Friday, January 13, 2017

New Manhattan Studios: First Crack At It

As part of FH's 2017 first theme, I am asking, (bugging) many of my favorite photographers about their first time shooting a nude model. It is always interesting to ask models about taking it off for the first time, but I am equally fascinated about the experience of the photographer. Were they nervous, excited or completely calm? Were there questions or concerns about the location, or how to approach a model about an idea or concept. What poses, lighting issues or technical concerns might come up during the shoot. How did they choose the model in question and how would they ensure they were on the same page creatively and with expectations. For New Manhattan Studio's Wes, the model was Ronan, and the reason for, and and title of, the shoot.... Chippendales Application.

'A local body-builder had found me online and wrote to see if I would take pictures to accompany his application for a job as a dancer at Chippendales. I was eager to take the assignment but weary of my abilities to deliver and in the end I proposed my first TFP session. I would be getting work for the studio’s portfolio and he would get the shots he needed for his job application. He didn’t know that I’d be submitting some of the same shots as part of my application for a photographer’s account on Model Mayhem.'

'As the session approached, I became concerned about not coming across as a dirty old man with camera. To give the operation a more legitimate air, I asked a friend to help out that day. I hoped having an assistant would convey a higher degree of professionalism and I didn’t want to be alone; I wanted someone to help keep the conversation going. (I might have secretly hoped that Joe would be making the requests to get the model out of his clothes but I didn’t task him with the job.)'

'I needn’t have worried about being alone or keeping the conversation going. The night before the scheduled session, Ronan called to ask if he could bring his girlfriend. I was concerned that she might inhibit his behavior in the studio, but he was insistent. I was already getting tongue-tied at the prospect of working with him and couldn’t do mental gymnastics fast enough to come up with a sound reason to say no. I agreed.'

'It turned out that I needn’t have worried about the GF either. I in retrospect, I wonder if she might have been the one pushing the Chippendale’s idea. She was cooperative and discrete. Ostensibly she was there to keep an eye on his hair and makeup, but since he didn’t use makeup, there wasn’t much role for her except to keep an eye on her boyfriend.'

'I broke the work into two sessions. We did fashion and lifestyle work outdoors. Mostly we did the Chippendale work back in the studio. I did OK while we were outside. I gave off the air of someone who knew what he was doing. For the most part. Except for the incident with the hidden pot hole in the park lawn. While walking backward, away from the model, I had stepped into a pothole in the grass. I lost my balance and went tumbling forward onto the cement sidewalk and my camera. I bruised a rib, twisted an ankle and dented the rim of the lens on my brand new camera.'

'We had spent the morning outside, working on portfolio shots. Once back in the studio for the Chippendales shots, the girlfriend became restless. When she found beer left over from a reception held in the studio a few days earlier, I told her to help herself. Soon she was out of the way, quietly enjoying a beer and a cigarette on the patio. Joe, the assistant, however, was becoming quite the vocal reflector holder. With little to do in the studio, he plopped down on a couch in front of the model and became Chatty Kathy.

Soon I regretted not having had a discussion of proper studio behavior as his comments became increasingly suggestive. I glared as he babbled on and was relieved when the GF came back inside and sat down next to him on the couch. Soon the two of them were engaged in a quiet private conversation and I focused on my dilemma of what to say to a get a man naked.'

'Ronan and I had already agreed that there would be no full nudity but we failed to discuss exactly how far he would go. I struggled to find the words and phrases to get him out of his clothes. Having the girlfriend behind me made it no easier. It took me forever to get up the courage to ask him to undress for the camera and we were down to the final hour of the day before I even started. I’ve since learned not to watch as models disrobe. It’s much easier on each of us if I find something to do, like resetting the thermostat. And although I’ve now done this many times over the years and I’m no longer tongue-tied (usually), it still takes time for me to work up the courage to ask a hunk of a stranger to get naked.'

These days, the pace of a session is driven more by building trust and a rapport. There needs to be a certain comfort level in the room before I’ll proceed to nude work. And the better looking the guy, the longer it takes me to get there. I suspect my fifteen-year-old self will always be in the room, too. To this day, he’s still in awe of the fact that such ridiculously gorgeous men are letting us take pictures of them naked. He keeps running around the back of my head, shouting things like “This is fucking awesome! Don’t fuck this up, dude; don’t fuck this up!”

'By the time the girlfriend was on her third beer, she was sharing it with Ronan. As she became “happier,” she, too, became more vocal. Now the model had two leering, cheering observers. As the crowd became more raucous and the teasing more pointed, I began to wonder if the model was starting to feed off his audience. If so, he was also embarrassed and annoyed by his girlfriend’s increasingly bawdy behavior. My own stress levels rose as I struggled with new studio lights and watched my assistant morph into the dirty old man that models dread.

Looking back at the edited work, it’s clear I paid a price for never having worked with the lights before, which is a pity. The session got more interesting as my confidants-behind-the-camera took over the task of coaxing the clothes off the model. As she was starting her fourth beer, the girlfriend beckoned me onto the patio. There she set about colluding with me, scheming to get her boyfriend naked. I was interested but dubious. She’d had more to drink than Ronan.'

'She was undeterred. Back inside, she teased. She coaxed. I didn’t have to do anything but snap my shutter. The power of her feminine wiles, however, was diminished by the fact that Ronan saw her to be in collusion with me to get him out of his pants. She reminded him of his target audience: the customers at Chippendales. She convinced him that he needed to show some more skin for the application. She was making a better sales pitch than I could ever have made and grudgingly, the model was paying attention. He complied as she instructed him to pull the pants further down. I was taking careful mental notes.

The next day I discovered an entire six-pack of empty beer cans and I have not permitted alcohol in the studio since. Looking back at the pictures, I can’t help but wonder what the GF and I might have accomplished if the dirty old man without a camera hadn’t been in the room. Joe had, ultimately, played into the very stereotype I’d enlisted him to counteract. Without Joe, at the very least, I suspect Ronan might have been smiling, not glaring, when he announced, “OK, enough. That’s as far as I’m going.” I never heard from either of them again but I like happy endings. Like one where everyone (including the audiences at Chippendales) lived happily ever after. I feel I have.'

Check out more of Ronan at his gallery on New Manhattan Studios HERE:

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