Blab August 2002
Published Aug 01, 2002I'm not sure why I all of a suddenly decided to try to segue into fashion photography, a world that seems from the outside about as hermetically sealed as the terrorist prison on Guantanamo Bay. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the porn magazines for which I've been shooting over the last three or four years have slashed their budgets, cutting my profit margin, after expenses, almost in half. Maybe it's because as a homosexual I have a biologically determined attraction to all things stylish and superficial. Or maybe, just maybe, I needed a hobby.
It's not like I haven't had any connection to the fashion set in the past. After all, I did use supermodel Tony Ward, ex-ashtray of Madonna, as the lead in my movie Hustler White, an experience that proved to me that models can, contrary to popular belief, make excellent actors. In fact the models that I've worked with so far haven't lived up to the stereotype of the brainless mannequin at all. In my humble estimation, modelling is a perfectly respectable profession requiring a lot of savvy and skill. It's actors who often seem terribly dull and contrived and egotistical and annoying. I'm not sure why so many models aspire to become actors, and not the reverse. Modelling is much more glamorous. Look at Andy Warhol. He became a model in his 50s. I was also introduced several years ago by one Harmony Korine to the famous fashion photog Terry Richardson and his wife at the time, supermodel Nikki Uberti, who introduced me to the notion that you can work in fashion and still be cool. I ended up putting both of them in my last movie, Skin Flick, and hanging out with Terry inspired me to take up photography seriously after dabbling in it for a number of years.
My first shot at shooting fashion was for Elm Street, a Toronto-based magazine geared toward a relatively staid and mainstream readership. Its fashion editor, David Livingstone, invited me to essay a little men's spread last August in whatever direction took my fancy. As I had been dating the Muslim for about six months at that time, I was currently fixated on Arabic and East Indian men, particularly those with well-groomed beards and swarthy good looks. When we called one of the casting agencies to track down models of this kind, one of them suggested we try one of the local cab companies, a little racist jest that only steeled my resolve to pursue my vision. A casting call produced no men with beards, no Arabic looking men, and only two East Indian models, one of whom I cast. The other I met off the internet, a very handsome Arab fellow with a full beard who works as an aircraft mechanic at Pearson International Airport whom I also shot for Honcho magazine. I shot the pair in a fairly conventional way, with just a soupcon of homosexual subtext. Little did I know that only several weeks after the shoot the events of September 11 would render my choice of models, when the magazine came out at the end of the month, almost diabolical. Oh well, what can I say? My timing has always been impeccable.
Six months later after the controversy blew over, Mr. Livingstone courageously invited me to shoot another fashion spread, this time involving two female models and one male. We shot it in the swimming pool of some rich homosexual who made his fortune writing books on quantum physics. On this shoot I cast a lovely model named Rita who struck me as a cross between Traci Lords and Monica Vitti. I had recently been re-watching a lot of Antonioni movies, so when a local stylist, Cameron Williamson, suggested we collaborate on a shoot for the British magazine Sleazenation, whose fashion editor happens to be a big fan of my movies, I came up with the idea of recreating a scene from Antonioni's L'Avventura using Rita as my Monica. The scene in question involves Miss Vitti walking on a street in Palermo looking very glamorous as a bunch of Italian men surround and ogle her as if she were a big juicy chicken drumstick. I figured that that's how most straight men look at models anyway, so why not make it literal? For the lascivious men I recruited ten of my friends of various sizes, shapes and ages, including the members of Cheerleader, a local band for which I'd previously made a little music video. I suppose it was inevitable that the day in July we chose for the shoot turned out to be the hottest of the year, reaching 36 degrees, and almost unbearably humid. It also happened to coincide with Toronto's garbage strike. The location I chose was a small street nestled in the middle of Chinatown where some of the members of Cheerleader rent a ramshackle little house, which of course has no air conditioning. And so it was that the stylist and his assistant schlepped a carload of Chanel and Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith clothing across town to the basement of this little inferno where they were expected to dress everyone in the latest fall fashions. Much sweating ensued.
My camera assistant and I set up the lights on the little street while Rita and the ten men were prepared by the stylists and make-up and hair people inside the easy-bake oven house. Surprisingly, they all emerged looking decidedly autumnal, except for the rivers of sweat pouring down their faces. Except for Rita, who somehow managed to appear as if she'd just stepped out of a cold storage unit. I guess that's why she gets the big bucks. After shooting several scenarios wherein the men stared malevolently at Rita as she walked by in her little black Chanel dress, pawing and prodding at her, I noticed a big pile of smelly, maggot-infested garbage in a nearby alley beside which lay a dirty old discarded mattress. I don't know what came over me, maybe it was the Tennessee Williams-like heat, but the next thing you know the trajectory of the shoot, without giving away too many details, went uncomfortably in the direction of Hubert Selby, Jr.'s Last Exit to Brooklyn. I don't know what it is about me, but whenever I try to do something artistic, it always ends up in a gang rape.
Anyway, when I got the film back I couldn't tell whether it was genius or crap, which is always a good sign. Maybe I shouldn't have watched both Blow Up and Mahogany for inspiration, two films that contain maniacal, jacked-up fashion photographers who will go to any lengths to capture that perfect fashion moment of terrifying realness. In the latter, Anthony Perkins as the evil homosexual photographer Sean McEvoy ends up driving his model creation, Mahogany, played by Diana Ross, off an unfinished bridge in a little sports car to create his ultimate fashion vision, snapping her horrified facial expressions as he plummets to his own death. I'm not sure I want to take my fashion career to such a fashionable extreme, but you never know.