A few weeks ago, before Christmas, I was introduced to Tommy by my friend Kawai. Tommy (who works as a dancer in Waikiki under the name Christian) is originally from Arizona, and has only lived in Hawaii a few months. I had seen him dancing on the dais at Hula’s from time to time and was definitely interested in meeting him. When he walked into my apartment for a preliminary meeting, I was struck by how tall and beautifully proportioned he is. Plus he has beautiful eyes, among other things. I knew I wanted to work with him but had to put it off until after Christmas because of my usual visit-the-family trip to Nebraska. Finally in mid-January 2009 I managed to find a time that worked for both Tommy and me.
On a weekday morning at sunrise (the better to avoid a populous beach), Tommy and I drove to an area near Diamond Head and hiked down a surfer trail to the beach. We were lucky; it was a nice sunrise and a nice morning. A few clouds, but still some great light.
I began with some calm, static poses, since both photographer and model needed to warm up. I was also stalling a bit, waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon so I would have that magic light.
As soon as the sunlight began to strike the beach, I had Tommy begin moving. The first thing I had him do was run up and down the beach. (One of the things I’ve realized about myself as a photographer recently is how much I like action shots. I mean, I knew this for a long time but only recently did I realize that not every photographer does this. I’m not much for carefully posed shots with an orchestrated backdrop. I’d rather just put the model into a situation and turn him loose and see what happens.)
After Tommy had done some running and gotten warmed up (and with his long, graceful legs and body, that made for some great shots) , I had him jump into the surf and get wet. (Jumping into the ocean naked in the chilly air of dawn is a bit of a shock for a model, but not that much of a hardship when you compare Hawaii to much of the rest of the world…the water here is pretty warm even in January!)
Then, once he’d gotten wet, I had him come out of the water and begin rolling around on the beach while the surf alternately rolled in over him, creating beautiful splashing patterns, and receded, leaving him lying in the wet sand. (Seriously, one of my favorite things to photograph is a beautiful naked man rolling around in the surf in the golden light of dawn. I mean, how can you go wrong??)
One of my favorite things to do with a model, especially an inexperienced model who is a bit unsure, is tell them to act like they’re totally drunk and stagger around for a bit before falling down, as drunkenly and awkwardly as possible. This often results in unusual, provocative images that somehow manage to be awkward and beautiful at the same time. These can be a total delight, and a real challenge, to draw. And every once in a while, you do get a magical image that works as a photograph as well as a potential drawing or painting. Just as importantly, though, it relaxes the model and that’s always a good thing.
As beautiful as the setting and the light were, Tommy’s body was their equal. He reminds me of a thoroughbred racehorse, with those long beautiful legs, and an elegance and grace that comes through no matter what.
Of course the natural next set of poses after rolling around in the surf is grabbing a towel and drying off. I must have shot forty or fifty thousand shots of this in my career, but it’s always beautiful, and one reason for that is it’s such a natural thing. And in my book, there are fewer things sexier than a beautiful man drying off…
I shot Tommy in many other poses and settings in the area, and finally when the light started getting a bit flat and I was tired, I told him, Okay, we’re done! And of course as soon as I said that, he relaxed in a way he hadn’t been able to for the previous couple of hours. This almost always happens, especially with a less-experienced model. As soon as I tell him the shoot is over and you can dry off and get dressed, he stops trying to pose and look beautiful and just becomes himself. This is what happened with Tommy. At that moment I start shooting like crazy, before the model catches on that he’s still being photographed. In those few moments I often capture a side of the model that was not available up to that point.
It was a great photo shoot, but I think I only scratched the surface. Tommy has such a beautiful, elegant body, I think I only began to capture all that he has to offer visually. So I may have to do another shoot with him. Plus he will be more relaxed a second time, and that will make a big difference. In the meantime, though, I have a lot of beautiful images of him to work from. And the photographs themselves are so nice I may release some of them before I even begin drawing and painting from them.