Ryan Colford has his pick of beautiful men to photograph. And I got to see a beautiful collection of his photography at the recent Gay Erotic Art Show at the LGBT Center, in New York City this past weekend. In fact, Ryan's striking image of a stunning guy astride a rooftop was the show's seminal invitation image. Scuttling clouds in the background, glorious pecs, and a look askance, the black and white image was the exception to the rule of erotic photography: be serious. Ryan's men are real, have fun, and populate a broad range of stages on which to engage us. One image in particular delighted me: the one here at right, above. I broke into a smile as soon as I saw it, and I felt like I was in on the joke. But I was pulled in and wanted to know: what made this hunk laugh? Because he's captured at such an intimate and yet disarmingly public moment. All the posing is completely gone and a perfect ray of fun is shared between the model and the photographer. It's an outtake in one sense, but it's the image that made the portfolio. Why is its eroticism so heightened? Is it just me or are laughing naked men always better than Viagra? Of course, part of the moment is that the man in the photo is vulnerable: his nakedness is no longer armor, which tends to be the case in the usual pin-up. Such beauty seems unapproachable in most eroticism -- look but don't touch. Yet here, all the defenses, all the masks, all the walls are down: this is just about a moment in time that is enjoyable, and all the more sexy because it's happy. And real.
Other of Ryan's images support the idea that erotic art can have a context of joy, and be all the more arousing for it. Joy is pride when it's OUT. A man in a leap; a man walking away from us down a hallway; and I think that's the difference in Colford's images: his men are having a good time -- are natural being themselves. Or, more importantly, making sure we are when we are looking at them. After all, a pose if for the viewer. Which is not to deny that Colford can certainly strike beauty into a pensive portrait. His image of a man sitting in space, white with light, and one single leather boot catching the reflection -- is a wonderful instant of erotic silence. Because the image is seen from the back, a sense of passivity pervades the space; however, the boot is a conscious and arousing element that reminds us that we should not make assumptions once this man turns to face us.
Something in the context of gay male imagery needs to promote joy on an extended basis. Pornography becomes something entirely different once the guy with an erection is laughing. Something else clicks in. Why are the amazing images of Tom of Finland's orgiastic acrobatics so incredibly hot? Because they are all having a good time! Sex becomes human when a smile is involved. The mechanistic is still viable -- and we would never want to lose that intensity. But I sure do enjoy a smile and Ryan Colford can put a smile on a man.
To see more of Ryan Colford's imagery, go to his website at: http://ryancolford.com
All images copyright Ryan Colford, 2009.