Blake Little’s photo essay of bear culture covers the erotic & esoteric
Blake Little has spent the last five days covering gay men in honey.
It’s not as kinky — or as funny — as it sounds. It’s not even all gay men: There are some ’tweens, babies, drag queens, even a few mixed martial arts fighters. But it’s the gay men who inspired the idea.
“I was [photographing] this [bearish] guy like he was a bear — naked, and in a tree,” Little explains. “Then I shot him in a studio dipping his hands in a big jar of honey. I thought, ‘This is the stupidest thing ever.’ But when I looked at the pictures, honey does the most amazing thing on the skin — makes it look like it’s in resin.”
The honey photos will be part of Little’s next book; right now, he’s spreading the word about Manifest, his latest photo essay of gay men with a little meat and fur on them.
Little’s “type” is not unlike himself, which may be why he got interested in these kinds of photos, which — although including nudes — are more about undercutting mainstream concepts of beauty, and especially what makes a gay man attractive.
“The series from the last two books [Manifest and his last best-seller, The Company of Men] came out of trying to find a voice or a way to portray gay men that I hadn’t seen before,” he says. “A lot of visions of what gay men are came from putting on an attitude — posing the way they thought they should, like, ‘Oh, I’m a gay man so I need to look hot.’ It’s all self-conscious. I just wanted to show a vision of men how I see them.”
The models in Manifest — copies of which Little will be signing at an event at Nuvo on Nov. 29 — span a range of body types, ages, fur levels and degree of dress, but all have one thing in common: They exude a masculine energy. Some of the most erotic photos are even of fully-clothed men.
“I find nudes erotic but, what’s really attractive [in men] is when the subject is available, giving themselves and open to the camera,” Little says. “It’s an alternative to the [unattainable] image of porn.”
He was also interested in broadening the scope of The Company of Men.
“That was a really structured book — there was a format to it. But with Manifest I expanded beyond that. It’s really more about the photography, though still the same subject matter. A lot more freedom and experimenting,” he says.
A professional photographer for 25 years, Little’s pictures have appeared in publications like Time magazine as well as on book jackets, and he’s photographed celebs from Jane Fonda to Jane Lynch to Kevin Spacey. He was also able to peg actor Nick Offerman (husband to mega-gay icon Megan Mullally) to write the forward. Why get a straight man to do the intro to a coffee-table book of gay men?
“I listened to an interview with him where he was saying the writers of Parks & Recreation wrote the role for him, but it took seven months to convince the network. They kept saying, ‘We’d really like someone better looking.’ And the kind of men I photograph aren’t seen in mainstream culture as ideal.”
Little reached out to Offerman, not really expecting him to agree. A week later, he wrote back saying “What do I need to do?”
It didn’t hurt that Offerman is himself a sex symbol in the bear community — though Little himself is not a big fan of the term.
“I don’t really like the term bear because the kind of guys I’m shooting go beyond that,” he says. “People want to put a name on everything and they are bearish guys — at least, what I used to think of as bears. But these days, everyone with a goatee calls himself a bear.”
Blake Little will be signing Manifest at Nuvo, 3311 Oak Lawn Ave., Nov. 29, 7–10 p.m. You can also purchase the limited edition book at ManifestBook.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 29, 2013.