When Pony told me Tassos was coming in for a second time, I was a bit shocked. And nervous: I remembered how difficult it had been to photograph him the first time. And it was even more difficult this time around.
There are typically two main reasons why a man returns for a second shoot. Either he’s letting me know that he’s interested in giving porn a try, or else he’s very much in need of money. Tassos had let Pony know that he was absolutely not going to do anything beyond the photo shoots. Pony told me that Tassos had seemed almost angry at the idea.
Since it wasn’t about porn, I assumed he was doing this for the money. Money has always been one of the great translators of sexuality for me. Having been a hustler for over a decade of my life, I like to think that I understand the manifold motivations a man has for “selling” himself.
The idea that he was doing this for money actually put me at ease, and I felt more comfortable trying more explicitly sexualized shots. Pony had put some green fabric on the floor and I had Tassos relax on it.
But here’s the thing: at around this point I took a break. During the break our bookkeeper asked me to mention to Tassos that he hadn’t cashed the check for the last shoot. Bookkeepers pay attention to that sort of thing.
When I went back to the studio, I mentioned that he hadn’t cashed his last check. He used his hands to indicate tearing and said “Thrown away.” And suddenly I felt like a tiny ship on very deep waters.
Most of the subsequent shots were disastrous—out of focus, too dark, the obvious result of my nervousness. As I fumbled and snap bad shot after bad shot, Tassos was absolutely calm and unreadable. It wasn’t disconnection but something else. The only way I can describe is a profound Eros. Eros not thwarted or frustrated but distanced. The power and presence of Eros magnified by being held at a perfect distance.
We had finished the shoot. I was frustrated more than I can say. Finally Tassos climbed back on the black wooden block and reached down for his clothes. I barked out “Stop! Don’t move!” And he stayed absolutely still while I shot this.
When I looked at this later, the word “utopia” came to mind, Eros the distant but utterly attainable portal to the perfect world. I believe in this completely. This young Greek man in a simple move had revivified the mystery for me.