I posted a new profile picture on Facebook a few weeks ago and the resulting comments were nothing short of astounding. In a good way. But I must confess to being a bit embarrassed by the emphatic nature of the compliments. Don’t get me wrong—I’m just as happy to receive flattering remarks as the next guy. But in this case it seemed like the people leaving comments under the photograph were seeing something I wasn’t. And it occurred to me that that is, in fact, the nature of photography: it’s as much an illusion as it is a record of reality.
Let me elaborate:
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to be photographed on many occasions, in many different circumstances and for many different purposes. I’ve also had the good fortune to work with some terrific photographers, and from these experiences I’ve learned lots.
My first photo shoot after going into porn was for a Chi Chi LaRue movie. The photographer and I were working on the first floor while Chi Chi was in the office upstairs. Being a novice I took the photographer’s directions and, even though it felt off, gave him the grimaces and sneers he asked for to make me look rough. Somehow Chi Chi was seeing the results in progress because at one point she came running into the room and demanded I stop trying to look tough. Basically, her argument was that, because I was, um, old those expressions would not suit my face. Also, because I do generally tend to be on the lean side, I needed a softer look to keep myself from appearing too craggy.
Ever after that first shoot, I would simply refuse (courteously) if a photographer asked for “stern.” “Gus Mattox does not do stern,” I’d respond.
Another result of that first shoot was that I went home, set up the camera tripod, positioned a mirror and practiced different poses. That way I knew ahead of time which angles were flattering and which weren’t. (Plenty aren’t, I assure you,)
What I learned is that my legs look best when I plant my feet either parallel or in third position and rotate my hips outward. It flexes and splays the muscles in a way that no other pose does.
Since I am cursed with a bit of a spare tire around my waist you’ll almost never see a photo of me shot head-on with my body flat to front. I usually twist my torso at the waist, if even just a bit.
The best way to give the illusion of having better abs is to expel every bit of air in one’s lungs. You don’t even have to flex your stomach muscles if you do this—it happens automatically. Those models in those photos that you just love? They’re on the verge of collapse from lack of oxygen.
Chi Chi was right about my face: it is old. I can look pretty craggy if the lighting is off. But here’s my foolproof trick: In every photograph of me—smiling or not—my smile muscles are ever-so-slightly engaged. The difference is quite amazing. Also, it presents a friendlier countenance.
If one doesn’t have a great butt (and I don’t; it’s fifty years old and just so-so) I find shifting one’s weight to one hip towards the camera helps gives it shape and firmness.
These are just some of the things I do while being photographed. I imagine all models have their own established techniques. But here is the numero uno trick that makes shirtless models look so trim: the waistband of the underwear or trousers is positioned way, way below what would be the case in real life. Take a look at an underwear spread. The waistband rests just above the model’s pubes (in some cases, when they’re trimmed way down, even lower.) This is the easiest way to give someone a longer torso and a narrower waist.
It goes without saying that the photographer’s eye is the most important element in a successful photo shoot. I’m convinced that on any shoot a second photographer could walk onto the set, use the same lighting, model and pose and come up with a very different result. The two pictures below were shot less than a week apart (by Mick Hicks and Hudson Wright, respectively.) Same model, same time frame and even the same facial hair, but they present very different looks.
And now let’s get back to that Facebook photo.
John Skalicky shot it in Los Angeles in January of this year. (At top is the unretouched version for comparison.) It’s going to be the poster image for the new show I’m doing in Provincetown this summer. John shot the Canned Ham poster and I’m convinced that’s why most of the audience showed up. John is my hands-down favorite. There are plenty of images from that day in which I just don’t look good. You’ll have to trust me (because you’ll never see them.) But once we got in the groove the hard part was choosing just one shot from so many good ones.
Let’s analyze the below (“after”) picture through my eyes. Even though I’m wearing pants I’m still doing the hip-rotation thing. My weight is cocked onto my right hip, thereby flattening a little my spare tire on my right. (Take a look at my left side; it’s more pronounced.)
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