THE ENDANGERED LARRIKIN
Paul Freeman’s photography of manly men remains as hot as ever, but with tech giants censoring the internet and social media, will old-fashioned print save the day?
Paul Freeman’s photography of manly men remains as hot as ever, but can it survive the tech giants’ censorship?
DNA: Congratulations on both new books. What are you looking for in your subjects? Paul Freeman: My characters are usually unselfconsciously handsome and carefree. They’re immune to fashion or styling, not manicured, pretty natural and unwashed to boot. There’s a bit of raw beast about them. It’s a version of masculinity that’s pretty well extinct, I guess. So how do you find these near-extinct raw beauties?
Most of my subjects find me these days via Instagram. They know I have a particular style and I’m going to interpret them according to that style.
What sort of men want to model for you? Gay, straight, extroverts, professional models? Over the last few years it’s mainly gay men. A lot of straight men have been scared off by online exposure. Occasionally a straight guy sees my books at their gay friends’ house and wants to get photographed in that way – not just naked but in that style. Killian, the cover boy for Lads, was like that. He’s a straight French guy and he came across my work through a Paris photographer. A lot of popular Instagram men seek out photographers they like. I’ll sometimes contact someone, not caring about sexuality, and ask them if they are interested in shooting. It helps when a man already has that “Paul Freeman look”.
There must be some crazy behind-the-scenes moments when shooting these books. There’s always a lot of stealth shooting in places we’re not really supposed to be. It’s the reason I don’t shoot many behind-the-scenes videos. There’s been some hilarious near misses. And some scary ones. Like, shooting in back lanes in dangerous urban areas, within metres of people we can hear conducting their business. One fantastic old location in LA cancelled my booking when the owner saw my website. There was a morals clause on the location’s website that said if they thought the location would be used for “immoral purposes”, permission wouldn’t be given.
It’s an interesting time for photographers of the nude – your work is being censored on social media and independent book distributors are becoming scarce.
It’s a double-edged sword. Social media saved me from publishing ruin because it introduced me to a bigger audience that I wouldn’t have reached otherwise. And there’s a wonderful and loyal core group who support me by subscribing to my website and collecting my work. This enables me to shoot the kind of work that I love to shoot and earn a living.
On the other hand, I’ve never had my work more interfered with. I’m either offending someone or “exploiting” them. “You should shoot this type of guy”, “You should shoot more diversity”, “You’re a white supremacist” or, whenever I post a black man, “Finally, you shoot a black man!” Never mind that I’ve shot black men since my first book. Then there’s “You make me feel bad about my body. Please reconsider your beauty aesthetic!”
An assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery told me the naked man is not valid art because “many women still find male genitalia confronting because the phallus has been a symbol of oppression over women for centuries”. Plus, “I have two grown sons and I don’t want to see images of naked men their age.” A student told me that their photography teacher flipped through one of my books and said, disdainfully, “This isn’t photography. It just about the penis.” It’s Vagina Monologues good. Penises bad.
I’m banned from advertising of my work on Google and Facebook. My work is taken down even when it conforms to their “community standards”. My Instagram account has been restricted for the last 12 months. I think it’s because I shoot hairy masculinity – I see more revealing almost pre-pubescent boyish nakedness all over Instagram. The fact that I don’t know what I’m doing wrong is infuriating. I may be shut down at any moment without notice or explanation and it’s stressful.
You seem to have travelled far and wide in the making of these new books.
I spent a lot of last summer in Britain and the US. I found my inspiration for Lads in southern England, and New England in the US, Vermont and upstate New York. There’s a famous London graveyard some people might recognise and one of the fisherman stories was shot on a windy, barren outcrop littered with decaying fishing boats next to a nuclear reactor in Dungeness, England. I also spent a week in Nevada in a ghost town. Digs was shot everywhere from old London warehouses to Palm Beach, Florida. There’s a caravan in the Nevada desert, a 16th Century stable-hand quarters in Essex, an old country house in Queensland, and a student pad in Sydney.
He’s unselfconsciously handsome and carefree, not manicured, natural and unwashed … he’s pretty well extinct.