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?

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

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.

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