November 18, 2012
• PANIC ATTACK IN THE TROPICS
• HUNTING THE WILD MODEL
• THE MAGIC OF HOSTELS, CONTINUED
• MY NEW BEST AMIGO, JULIO
• JEISON AND THE NOT-SO-NUDE PHOTO SHOOT
• ON NOT SHOWING THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
PANIC ATTACK IN THE TROPICS
I’m back in the brown-boy latitudes.
I got out of Nebraska just in time. I flew out of Omaha November 6 in pre-dawn frigid cold. I arrived in Santo Domingo later that day in 90-degrees-plus heat. Sweaty but happy.
I’ve rented a room in a hostel in the city’s Zona Colonial. The place is called the Hostel Condo Parque and although I was only going to be here for the first week, I like it so much I’m staying the whole 5 weeks.
The 5 weeks was a pretty random decision. When I purchased my ticket, I looked at the calendar and just chose a departure date and a return date, doing my best to trust my instincts and not overthink it. This is what works for me these days.
The Condo Parque is in most respects a typical no-frills third-world hostel, except that it’s owned and managed by a Swiss expatriate named Walter, who is just the kind of low-key, solid, reliable guy you need running a hostel in the Dominican Republic. The place is clean, well-managed, friendly, affordable and convenient. I recommend it highly. (I first stayed in a shared dorm room with 3 beds so I had roommates, and that was fine, but when I decided I was staying longer, I talked to Walter and got a great deal on a nice, big private room with a kitchenette.)
As soon as I’d dumped my stuff at the hostel, I went exploring.
One of the things I love about Latin American places is the street life, and Santo Domingo has a lot of it. I walked out of the hostel and into a bright, humid tropical afternoon filled with shouting street vendors, loud traffic, lots of people on the sidewalks and lots of color, both literally and figuratively. I breathed it in like a tonic, and strolled down the sidewalks, loving it.
And promptly had a panic attack.
I always conveniently forget how scary it can be the first time in a new, unfamiliar country. I’m excited, of course, but there’s a thin line between excitement and fear. So I’m walking around Santo Domingo and I notice how shallow my breathing is and how fast my heart is beating. When I recognize this, I stop, I breathe, I focus, and I do my best to step outside myself. From there I’m able to see the fear for the illusion that it is. This works most of the time (well, I’ve been practicing for a lot of years). Then, calmer and more centered, I continue on my way, able once again to be present and appreciate the adventure.
HUNTING THE WILD MODEL
But I’m not in the D.R. just to soak up a new culture and have adventures. I’m also here to do what I didn’t manage to do last time I was in Brazil: find some hot new models!
I feel like I’m on a make-or-break with the model thing. I got seriously down on myself after not finding a model after 6 weeks in Brazil a year ago (read about that here.) Of course I had no money at the time and no way to pay models even if I’d found one, or several. It just wasn’t meant to be, and I’m not beating myself up about it so much now, but still…I will feel much better on several levels when I manage to once again capture some naked pix of a hot new boy.
THE MAGIC OF HOSTELS, CONTINUED
After my experience at the MistiChill Hostel in Paraty, Brazil, last year (read about that here), as well as Pura Vida in Rio, I’ve become a confirmed hostel-goer. My introduce-myself-to-everyone-with-no-hesitation method of creating instant new social circles works very well in hostels, and the Condo Parque was no exception. After 24 hours in Santo Domingo I already had a dozen new friends and was having a great time.
MY NEW BEST AMIGO JULIO
I tried going out to the gay bars in Santo Domingo as soon as I arrived, but it was early in the week, and it’s a weekends-only scene here, unless you are interested in hustlers, which I’m not. I had some encounters with the very aggressive hustlers but I have enough experience in this area (think Brazil) that I know how to rid myself of them pretty easily.
But I was looking forward to a place where I could meet some regular non-hustler gay people.
I went to a bar called NYC on Thursday night, which is the first night of the weekend here, I guess, and was so turned off by the heavy hustler presence all around the front door that I didn’t even go in. But across the street was the other bar I wanted to check out, Esedeku (the phonetic spelling of SDQ, the Santo Domingo airport code). So I went over there, and to my relief, there were no hustlers, just regular, friendly people. Right away I started talking to the tall, good-looking guy behind the bar. His name was Julio.
It turned out Julio was the owner of the bar. He’s Mexican, from Puerto Vallarta, and he was new to the Dominican Republic—he had just bought the bar and moved to Santo Domingo two months before, from San Francisco. I told him about my model hunt, and he said he’d love to help me in any way he could. In fact, he immediately suggested I consider his bartender Jeison, who is a bodybuilder and is actually pretty hot.
Lots of people tell me they would love to help me with my model shoots, and usually they’re not very serious. To my surprise, Julio turned out to be the exception. The next day, he called and invited me to come with him to his gym and we could see if there’s anybody there that I like, and if so, he could introduce us.
That’s what we did, and I met a couple of guys right away through Julio. He was happy to go up to them and do the talking. I loved it! Even after all these years, the initial moment of going up to guys and talking to them about modeling still scares me and ties my stomach up in knots, and when I have somebody who’s happy to go up and meet the guys and do the hard work for me, I’m thrilled.
Over the next couple of days Julio and I spent a lot of time together talking about everything under the sun. He’s happy and excited to help me with the model hunt, and I’m happy to give him advice about running a business, which is something he’s doing for the first time. We enjoy each other’s company and it’s great having a new friend who’s not only fun to hang out with, but is excited about joining me in my D.R. model-hunt adventure.
Jeison AND THE NOT-SO-NUDE PHOTO SHOOT
One of the issues of being a male-nudes photographer on a severe budget in a foreign country is, where do I interview the models? It’s often difficult to bring them into my lodgings, especially when I’m staying in a hostel.
Julio, bless him, came to the rescue. He told me he’d be happy to let me use his bar as an interview location. He has a terrace atop the bar, so we decided to use that as an interview setting, and we scheduled an interview with bartender Jeison.
We set the interview for 1pm and Jeison showed up at 2pm. I wasn’t pleased about that, but when he started taking off his clothes and revealing that amazing physique, I began to forgive him. As Julio had said, Jeison had a really beautiful body. The more I saw of him, the more I liked him.
Something I always insist on during the interview is that the model get totally naked. I want him to be okay with full nudity, or it’s a dealbreaker. I’ve been doing it this way for over 30 years.
But once again, I find myself changing in unexpected ways.
ON NOT SHOWING THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
As you may know if you’re a regular follower of my art, I’ve recently been doing fewer full-frontal nudes. In my career it’s been almost a point of honor for me to never be afraid to show what seemed to frighten most other artists (and gallery owners)–the penis!
But I’m mellowing. I no longer feel the need to make that same statement, over and over again. If full frontal nudity feels natural and right in the work, great, I obviously have no problem with it. But I’m not going to go out of my way to make sure it’s always present.
I may sound casual as I say this, but it’s a BIG shift in my perspective.
I already knew, through Julio, that Jeison was not willing to “show everything.” Even in the recent past, I would have said, Okay, goodbye, not interested. But now, I look at Jeison and I think, hmmm, how would this work? And I began to get an idea.
I’m a big fan of those online photos where you see (presumably) straight boys in drunken weekend parties getting naked in front of each other and everybody else, sometimes baring all and sometimes hiding their privates with a hand or a hat or a bottle of beer. I love the mix of innocent fun and sexual tease. And as I thought about it, I thought it might be fun to do a photo shoot like that, and Jeison seemed like a good place to start.
So when we did the interview, I told him the plan was to do a “no completamente desnudo” (not completely nude) photo shoot. He would hide his privates with a towel, his hand, shorts, or whatever, and there would be lots of almost-naked-shots but nothing completely naked. He liked the sound of that, I thought it would be an intriguing experiment, and it was also going to cost me less than full nudity.
Now all we needed was a location.
Finding the model(s) is always a challenge. But after that you have two more challenges: finding a location, and finding transportation to and from the location. I’d recently met the owner of a Santo Domingo gay hotel (Adam Suites), a guy named Gilbert originally from Miami, and he gave me a good price for a van and driver. So that part was taken care of. Now I just needed a nice, secluded beach close to the city.
All the beaches within an hour or two of Santo Domingo are touristy and overbuilt, but I thought there must be a little cove or inlet or something somewhere along that long coastline where we could find some privacy. So Julio, myself, Jeison and the driver piled into the van, and went looking for that beach I was picturing.
But it was not happening. After we wasted an hour and a half of precious time trying to find a place that met my expections, we were all getting very frustrated. It was getting so late we had to stop somewhere and shoot some pictures, or I would have wasted the whole excursion.
So finally I said to the driver, Stop here, and the “here” was a place called Playa Guayacanes. It was typical of the beaches near Santo Domingo, by which I mean touristy and overpopulated, but because it was mid-morning on a weekend, the only people around were a few vendors and some fishermen. I looked around at the palm trees and the fishing boats and thought, you know, this is kind of picturesque. And it’s not a completely nude shoot anyway. Maybe I can make this work.
So we unloaded our gear and Jeison stripped down and we got started. As the session unfolded over the course of about 3 hours, I was surprised again and again by what great shots I was finding with the beach chairs, the fishing boats, the kiosks—all the stuff I had been so adamant about avoiding. In the end I was really happy I’d been able to let go of my preconceptions and trust that things were working the way they were for a reason.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that shooting an almost-nude gorgeous man was just as stimulating and interesting as shooting a totally nude gorgeous man. Not better, not worse, just a different set of challenges and possibilities.
Another plus: usually we’re in a secluded spot, the model is completely nude, and I’m always a bit on edge with the concern that we’ll be interrupted. It was nice not to have that worry for a change.
Through all this, Julio was a great asset. He’s the one who introduced me to the model, he supplied the setting for the interview, and he came along on the photo shoot to help out. I couldn’t believe my luck: not only did I have a new friend I really enjoyed being around, I also had a terrific volunteer assistant. Thanks Julio!
When we got back to the city in the early afternoon, I was exhausted (I always am after a photo shoot). But I felt great! I felt like I’d broken the model-hunt jinx and I was back in the saddle again. Plus I was over the moon about all the great new images I’d gotten! It was a great beginning to my Dominican adventure.
NOTE: If you’re reading this blog soon after it was posted, some of the first sketches I did of Jeison from the photo shoot described above may still be online and available.You can check by clicking here.
NEXT, IN LETTER FROM SANTO DOMINGO PART 2: TRIP TO LAS TERRENAS
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