This started in 2005 when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Faced with career interruption I decided to become a photographer (again). Drawing from my prior design and marketing experience I calculated that, going forward, commercial photography would be threatened by the internet economy but that the skill required to do moving and sensitive portraiture would always be in demand. It seemed unlikely that a computer could draw out human emotion as readily as a clever, manipulative photographer. And so I embarked on building a portfolio of thoroughly modern portraiture using my favorite vintage film cameras.
My early efforts were trite. The important thing was that I started. I made the best possible bad photographs.
During the first years I performed crude human experiments on naive volunteers drafted from Craigslist. Eventually there were a few satisfying pictures.... And while I attempted to be egalitarian and embrace diversity, I had to admit that my best portrait subjects were young, attractive females. A few of these ladies suggested taking their clothes off to show me their tattoos. Then they wanted photos for Inked magazine and to submit to Suicide Girls. This horrified me but I dutifully soldiered on. Irving Penn and Avedon did nudes and so could I.
Through word of mouth I began shooting several times a week. As I posted new photos I received more inquiries. Soon I was able to book shoots with well known models as I traveled around the United States. And with so much practice my photography continued to improve so that I could be more selective about who I photographed.... This momentum was invigorating and I enjoyed the novelty if not the absurdity of young women vying for my attention.
There were a few sociopaths along the way. One woman sued for millions of dollars after she fell on our property. Another royally lambasted me online because I walked out of our shoot over her drunken antics. I’d travel to a far-off location only to find the model nodded off from heroin or raped by an ex. Some of the models were sex workers, many were college students, several were both.
Most of the stories I am left with are humorous and bittersweet… others were just odd. Like the girl who didn’t know all of the STDs she was infected with or the Chaterbate™ starlet who paid her parents rent for their larger bedroom so she could perform a better webcam show. One model was threatened with jail unless she ratted on her drug dealer boyfriend ~ a few days later she called me for advice while on the lam, moving between strip clubs in Appalachia. Still, if they had a modicum of common sense and kept their wits about them, most of the models managed to grow up and out of the turmoil.
In my studies I’ve read and heard that photographers need to take risks to make emotive, powerful work. But I never quite understood, short of heading off to a war zone or infiltrating some clan or cult, how one did that? I thought for photography to be dangerous I’d have to travel and seek out the exotic... yet through this work I discovered a strange and different world almost next door.
I have relationships that have lasted the duration but for the most part my involvement was just a glimpse of the person for a few months, maybe a year. We’d have beers and I’d be their faux-Dad since they rarely had a functional one. There is a sadness in watching some poor underclass girl think that modeling would get her out of the traps. But this was surpassed by the horror of seeing what happened to the kids who did... they surged onto the ethereal party worlds of NY, Miami, and LA only to to be used and discarded within a year or two. You could see what the booze and coke did, the emergent crackles around the eyes, the multiple DUIs and serial lovers, the constant tap-tap-tap anxiety of never having a plan.
This project has been an indulgence made possible by my good fortune. I appreciate all the meaningful experiences and everything I was privy to, which I hope is apparent in the photographs.