Camera tricks

Photographer Joe Oppedisano takes an 'Uncensored' journey

In this lamentable time when censorship runs amok and sex is still treated as something dirty, award-winning celeb/fashion photographer Joe Oppedisano daringly pushes the envelope with his arresting images of the human body.

At their best, his photos artistically explore the margins of raw sexuality — with hyper-masculinity being one of his favorite subjects. Through his lens, he captures a world inhabited by posing porn stars, rugged men openly engaging in bondage on urban sidewalks and hunky athletes surrounded by lush landscapes.

Major publications and corporations around the globe have long sought out Oppedisano, who is openly gay, for high-end commercial work — fashion spreads, cover shoots and advertising campaigns. These mainstream clients have included Esquire, New York Times Magazine, Men’s Health and Pepe Jeans. Oppedisano recently shot a 25th anniversary Calvin Klein spread for Italian magazine Collezioni Uomo.

In addition to his high-end work, the acclaimed artist has issued a best-selling 2006 photobook, “Testosterone,” and multiple wall calendars all featuring his bold ultra-masculine images. His first film, “Knockout!,” a video document of one of his best-selling calendar photo shoots, was released in May. (Oppedisano was a featured star at Italy’s 2008 Torino Film Festival, where “Knockout!” had its world premiere.

Never afraid of controversy, Oppedisano shot the infamous 2006 Black Party poster that featured female-to-male transsexual Buck Angel posed nude holding a double-edged axe. The piece has become a high-selling collector’s item. More recently, New York Magazine published a story about the sexy, controversial poster Oppedisano shot for “Artfuckers,” an Off-Broadway play that’s currently running.

Currently, Oppedisano is working with publisher Provocateur in preparation for the release of “Uncensored,” the follow-up to “Testosterone.” The new full-color hardcover book is scheduled to hit the street Nov. 11.

Speaking of “Uncensored,” Oppedisano says, “It’s personal work, not editorial, so I did whatever I wanted and had no one directing me. I want the reader to open up the first page as if he’s getting on a roller coaster for a ride. When the roller coaster goes up, your stomach starts to get into knots. When you see the top of that first hill you’re about to drop down on, it’s all over…you’re hooked.”

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Below, the famed photographer answers a few questions about his edgy and anticipated new project.

Coming from “Testosterone” to your new book, “Uncensored,” what do you feel are the similarities and differences? Do you see “Uncensored” as a continuation of “Testosterone” or a totally separate entity altogether?

“Testosterone” was a compilation of editorials I had shot over a seven-year period for magazines like Esquire, DNA, Genre, Gay Times, etc. “Uncensored” is almost all work that has never been seen before. It was a journey coming out of the success of “Testosterone.” I went through some really tough times mentally. I was put into a box as a photographer who could only shoot dark S&M photos.

The truth is, I have been a fashion photographer for years, shooting women and men for institutions such as New York Times Magazine, Vibe, WWD, Esquire, Uomo Collezioni — all work that was not dark or extremely sexual.

To break out of the box, I wanted people to see that I work in many different ways. I also wanted to bring the hyped up sexuality out of the dark and in locations that were upscale, and in that way, a little more twisted.

Obviously, there is a lot of raw male sexuality in “Uncensored,” and in your portfolio of work. But you seem to describe it as “sensuality.” What do you feel is the difference between the two, and how do you, as an artist and photographer, differentiate them through photography?

I just think that the way I shoot makes it a glamorized version of porn, especially in “Uncensored.” Firstly, I have almost every major porn star out now in it, in extremely compromising positions, but it does not appear cheap because the lighting is excellent.

The [porn stars] gave me 110 percent, were excited to be there and have become friends. Erik Rhodes, Steve Cruz, Jake Deckard, Ricky Sinz and, of course, Colton Ford are the inspiration for this, because they live their lives on their terms. And I find great beauty, more than anything, from this.
I wanted these photos to blow away everyone’s idea of what I do. I push it further, but also I let the sensuality take control and expose raw sexuality, no holds barred.

If you were to approach the female form in the same way, with respect to “Uncensored,” how different do you think the book would turn out? Is there a major difference in both sexes, or are they basically the same when put in front of a camera?

I love shooting women. I just did a lingerie campaign for Carmen Marc Valvo that is one of my favorite shoots ever. It’s an incredibly gorgeous Brazilian model in a huge French pied-à-terre, in $15,000 pieces of couture lingerie, completely dominating Erik Rhodes — such a good sport that guy…love him.

I did a men’s suit story for reFresh magazine a few months ago and got an incredible red-headed actress I shot for the Broadway poster of “Artfuckers” in couture, hog-tying, gagging and about to kill him [Rhodes] with a butch knife. But there is always a playfulness that takes the dark part away and just makes you smile.

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Women are great because they already have that sense of fantasy that I try to bring to the male form in my photos. With women, they can be made up, put in incredible clothes, can do anything, and no one blinks an eye. My goal in shooting men is to make them look like they are shots pulled out of a L’Uomo Vogue shoot that maybe went a little far. I am planning on releasing a women’s book soon. Men like it, because the fantasy of an in-charge woman in killer clothes and heels is the epitome of power.

You have a pretty exciting career thus far and have worked with some major stars and magazines! Do you have any interesting stories? Who has been a favorite to work with that most of us would know of?

Well, my neighbor of 14 years, Amy Sedaris, asked me to shoot her twice, once for Out magazine, and once for an L.A. based magazine when the movie version of “Strangers with Candy” came out. Firstly, she’s even more hysterical in real life. She’s my friend, so we felt comfortable bouncing off ideas, and ended up not only having amazing shoots, but also an incredible time.

My favorite shot was her made up and dressed up like we were shooting her for the cover of Harpers Bazaar. Wearing John Galliano, three hours of hair and make-up, she walked on set looking spectacular. But when I showed her the Polaroid, she thought it needed something.

So, she went back to the make-up chair, rummaged through some props, and came out 10 minutes later with her hair puffed up on one side like she had just scratched lice out of her head, and about 15 black rubber flies glued to her face, like she was infested. Well, she won. How do you possibly top that?

What was your main inspiration for “Uncensored” and where do you see your next work going, in terms of structure, form and theme? Is there a common thread that runs through all your work, or does each work introduce a totally new theme to your audience?

I like to take the viewer on a trip. I work in storyboard form, so usually I am trying to create a visual story that gets more and more out of control.

I have the opportunity to work with some of the hottest, sweetest men from every studio including Falcon, Raging Stallion, Chi Chi LaRue — love her! — Butch Bear and Colt. They were all really generous and sweet, and gave me control to create photos of their stars that I really love.

As for structure and form, I studied Art History in Florence, so I’m a renaissance man. I love symmetry, the twists and turns muscles create when they are in motion. Look up the sculpture “Rape of the Sabine Women.” It’s all about form, muscle, perfection in mind, body and spirit. Those things will never leave me. But, I have been directing videos. My directorial debut of Colton Ford’s “That’s Me” was just announced as being one of Logo TV’s top five requested videos of all time, beating out Madonna. That’s kinda fierce.

What do you want people to take away from your portfolio of work, whether in the past and currently? Many years from now, how do you want your art to be remembered? And you as an artist, in particular?

I think I’ve already done it. People always say to me, “I saw this picture and knew it had to be yours.” I’m happy I create images that are recognizable to people even though the picture may not even be a half-naked man.

I like to have a sense of humor and also recreate gay history. I don’t think that anyone has been a connection to the gay experience we share since Jim French created Colt. Gay youth needs to have something to look forward to when they are 40. The guys I shoot aren’t all young bucks, but a lot of them are 40-year-old men, and they look pretty fuckin’ hot.

— Steven P. Le Vine contributed to this piece.

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Posted by David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at editor2@goqnotes.com.