Often, at the beginning of a shoot, we’ll experiment with lighting and I’ll take bunches of throw-away shots. It’s a matter of getting to know the terrain of the man’s body and how different lights work with him. Pony was shining the light down on Benny’s torso and I glimpsed him looking at me. I quickly raised the camera and grabbed this shot.
Another shot taken in the first testing part of the shoot. I’m including it because it gives a sense of his size, his strength and his general presence. He turned out to be one of the most complex men I’ve shot.
He’s 26, a surfer who lives down the coast in Santa Cruz. If he had the temperament to do so he could easily dominate anyone. But more than anyone I’ve shot in recent memory, he has the feel of a man who longs to be objectified, to be put to use. He clearly longed to be needed, to be touched. With every pose I rested my hands on him, gently moved him. I finally asked him about his sexuality. “It’s complex,” he answered.
He was right.
Until very recently, straight surf culture was the dominant element of his life. He had girlfriends, never thought about men. He was in a serious relationship, one that he assumed would lead to marriage. And then his girlfriend introduced him to a man to whom he felt irresistibly attracted. And an entirely new part of him was awakened.
His entire persona was shaken. With this stranger, a gay man, he learned that he loves being used, bound, fucked. He told me that his entire sexual focus moved from his cock to his ass. In a serious of quick decisions, he came to San Francisco, appeared in a bisexual bondage video. And while I felt an undeniable excitement at his story, the clear truth was that it is tormenting him.
I stood in front him for a long while and just looked at him. He stood quietly, hands held, a slight smile, waiting. How, I wondered, would one deeply engage with this man? He still loves women, he’s ineluctably drawn to sex with men. A lifetime of identity is being renegotiated as he tries to piece himself together again. None of his surf buddies know anything about this. In the past year, he’s stopped surfing and instead has shot and produced two very fine surf videos. He’s creative, bright, lost.
Without thinking, I had him put his hands behind his head. I got on the ground and shot up. I didn’t know what I was going for, what I wanted from him. He looked down at me, obviously wondering where I was going with this. I kept asking for slight changes to the pose; I kept moving lights around, shifting my point of view.
I finally stood and pressed gently on his torso to get this arch. As I moved him I ran my hand through the fur on his chest and belly. He welcomed and needed the touch, the feel of a man making something with him, molding him, posing him. I stood back and took this, the last shot of the session. For most men, this would have felt like a self-conscious, even a silly, pose. But for Benny it was a fulfillment.
The last thing I did was to wipe away the small drops of sweat that were running down the side of his torso. I tasted them: salty as seawater.
– PAUL MORRIS