This was a week of challenging shoots.
His parents were from Tonga. He was born in Tonga but raised in the Bay Area. I’ve spent a lot of time in the South Pacific—in Fiji, mostly—and nudity for men is almost unheard of. To cut through the tangible awkwardness at the beginning of the shoot I started in complete darkness and shot this with a flash(hence the awkward framing). In the dark I told him to pose any way he wanted. This is how he started.
After a while I had Trevor turn on a single light. I’ve found that when men are reticent about being photographed it helps to focus on their tattoos. As I recorded his tattoos I moved him and posed him in tiny ways. I said “You’re very religious, yes?” He nodded seriously. From my experience in the South Pacific, religion is taken extremely seriously. If I had to chose a single word to describe how he felt at this point it would be “sober”.
And then we came to this tattoo. I asked what it signified. “It’s for my brother. He’s in prison.” I asked how long he would be locked up. “He’s in San Quentin for life.”
As I posed him, I was honestly overwhelmed by his beauty. My reaction–and this surprised me–wasn’t erotic but almost entirely aesthetic. What a wonder, I thought. What a wonder a man is.
In many South Pacific cultures, the hair is considered extremely private. I asked him if he felt this way and he said “No. There are lots of old beliefs, but I don’t believe them.” I asked him to let his hair loose for this shot.
Almost immediately he tied his hair back up. On a strange whim, I decided to finish as we’d started. I positioned the camera straight toward the chair. I had Trevor turn off the lights and told the young man to pose however he wanted.
This is how he posed. I think it’s by far the most revealing of all the shots I took.
– PAUL MORRIS