of the subject and match the lighting technique to get to the core or essence of who they are.  Some people are soft, some are hard, some are sculptural, some not.  Next I factor in my relationship to the subject.  What feelings does this subject evoke within me.  Are they alluring, raw, do they connect to me or are they evasive.  What part of my own life intercepts with theirs, do they bring out a remembrance or connection to a time in my own past or sensual development?  We all have memories of times we connected with someone on a very sensual level that lingers in our thoughts that we would like to relive.  Photographically these become great ideas for exploration.  When you begin to put all these elements together this is where photography really become fun.  I am lucky I don’t do this for commercial gain so I can just focus on what’s important to me in a sense becoming my own personal journey.

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