Can you actually make a living taking pictures of guys in their underpants?
We asked the pros!
Three years ago, fab spoke to New York–based photographer Joe Oppedisano about his incredibly hot collections of male nudes. He had produced three topselling books, a calendar and a making-of DVD. We were eager to ask what comes next for one of the world’s sexiest gay photographers.
Not much, it turns out. His website, joeoppedisano.com, now focuses more on his commercial fashion photography. “I love my gay boys but I need to eat and pay my rent,” he says, revealing that his top-10 calendar and DVD for 10percent.com earned him “about $500 in royalties.” With a grim chuckle he says, “10 percent is what they say they’ll pay you.” Sadly, Oppedisano went to the card-and-calendar company after similar problems with massive gay art-book publisher Bruno Gmünder. “I got so dicked over by both of them,” he says.
Lindsay Lozon, long-time fab cover photographer, has had three books published by Bruno Gmünder. He’s more diplomatic than Oppedisano, but he too says he’s getting out of the boy-photo biz. Having a big bound collection of your shots is great but “they’ve got a lifespan of about a year,” says Lozon. “The publisher will push them until they’re no longer hot.” Meanwhile, he says, homophobia, even in the fashion industry, can interfere with other work. Fifteen years ago he was up for a job shooting for Eaton’s, but one woman on the board turned up her nose saying, “Lindsay only shoots guys in their underwear.” Oppedisano also admits, “Because I was doing all this homoerotic photography, a lot of clients stopped booking me.” Those days are over, he says. “I’m very fortunate that people love what I do, but I’m way too old to be a starving artist.”
Thanks to the digital camera, it’s never been easier to be a photographer or harder to make a living at it, says Lozon. “Because there’s no cost involved, new photographers are out there shooting their brains out and thinking that one day it’s going to bring them money. Well, I’ve got a surprise for them. The only thing it’s going to get them is more requests to do more freebies. You can always get someone else to do it for nothing.”
David Hawe, also a long-time fab cover photographer, agrees. “Everyone’s crying poor and every business now has some asshole secretary who decides that they can take the photos because they’ve got a digital camera.” He shrugs at Lozon and Oppedisano’s stories because they’re sadly typical. “It’s easy to get ripped off,” he says. “I never got paid for doing shots for Body Body Wear. They even denied that I took the pictures at one point.” Hawe enjoys his work and says fun alone has to sustain anyone getting into photography. Are you dreaming of making a fortune from a published collection of work? “It’s a great thing to have a book but they’re really just for people’s egos,” says Hawe.
fab photographer Tony Fong says that while the art of the male nude is “definitely a dying profession,” provocative work can still push past the huge volume of material now available. “We just need a crap filter,” he laughs. “I like the energy that develops within a shoot. The models start to feel sexy in front of the camera even though you’re not really playing to that. You’re too busy thinking of all the technical ways to make them look as great as possible. They’re just pieces of meat, really.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In a Facebook world, the stigma of posing nude for photos is almost gone. Oppedisano loves the social networking sites and fan blogs. “They gave me a lot of exposure that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ll throw new stuff up on Facebook and get immediate feedback, which I really like.”
For his part, Hawe enjoys playing with Photoshop. “When I go out to parties, I’ve been taking typical Facebook pictures — everyone’s saying, ‘Here we are!’ and ‘Look at us here’ — and then Photoshopping shit into the background that was never there. I like to add in naked people, beer-belly guys and people throwing up. I turn the party into what I wanted it to be.” That said, he cautions other photographers against relying too heavily on software. “Just take a better picture,” he yells. Oppedisano says he routinely used Photoshop to remove specks and problems before realizing, “Maybe I should just clean my lens.”
All these photographers agree that, while the digital era has destroyed the old business model, it’s also unveiled new possibilities. Oppedisano is looking to self-publish his new material. “I won’t let anyone treat me like that again,” he says. And there’s a true success story in Mike Ruiz. A former actor and model, the Montreal-born fashion photographer now shuttles back and forth between New York and LA, capturing ultra-glossy visions of celebrities and fashionistas. He directs music videos and recently stepped back in front of the camera to appear in the reality TV shows starring his friends Kathy Griffin, Jay Manuel and RuPaul. Underneath the glamour, Ruiz admits, all that TV is keeping him in business. “Whatever opportunities present themselves, I jump all over them,” he says, noting that his appearances this year on Canada’s Next Top Model are part of an effort “to create a recession-proof career.”
But, of course, Ruiz isn’t shooting nudes. Oppedisano has a new idea: he’s playing with covering over the naughty bits in his own photos. “By censoring myself, I can actually do what I want while making a statement about how stupid this attitude is. It’s a classic nude. There’s nothing offensive about it; it’s the human body,” he fumes. It’s not just about what’s sexy, he says, it’s a commitment to art. “You have to challenge people. That’s the responsibility of the artist, to see what’s happening in the world and comment on it.” Lozon says that attitude is key. “Do your own thing. I can’t stress that enough. It’s so important to be recognized for your own work.”