For me, the highlight of last Sunday's EMMY Awards was seeing author Margaret Atwood walk up the stage. Margaret deserved the well earned applause she received. Atwood is one of my favorite authors, even if Cat's Eye was forced upon me by my grade 11 English teacher. It was great to see the writer of Handmaid's Tale get the recognition she deserves.
Another of Atwood's novels, 1985's Alias Grace premieres on both CBC and Netflix on Monday. I have not read Alias Grace, but the story of the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada looks promising. It doesn't hurt one of the stars is actor Edward Holcroft, an actor I first noticed in the mini-series London Spy, and his role in Kingsman, The Secret Service.
Holcroft and Taron Egerton looking hot and wet in Kingsman The Secret Service
The first time I saw Justin O'Keith's, those many angles and positions had me excited to be able to feature his work. The first images that I saw were visually edgy, incredibly sexy and uniquely creative. There is an energy in Justin's work that is bold and fresh and perfectly represents the 'unapologetically provocative' theme, which has become the motto for his company, Justin O'Keith Creative.
We were not able to use the model in those first images of Justin's that I saw, but that ended up a fortunate misfortune. When Justin sent on his work with bodybuilder Blake Owens, I knew we had the perfect example to showcase Justin's creative vision. I don't tend to feature many bodybuilder, and not because I don't appreciate their look and the lines and curves on a muscled physique. I appreciate and respect the dedication and commitment to their bodies and profession, I just don't always feel photographers know how to shoot the artistically. The focus tends to be directed on muscle only, often missing the creative blending of physical strength with the unique qualities and personality of the model being captured.
As is immediately evident, this was not the case in Justin's work with Blake. It was important to both photographer and model that viewers see more than just a physically strong and sexy beast, but also the beauty and vulnerabilities of the man beyond those muscles. Through his images, Justin looks to provoke and amaze, and for Blake, the goal is encourage and inspire. Blake encourages everyone to be open and honest with their goals, and he strives to practice what he preaches. For Blake, this transparency magnetizes others toward you who respect those qualities. It also allows others to see the 3-dimensional person, and you became who are. Once known only singularly as the 'big guy with the mean face who lifts', through sharing his story, Blake has seen doors open, and relationships formed that otherwise would not have been possible.
During his senior year of high school, Blake was forced to sit the football season after injuring his shoulder, and having a subsequent surgery during his junior year. Blake had been an All-State player and his goal was to obtain an appointment at the United States Military Academy at West point. In order to ensure he didn't get medically disqualified, he couldn't risk playing the game that he loved and had played all of his life, during his pinnacle year of Texas HS football. It was during this time, still needing something physical to focus on, that bodybuilding entered Blake's life.
'I went to train at a new gym after school everyday just to get my mind off the season that fall of my senior year .It gave me something to compete against. Growing up, as kind of a thicker skinned country boy, it also gave me the opportunity to look better than I had ever looked. I feel I needed at the time as without football, I was feeling incredibly unaccomplished. Even after I received my appointment to the Academy, I was deeply in love with the sport and couldn't imagine not being able to eat all my meals and train daily and continue to grow and develop. Just 20 weeks in, I was seeing myself change.'
Blake went on to attend West Point and played football for a over a year as a deep snapper and fullback. In addition, Blake collegiality participated in the USAPL Nationals for Army's Power Lifting team the following spring. On the surface, everything seemed to be coming together for Blake, especially sports wise. When not on the field, or in the gym, things were not as easy, academic stress and struggles were starting to build.
'To this day, I haven't said much about it, but this is a new me and I am a man who bears transparency to establish trust with others. I ended up leaving West Point after plagiarizing a paper and getting an Honor Board pending against me that, in the wake of all the circumstances of my academic struggles at the academy, was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. Fearful of what my punishment would be and if I would even be able to handle the stresses of it, I left. I signed my resignation papers, received an honorable discharge, and arguably left behind one of the biggest opportunities at that point in my life.'
Gutted, Blake returned home to Texas and began working at a sports nutrition store. Although he continued to compete in body building competitions, was plagued with injuries and stomach issues due to his dieting and a high liver enzyme count. It is during these bad life circumstance, that we all find ourselves in from time to time, that Blake believes often tests our dedication to our passions. Although Blake recounts having picked himself up many times in the past, never before with the tangible and practical goals he was now seeing before him. For the first time he was seeing the future, and the financial opportunities before him, that he had never been able to see clearly before.
'I think at times living amongst very conservative North Texans can take a toll on your confidence if you let it because every old guy has his opinion over why you're whatever bigoted term they decide to label you as. I changed my attitude and relentlessly pursued achievement in the scope of my passion. As Marcus Aurelius states in his memoirs "he who lives in harmony with himself, lives in harmony with the universe." I truly believe ANYONE can be ANYTHING they want if they put their mind to it, and that is the message I want to spread, practice, and preach. My goal is to say "hey, just because I'm that big guy with the serious look doesn't mean I can't crack a joke, make you feel good about yourself, be compassionate, etc." I love the fact that as a trainer, likewise as a competitor, I get to invest my time in others just like I invest in myself and therefore epitomize the idea of "do as I say BECAUSE OF what I do".'
Blake truly believes in the principles of iron sharpening iron. The phrase, 'As iron sharpens iron', comes from Proverbs 27:17 and illustrates the mutual benefit in bringing two iron blades together and how strength and talent can sharpen one another. This is certainly the case in combining Blake's strength and passion with the talent and creativity of artist Justin O'Keith. Blake's sponsor, Optimum Fitness, first brought the two iron men together and Blake says they quickly became a great team.
'I jumped on the opportunity with an open mind and just let Justin be his professional self and do what he thought worked best theme wise and pose wise. He honestly made it really easy for me to just be me and flex (haha!). Justin goes through thrift stores and finds the coolest things that we can create a theme for a shoot with; as intricate as homemade masks/thongs/straps/etc or as simple as eye black making ALL THE DIFFERENCE in our football shoot. Justin is THE most creative professional I have ever worked with and now that he is my manager as well we have great rapport and the content is only getting, how should I say, edgier? In the best of ways.'
Justin's passion for photography began while in high school. He always enjoyed taking pictures and served as yearbook editor in both high school and in college. It was during his first semester of law school, that Justin began to feel that something was missing. He needed a creative outlet, and a trip to Best Buy resulted in the purchase of his first professional camera. 'I just went crazy and took it to Europe also during my study abroad and captured some epic shots.' Justin's images have the feel of an artist who has been practicing his craft for decades, but his decision to pursue capturing the male form only began last summer.
'I was a natural light photographer for 10 years so I wanted to try the studio setting. I fell in love with it. You are always told to do what you know. There are so many male photographers who shoot women only. When they do shoot men it is generic and flat. I like to bring life to my male models. They are overlooked and not given the same detail as female models. Also I have an easy time connecting with them so they can let their personalities come out. I am a former high school and college athlete. I also use to be an Olympic lifter and am slowly getting back into that. When you have someone shooting you who knows what it is like to train and can share similar experiences you can bring out so much in them. Also for me it is so much easier working with male models. I lay out the terms and we get to working.'
The provocative edge stems from Justin's best friend. Her initial response to his work was that it was good... but could be better. Initially bothered as he struggled to how to improve, Justin went work trying new and edgier themes and look. It worked, people began talking about his work, and the 'provocative' was the word usually used.
'At first I was offended, then I embraced it. Uapologetically Provocative became the motto for my company. I do not care what people think of my work. Art is supposed to make you think and cause a reaction. If not then it has not done its job. I want to shock and amaze people. Make them seem the world from a different point of view than they are used to. Make them question things and this image they are viewing. My art always me to fully be in control. It allows me to create without limits. It allows me to be myself and to be free. I put so much of my heart, soul and spirit into my work. I think you can feel the emotion when you see my images.'
'I was referred to Blake by his bodybuilding sponsor and coach. I have a partnership with him to shoot his clients for modeling portfolios and also fitness shots for them. Blake had modeled in the past and was ready to make it happen. I send all of my clients a questionnaire that outlines what options they have for the shoot. Basically they set the terms for their shoot and I accommodate it. That way they are comfortable and we know what we are doing. Blake was not really into anything edgy. He wanted to stay vanilla and I respected that. Once he got to know me and we started to chat he opened up a bit. He thinks of this as a business and he is able to separate the personal from the professional. This makes it easy for him to execute shoots. The mask he found to be too much at first then he was like I can do that. So we killed that look. The guy that has gone from 0 to 100 within a week lol. We have worked together about 4 or 5 times now each time coming up with more racy and fun ideas. He is young and a go-getter. whatever he wants to do he makes happen.'